A Travellerspoint blog

Building a Spiritual Home for English Speakers in Haifa

Life in Israel

sunny -19 °C

I am sitting at The Dan Panorama Mall in Haifa writing this post at my favorite cafe. The upscale mall houses high-end clothing and jewelry stores. There are several restaurants, a beauty salon, and a pharmacy. The community Chabad center is located here as well. It is my spiritual home and favorite place to buy religious artifacts and home décor. The Rabbi is named Levi. He is about thirty, razor thin, with dark hair, and smiles consistently. He has six children ranging from in age from six months to seven years. My favorite is his six month year old daughter Devorah which means "bee" in English. She already beams her father’s smile. I visit the store almost daily in the hope that the kids will be there. Levi was born and raised in Tzfat the holy city where the Kabalah developed. His parents were "Chabadniks" long before Levi was born.

In the course of our two year friendship Levi and I have discussed the need for, and to develop, English language courses in our community on various topics of Judaism. Chabad is recognized throughout the world for the superb quality of its spiritual teachings. I chose to study at a Chabad center in Pittsburgh for a year before immigrating to Israel. My classes included Talmud, Tanach - Bible Studies, and tutoring in Hebrew. They have my deepest appreciation for their support.

So what actually is Chabad-Lubavitch?
Chabad-Lubavitch is a major movement within mainstream Jewish tradition with its roots in the Chassidic movement of the 18th century. In Czarist and Communist Russia, the leaders of Chabad led the struggle for the survival of Torah Judaism, often facing imprisonment and relentless persecution for their activities. After the Holocaust, under the direction of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchaak Schneerson and his successor, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, Chabad became a worldwide movement, caring for the spiritual and material needs of all Jews, wherever they could be found. Their goal is to teach and promote spiritual growth without judging or changing their "students".

Today, over 3,000 Chabad centers are located in more than 65 countries, with a new center opening on the average every ten days. In South Africa, South America, Russia, Australia, the UK, and many parts of the USA, and of course Israel. Chabad has become a dynamic and dominant force within the Jewish community.

Levi and I are now acting on our dream of establishing a study center for English speaking immigrants and visitors in Haifa.
We visited the Chabad center in Tzfat to meet their leader there Ayal. He has decades of experience in planning and administering programs for English speaking individuals. He speaks the tongue of Shakespeare wonderfully but sounds a bit British. He actually was born and raised in Israel. He is housed at The Tzfat Kabablah center in the old part of the city. He helped us to plan and organize our agenda. We recently added a new team leader Zecharya Gonsher, born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, made aliyah at age 28 where he meet his Israeli wife through the help of a Chabad shadchanit (matchmaker). He earned his MSW in family clinical therapy in St Louis, MO, where he connected to Chabad, and has cherished this ever since. Currently, Zecharya helps the Chabad House in establishing programs for the English speaking Haifa area community. He lives in Kiryat Ata with his wife, Liat, and newborn twins.

Ayal and Levy have a list of English speakers from Haifa and the surrounding communities who have inquired about starting classes in our community. Judaism is a knowledge based faith. I can not imagine a greater bruchah or blessing than offering the opportunity to learn with others.

The Reform Jewish Movement has some classes in our community. My very close friend Rabbi Edgar Nof hosts a Pirke Avot group one day a week for example. However, there are those Jews who are more oriented to other streams of Judaism or find the convenience of transportation to the Mercaz or center a big asset. We are planning to have an open house in the fall to build a garin - a seed or core group of those interested in supporting this program.

Here is the contact information again

Zecharya Gonsher, 0585-454-770

Posted by eshugerman 01:20 Tagged israel haifa chabad sprituality Comments (0)

Building Bridges for Peace in Haifa, Israel

Life in Haifa

The most difficult and challenging thing that I have ever done in my life was to immigrate to Haifa Israel at the tender age of fifty nine. I can think of no nation or place anywhere that has more spiritual significance than “The Land of Canaan” It is the birthplace of the three major faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is the place where King David wrote the 23rd psalm, where Jesus of Nazareth promoted ideas and values that have changed humanity. In the Quran, the inspired scripture that Muhammad brought to the Arabs, venerates the great prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It speaks of Solomon’s “great place of prayer” in Jerusalem, which the first Muslims called City of the Temple.

Haifa is the home of the Tomb of Elijah the Prophet considered one of the holiest and most venerated shrines to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze alike.

Haifa is a city dotted with gardens. The most prominent is at the world center of the Baha’i religion, with the tombs of the Bab (Mirza Muhammad Ali) and Abbas Efendi, son and successor of the founder of the abor.faith, Bahá’u’lláh. The presence of the Baha’i, for so long persecuted in various Middle East countries, is evidence of the tolerant social fabric of this city. The greatest challenge facing this small and brave nation is to promote the values of peace in an area filled with strife and hatred. “The Golden Rule” is a common link in the three major faiths that can and will draw us together to promote Shalom and Salaam. It is happening in Haifa the city of peaceful coexistence.

I have been blessed to participate in many interfaith efforts in the past five years to promote peace through dialogue in Haifa, The City of Peaceful Coexistence. This holiday season I rejoiced to participate in several activities in Haifa to promote harmony. My favorite was an interfaith sports event hosted by the local Muslim Ahmadiyya school in the Kabbabir community in Haifa.On Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2012, between Hanukkah and Christmas, 50 teens: Israeli Jews and Muslim got together in Games for Peace organized by a new association called GESHARIM LETIKVAH: BRIDGES FOR PEACE- HEALING THE WORLD BY BRINGING HEARTS TOGETHER.

The new President of the association, Prof Jesse Lachter emphasized on what is the motto and core value of this new NGO: ” LOVE, BUILDS BRIDGES.”

Reform Movement Rabbi Dr Edgar Nof started the games by reciting a Prayer for Peace. Then the teen girls played a basketball game for peace, while the teen boys play soccer. The Jewish children came from the Open School in Haifa with their teacher Ya’ir Shachar. The game referee was Manar principal of the Ahmadiyya Muslim School in the Kabbabir neighbor of Haifa. Previous to every game the teens shook hands, and everybody wins by promoting Peace in Israel and by bringing hearts together. Imam Muhammad Sharif declared that their slogan is “Love for all, Hatred for none”. The Ahmadiyya are a world wide movement of more than one hundred million followers dedicated to peace and universal brotherhood. Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav has gone so far as to call them “Reform Arabs.” Most of the two thousand Ahmadis in Israel live in Kabbabir, they are leaders in the business, cultural and most importantly spiritual areas of our community.

“You don’t hear about us because we don’t throw rocks at buses,” stated on Ahmadi leader. “We believe that nothing can be achieved through hatred and hostility.”

All the kids said at the end of the games that it was too short and that they want to meet again. We have planned more activities for the spring. Below a Rabbi and Imam build bridges for peace.

Posted by eshugerman 00:26 Archived in Israel Tagged israel peace haifa islam judaism achmadiyya Comments (0)

Haifa Israel is The City of Peaceful Coexistence

Hope for Peace

This current round of battling in our South has been depressing in that it had to begin; there has not been any political way of getting the Hamas to stop firing explosives at our civilians. This tragically has been the history of life in Israel since the Jewish people returned to our ancestral homeland in 1948. Many of my friends and neighbors have fought in several wars. Many of them spent their early childhoods sleeping in bomb shelters.
Hopefully, by the time it ends, there will be some important changes in the way of life here and in the Palestinian territories. Hopefully, the people who have been enduring such rocket fire will be able to live normal lives. The missile attacks have spread from the south to much of Israel including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We yearn for the day that our Palestinian friends and neighbors will no longer suffer as the result of our need to defend our nation.
We are all saddened by the deaths and injuries of everyone on both sides of this battle. It is a shame that the assassination of the Gaza Chief of Military staff became necessary. He had the blood of Israeli men, women, and children on his hands. He believed in terrorism and mass murder. He called for the destruction of our nation.
Defeat in this region is not an option for us Jews, even though clear-cut winning/victory is also often not an option. The greatest hope is for a political settlement. Peace treaties will surely involve compromise. Settling the feuds will feel like a victory of sorts for all sides, and peace will allow our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren to live without fear of being bombed. They will attend their schools safely, without the need for air raid sirens and bomb shelters.
Yet, there is hope for peace for the people in our region. I am blessed to live in Haifa, which is the city of peaceful co-existence.
There is a popular expression in Israel: “In JERUSALEM people pray, in HAIFA they work, in TEL AVIV they have fun”. Haifa gives the impression of world light-years away from the religiosity of Jerusalem and the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv. Here everything is different; the city is positioned on top of a magnificant bay, and although the typical white stone that is characteristic of the whole country prevails, the buildings and skyscrapers have a variety of styles, and the port is busy with bustling commerce. The many industries in the area are mainly concentrated in the so called Krayot, surrounding villages. The city is dotted with gardens. The most prominent is at the world center of the Baha’i religion, with the tombs of the Bab (Mirza Muhammad Ali) and Abbas Efendi, son and successor of the founder of the faith, Bahá’u’lláh. The presence of the Baha’i, for so long persecuted in various Middle East countries, is evidence of the tolerant social fabric of this city.
Haifa has a multiethnic and multi-religious population of 260,000, with a Jewish prevalence (91%). The well-integrated Arab minority is Christian (4.5%), Muslim (3.5%) and Druze (1%). Road signs in Cyrillic, alongside Hebrew, Arabic and English, are signs of the extensive Russian community here (25%).
In the past, peaceful coexistence, however, could not be taken for granted. Here too, in fact, the birth of the State of Israel was marked by tensions and blood. Haifa’s port became the arrival site of thousands of Jewish immigrants after World War II and the departure port for the Arabs fleeing during the 1947–48 Arab-Israeli war. Clashes between Arabs and Jewish paramilitary groups led to numerous casualties on both sides. Over the years, many worked at rebuilding this social harmony and religious tolerance that has very ancient roots. Haifa, in act, is built on the slopes and foot of Mount Carmel, where according to tradition the prophet Elijah lived. A cave called Elijah’s Grotto is inside a Carmelite monastery and is venerated by Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrims. .
The effort to integrate social, cultural, and religious identity in an area with a high risk of conflict has warranted the continued commitment of all the groups present in the area to administer it. The civic and religious communities both have a decisive role.
I have been blessed to participate in some of the efforts to maintain and even improve the harmony between faiths and cultures in Haifa. Each month for the past five years I have participated in a joint study session promoted by the Catholic Focolare. The Focolare does a myriad of spiritual, cultural, social, and economic programs worldwide- based on their primary tenet "Unity for All". The members of the Focolare live by the golden rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We study each other's faiths with the goal of understanding not changing each others views and values. We have hosted and promoted an interfaith Choir performance which took part in a four day interfaith spiritual retreat at Kibbutz Nes Ammim in the Galilee.

The event was done in the summers of 2009 and 2010. Jews, Christians, and Muslims from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian border took part in the retreat took part in a four day interfaith spiritual retreat at Kibbutz Nes Ammim in the Galilee. The event was done in the summers of 2009 and 2010. Jews, Christians, and Muslims from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian border took part in the retreat. We studied each others holy books, prayed together, and enjoyed meeting participants from dozens of countries. Our only real source of contention was the nature of the cuisine! We were the first Jewish participants in this convention in the history of Israel-Palestine.
We also sent a delegation to the world renowned Run4Unity. It was held for the first time ever in Haifa in the year 2007. Youth from Israel-Palestine participated in a variety of sports activities held at Haifa's Carmel Beach. Several hundred youth from Israel and Palestine shared this activity without contention. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim young people participated. The last event was held in Caesarea in May last year.
My favorite interfaith experience took place in November of 2009. We joined our friends from the local Muslim Achmadi School in Haifa to host a youth "Soccer for Peace" program at their school in the Cababir part of Haifa. Jewish youth from Temple Or Hadash played soccer with the Achmadi team from Cababir in a tournament of a three game event. The Achmadiyya are peaceful followers of Islam. They have more than one hundred million followers in the world. Many live in Indonesia, Pakistan and England.
Our team coach was Timothy Crowe, a Southern Baptist envoy to Israel from Dallas Texas. The kids enjoyed the beautiful Haifa fall weather, and a feast of cookies, cakes, pizza and soft drinks that followed the games.

I am writing this post while sitting at The Ego Cafe in the world famous Dan Panorama Hotel and mall. The cafe is owned by Hannah whose family immigrated to Israel from Poland in 1948. The cafe on the second floor of the center is managed by Muad who is a Muslim and my friend. On my way home I will stop to buy groceries at our local Macolet or quick stop grocery store. The owners are Christian Arabs who were born and raised in Haifa. i

I am looking forward to celebrating Hannukah with my Focolare friends as has been the case for the past five years. Joint celebrations of the holidays are common in Haifa. We will share Christmas together and plan activities for the coming year to bring harmony between the faiths in Haifa and throughout the region.

Posted by eshugerman 10:11 Tagged israel peace haifa palestinians judaism focolare catholicism ahmadiyya hamas Comments (0)

Zichron Ya'akov Israel: Romance and Restaurants

Seeking Romance in Israel

I am still seeking true love in Israel. It is a challenge but also fun and interesting. My latest adventure involved a woman from Zichron Ya'kov. "Zichron" is a small town about thirty minutes by bus from my home in Haifa. There are roughly thirty thousand residents, of whom many native English speaking olim or immigrants. It is a quaint community known for its great restaurants, rustic scenery, and historic sites. There are also wineries in the region which were established in the 1880s by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild. Zichron was the first Moshav or cooperative community founded in Israel.

I tried my luck with one of Israel's dating services. My first referral from the dating service was last month. Her name was Anat, a woman in her fifties from Zichron.

I contacted my new friend Anat by phone who suggested that our first meeting be for coffee at Mol Zichron which is an outlet mall about six miles from the town itself. Anat was from New York originally but has lived in Israel for thirty years. She turned out to be a pleasant looking sort in with bright red hair. We discussed her career as a social worker and her six grandchildren, I told her a bit about myself and suggested that we tour her community. The city has a famous Midrachov or founders street that houses many highly respected restaurants, small gift shops, wineries, and museums. It was late September therefore the weather was fairly cool. The Mediterranean skies were clear and blue. It was a great day for a Tiyul or tour and my quest for romance.

Anat hesitated for several minutes started to stutter and added that we have a problem. I could feel my sense of rejection arising again. Had I failed once more in my search for true love?

"I am in a relationship" stated Anat. "That is why that I suggested that we meet at the Mul." Anat explained to me that she was in a six year relationship with a wonderful man from Tel Aviv. "I wanted to meet you at the Mul as I am very well known in the community," added Anat. She explained to me that she cared for David but that the relationship was stale and seemed to offer little future. She was also terrified at her age to try someone else. Economic security was her main concern. David helps her with her bills and really is a friend. Life is difficult anywhere for those over fifty especially women in Israel. Sadly, age and gender discrimination are facts of life in the Jewish homeland. Women are expected to serve in the military in Israel but often receive less pay than men for the same job in the workplace. Women also face the other traditional forms of harassment at work that are common in many societies.

Anat and I talked for several hours about her six wonderful grandchildren, all residents of Zichron, her experiences as citizen of Israel, and about my favorite topic, food. She gave me a list of restaurants to try for dinner in the town and a referral to a wonderful single British immigrant named Jane. I have met with Jane three times since then and I have two new friends.

I went on to eat a great dinner and to tour the town. Two of the moshav's original buildings have been turned into history museums: Beit Aharonson - dedicated to the history of the pre-state NILI underground resistance organization - and the Museum of the First Aliya (wave of immigration to Israel). All these and more make the "Midrachov" an interesting and charming place to visit.

From its early days, Zikhron Ya’akov was a center of Israel's wine industry. The moshav's founding farmers cultivated vineyards and the large winery built here in 1889 became the area’s most important industry. The winery (now owned by Carmel Mizrahi wineries), has a visitors center with free guided tours. The restaurants are my favorite part of the community, which I plan to visit often.

Posted by eshugerman 12:07 Tagged travel dining israel haifa wineries romance zichron ya'akov Comments (0)

The Haifa International Film Festival

films in Israel

The Haifa International Film Festival is an internationally known event that is held annually. Each year, contestants from all over the world present their films. The event is hosted by the city of Haifa, and screenings are distributed throughout different civic centers in the city. Nearly two hundred films are presented. Many of them are by Israeli film makers.


The festival has originally started in 1983, and was the first film festival in Israel; It is is held prior to the Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is also considered Haifa's primary social and cultural event, and draws visitors from throughout the world.

The event is held at the Haifa auditorium, which is located in the Carmel Center of Haifa. The Center is both a residential and upscale business area that has many of the cities' top grade hotels including the world famous Dan Panorama Hotel. One of the area's main parks is Gan Ha'em in Haifa, which is a zoo, a city park, and a well known place for socializing. The park has a big stage upon which musical concerts are performed. There are also lectures and activities associated with various holidays, political activists also use the park for their forums. The Bahai Gardens are just a walking distance from the center and there is a wonderful view of the sea from the area. I live in the "Mercaz" five minutes by foot from the Auditorium, two minutes from the Gardens and across the street from my beloved zoo. Transportation is excellent in Israel, therefore I as well as many Israelis do not own cars.

The Haifa International Film Festival attracts a wide audience of film-goers and media professionals from Israel and abroad. Throughout the week special screenings are held of 150 new films. Apart from movies screened around the clock at seven theaters, the festival features open-air screenings. Film categories include feature films, documentaries, animation, short films, retrospectives and tributes.

The Board of Directors is composed of film and culture professionals and public figures. The festival is underwritten by the City of Haifa, the Ministry of Education, the Israeli Film Council, and the European Union, as well as commercial companies.
It is not really an old tradition – the first stars with the names of outstanding Israeli actors were embed into the pavement in front of the Haifa Cinemateque in 2004, the twentieth anniversary of the Haifa Film Festival. Whether the obvious analogy of the ceremony with the Hollywood Walk of Fame is cute or embarrassing is for you to decide, yet it has taken place each year since, and became somewhat of a link between the international Film Festival and the city which hosts it.

Haifa Cinémathèque - Cinema in Haifa is not just a major entertainment of the city, but it is sincerely practiced as a form of art. Hence, apart from the commercial flicks that are popular everywhere, the people of Haifa actually appreciate well made movies or even art films. A major platform for showcasing this kind of cinema is the Haifa Cinémathèque of Haifa. This one of a kind establishment is a major center of art and culture in the city and is surely a must visit.

Located in the James de Rothschild Cultural and Community Center, the Haifa Cinémathèque of Haifa, has been providing the Haifa audience as well as the tourists with opportunities to view some great movies since 1975. Adding to this is the absolutely laid back ambiance of the movie hall, which creates just the atmosphere for some good viewing. Another wonderful thing about the Haifa Cinémathèque is the variety of movies it screens. In just a day you can see about three movies, all from different parts of the world. It is thus the ideal place for viewing the best of international film making also. You would not also have to worry if the movie is in some other language because most of them come with English subtitles. Moreover, the Haifa Cinémathèque showcases several classics and even remakes of classics. Making an interesting compilation with it are also the various modern works.

This year I saw several films but the one that stood out was Student a remake of Crime and Punishment. Based on the classic novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Student unfolds in modern Kazakhstan. The film's protagonist is The Student whose major at the university is philosophy. He rents a basement room from an old woman living in the suburbs and suffers from loneliness and a permanent lack of funds. The atmosphere of poverty and the teaching of social Darwinism begin to affect him. He decides to commit an act of random murder, to kill the owner of a shop, and has to learn the influence of conscience. When he falls in love with a girl he has to take responsibility for his actions. I remembered the foolish things that I did as a youth to prove my courage and during. The actors in this film were amateurs which was an interesting twist.

The film's director Darezhan Omirbaev was born in Dzhambul, Kazakhstan in 1958. In 1980 Omirbaev graduated from Kazakh State University with a degree in Math and in 1987 from VGIK in Moscow with a degree in Film History. He's worked as an editor at New Film magazine, and currently lectures at the Kazakh Academy of Arts. Omirbaev's new feature, Student, was presented in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2012 Cannes Festival and marks the third participation for the Kazakh master. In 1998, his film Killer won the Prix of the Un Certain Regard and in 2001 he again participated in this section with his The Road.

I attended the film with a wonderful friend named Eugena, She was born in Moscow but lived in Kazakhstan for several years as a youth. Eugena and her family immigrated to Israel in 1970. She still has relatives in Kazakhstan. She and I went to coffee after the film and discovered that two of the servers are immigrants from the same country. The international flavor of live in Israel is still exciting to me. We heard fellow patrons speaking several languages which is a common occurrence in Israel. Some may have been visitors to the festival but I am sure that many are local residents.

One of my fellow diners asked us in perfect English if the cafe had wireless connections. Eugena and I were speaking Hebrew but my American accent is hard to miss. The young man proceeded to inform us that he was a visitor to the festival from Moscow, and whose profession is producing Jewish film festivals in Russia!

Posted by eshugerman 04:53 Tagged travel festival israel film haifa Comments (0)

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