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Israeli teen emissaries share journey with Middletown Rotary Club members

By Kathleen Schassler, The MiddletownPress

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

MIDDLETOWN >> Israeli teens spoke to members of the Middletown Rotary Club Tuesday during the civic group’s final meeting before summer.

The high school graduates, nearing the end of a gap year as volunteers in the Young Emissary program, a project of the Jewish Agency for Israel, were introduced by Rotary member Marcia Reinhard, the assistant director at the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut.

The emissaries are focused on sharing and connecting with people from all walks of life, said emissary Edo Shiloh, 19. He determined that the group’s year-long mission was a real success, he said. Telling the Rotary audience that teens in Israel are encouraged to become activists in their community in order to volunteer with the youth movement, Shiloh said that his next challenge may be studying to become a military jet pilot.

After graduation from high school, all teens are expected to serve in the military for a period of time, with the option to take a gap year before entering the service to volunteer and contribute to society.

Many teens volunteer at multiple youth groups, said Shiloh, who grew up in a small town where he recognized every face. Here in America, every face and place was unfamiliar, and in America, everything is big, he explained.

A “quick ride to the city” actually means a three-hour one-way trip to Manhattan, not to nearby Hartford, said Shiloh, who is living in West Hartford. The teen also admitted getting lost in expansive Marshall’s and Walmart stores.

Sagi Zazon, nearly 19, admitted that he felt unsafe in America most of the time, except once or twice, including New Year’s Eve in Times Square where a uniformed presence provided him with comfort. “I counted nine choppers in the sky,” said Zazon. “On every corner, I saw five police officers and three undercover officers.

“I feel safe with a lot of security people around me,” he added.

All three teens agreed that armed security in the streets at home provides comfort and a sense of security.

Amit Horovitz, 19, spent two years living in California and was already accustomed somewhat to the culture, she said. All three started to learn English in the fourth grade, as do all Israeli students.

Fourteen student emissaries have worked in seven communities here since August 2015. “We grew up so far away, in different culture,” said Shiloh. Sharing his experiences with others, and vice versa, creates the positive connections that the program is all about.

“We talk at public schools, church, Rotary, other groups,” said Zazon. “We do not say ‘no’ to anyone. We are glad to meet people and so glad to see new culture.”

When asked to share their perspective of what they may have witnessed of the U.S. political primary process, Zazon deftly answered, “No comment.”

New London to host family of Syrian refugees

Published June 21. 2016 6:34PM | Updated June 22. 2016 1:44PM

Day Newsroom By Greg Smith  Day staff writer

New London — Seven members of a Syrian family who fled their war-torn country in search of a better life were expected to arrive Tuesday at their new home here.

They were to be greeted by a sign on the front door of the four-bedroom apartment with the word “welcome” written in English and Arabic — one of the final touches from the group of volunteers that has spent months working to prepare for the family’s arrival.

The New London Area Refugee Settlement Team co-sponsored the family through the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, which settles about 200 refugees each year in Connecticut.

The local team, known by the name Start Fresh, is represented by a host of volunteers associated with New London-area faith groups that have pitched in to make it possible to start the resettlement process.

The entire effort came from the call to action by members of the Greater New London Clergy Association.

The refugee family arriving late Tuesday will be New London’s first but not the last according to Ron Ward, a founder and co-leader of the Start Fresh group.

He said if resources allow it, the group will settle a refugee family in the area every two to three months and become a meaningful part of the effort to take in the 10,000 refugees that President Barack Obama has pledged.

“We’re in this for the long haul. We want to meet the needs of families that have been disrupted and run out of their own homelands due to war. This is not just a one-off situation,” Ward said.

He said he expects a family of three to arrive next month and thinks a home purchased at 25 Jay St. by All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church earlier this year as part of the same effort may be ready for another family in September.

That home is under renovation and is expected to serve as a “soft landing,” or temporary home, for incoming families from places such as Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.

For the past month, however, the New London apartment was the sole focus.

Volunteers cleaned, polished floors, filled cupboards with culturally appropriate food and delivered furniture.

Start Fresh declined to publicly reveal the location of the apartment "out of respect for the family — their dignity and privacy."

"This is going to be their permanent home for as long as they choose to be here," Ward said.

The apartment has been furnished in part through the efforts of the Mystic Congregational Church, which formed a relationship with New Haven-based group more than a year ago. Temple Emmanuel in Waterford donated housewares, such as bedding.

The family was to be picked up from New Haven in three vans loaned by the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut.

Two interpreters were to be be present to meet the family, including one from the Islamic Center of New London.

“It’s a great effort with people taking on different roles,” said Mystic Congregational member Kathy Parker. “Different groups and different people in the community are taking different pieces.”

The Start Fresh team had not previously met the family, but knows the refugees come by way of Jordan, where they have been living for the past few years, according to Start Fresh co-leader Cheryl Molina.

The Kabny family — Ahmad, Halima, Khawla, Mohammed, Heba, Toka and Amal — comprises a mother, father and their four daughters and one son. The children range in age from 11 to 20.

They do not speak English.

Start Fresh will take responsibility for the family for 6 to 9 months, helping the members seek jobs, enroll in school and start learning English.

“The point is for them to become self-sufficient,” Molina said.

Money for the rent and other expenses temporarily are paid for through a communitywide effort.

Start Fresh plans to raise at least $3,000 per family.

The families will qualify for a combination of state and federal benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once they obtain their Social Security numbers.

Molina said Start Fresh is exploring a model set by the Providence Granola Project — producing and selling granola as a way to provide refugees with job experience while generating funds for the effort to resettle more families.

Editor's note: The Islamic Center of New London was misidentified as the Islamic Center of Groton in a previous version of this story.

Operation Cool Down Up and Running for Summer 2016

The Jewish Federation of Eastern CT will again sponsor Operation Cool Down, a program to provide room air conditioners for individuals medically at risk with low incomes. The Federation will supply the air conditioner and install it if necessary at no charge.

In order to receive an air conditioner, the at-risk individual must complete an application that includes a letter from their health care professional, such as a nurse from the Visiting Nurse Association, a discharge planner from a hospital or a physician. The letter should convey that the patient’s medical condition (e.g. COPD, congestive heart failure, asthma) is adversely affected by heat and humidity and could prove life threatening without the use of an air conditioner.

This service is available throughout Eastern Connecticut, including Willimantic, Norwich, Westerly, RI and the shoreline to Old Saybrook. For information and requests contact Beth Hubbert, Case Manager at the JFEC at 860-444-6333 between 9 am and 2 pm, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

Olive Tree Project Artists Share Their Vision 

In Eastern Connecticut their art was on exhibit at the Lyman Allyn Museum in New London where a welcoming reception took place. The artists also conducted workshops in schools in Colchester, East Lyme, and Groton. The Florence Griswold Museum hosted the delegation and provided them with a private tour of the museum and the grounds.

The group also visited Pittsfield, MA where their paintings were exhibited in the Berkshire Musuem.

The Lyman Allyn Museum acquired one of the paintings for their permanent collection and was given a second smaller painting which will also become part of their permanent collection. Several other paintings were acquired by members of the community, and one was acquired and donated to the Jewish Federation.


If you missed the world premier, now is your chance to own HARVESTING STONES: THE JEWISH FARMERS OF EASTERN CONNECTICUT. It's the 1890s. Connecticut Yankees are selling their rocky farms, Jews are fleeing Czarist Russia, and a Jewish back-to-the-land movement sees turning shtetl refugees into farmers as the best way for them become productive, self-sufficient Americans. Add some funding from the German-Jewish philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch and you have the recipe for a Jewish agricultural revival that ultimately settled a thousand Jewish families in rural Connecticut. Using historic footage, home movies and Yiddish-language farm journals as well as testimony from participants, including survivors of Russian pogroms and the Holocaust, this ground-breaking documentary presents the fascinating but unknown story of the American Jewish pioneers who established farms and mini-agricultural resorts in eastern Connecticut. Filmed over a period of 14 years by Jerry Fischer, director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut; narrated by Peninnah Manchester Schram; music by Bruce Zimmerman.

Order your DVD of Harvesting Stones by contacting 860-442-8062 or $20 to pick up at Federation Office / $25 to mail. Cash/ Credit Card / Checks made payable to: JFEC

Below is the trailer for HARVESTING STONES:

Portnoff Named Elie Wiesel Professor of Judaic Studies at Connecticut College

Sharon J. Portnoff, associate professor of religious studies at Connecticut College, has been named the Elie Wiesel Professor of Judaic Studies.

Portnoff is the second faculty member named to the Wiesel Chair, an endowed position established in 1990 by a generous gift from alumna JoAnn Hess Morrison ’67 in honor of the Nobel laureate, author and international human rights advocate Elie Wiesel. The senior appointment in the Department of Religious Studies is reserved for a distinguished scholar committed to advancing Judaic Studies within the liberal arts.

“Sharon is an ideal choice for this position. She will be vital in expanding programming and furthering the growth of Judaic studies on campus,” said Abigail A. Van Slyck, dean of the faculty and Dayton Professor of Art History. “She has worked diligently over the past eight years as a scholar, as a teacher, and as a citizen of the campus community. We look forward to the vibrant and multidimensional approach she will bring to the position.”

With the recent opening of Zachs Hillel House, the college's Jewish presence has experienced significant growth. In her new role, Portnoff will work closely with Rabbi Susan Schein to provide students with access to the richness of the Jewish experience, including both cultural and religious events.

“I look forward to working with colleagues campus-wide to deliver speakers who can stimulate meaningful conversations about Jewish philosophy, culture and history,” said Portnoff. “These kinds of events provide important perspectives for the campus, expanding views on what constitutes Judaism and Judaic thought.” Portnoff will also continue coordinating the Miriam Melrod Lecture series, an ongoing initiative made possible by the Miriam Kraemer Melrod Endowment for Judaic Studies, which supports an annual symposium on Jewish identity.

As the Wiesel Chair, Portnoff will build on the efforts of her predecessor Roger Brooks, former dean of the faculty, who was instrumental in bringing the Zachs Hillel House to campus and helping to establish the College’s innovative Global Islamic Studies program, which embraces Judaic Studies as part of its interdisciplinary mandate.

Portnoff holds a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s College (Annapolis), a master’s in education from Harvard University and a master’s and Ph.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She specializes in modern Jewish thought and Holocaust theology and teaches courses in the Holocaust, Israel, post-Holocaust responses, religious ethics and Jewish traditions.

About Connecticut College

Situated on the coast of southern New England, Connecticut College is a highly selective private liberal arts college with 1,900 students from all across the country and throughout the world. On the college’s 750-acre arboretum campus overlooking Long Island Sound, students and faculty create a vibrant social, cultural and intellectual community enriched by diverse perspectives. The college, founded in 1911, is known for its unique combination of interdisciplinary studies, international programs, funded internships, student-faculty research and service learning.