Author Archives: yaellewis

Growing up in Israel, Shinshinim

As the end of the year approaches, I had the pleasure of attending the wonderful Shlichut (Israel Emissary) appreciation yearly reception, hosted by the UJA-Federation of New York.

There we, the Shlichim, were recognized for our hard and sacred work of strengthening the connection between our US Jewish communities and Israel.

What especially touched me that night was the group of Shinshinim, which in Heberw stands for Shnat Sherut – a year of service. Israeli teenagers volunteer for this service, right after high school and before their army IDF service. These are few special handpicked individuals within the Israeli society who do a year of voluntary community service abroad, representing Israel in Jewish communities around the world.

It struck me that among eight young, cheery, naïve and wide-eyed kids, at least four will be enlisted into combat units in the coming months once they return to Israel.

This army service will build them, mature them, teach them much about life and how to survive in it. However, their naivety and youth will quickly fade away.

When I think about their wonderful smiling, happy and cheerful young souls I know that the army will change them.

It will make them tougher, and more competent to live in our world. It will make them uniquely competitive in the Western world where most teenagers grow and mature in their own time – through college, relationships, family, sports, etc. Whereas, Israelis do that growing up in the IDF, among brothers, sisters, officers and commanders.

I believe that this process of growing through strong brotherhood of the IDF, hard work, courage, sacrifice and Zionist/nationalistic ideology, is good and creates a society which is grateful for what they have in life. It forces one to achieve all that they can as best as they can in as little time as possible. This contributes to what makes the Israeli society so efficient in certain areas, such as, cutting edge in technology, medicine and agriculture while being warm and appreciative of every moment.

However, at the same time, it saddens me that these pure, eager and energetic kids will, in less than a year, have more responsibility than a first time father at times. Being tasked to protect their entire team of thirty of their comrades from harm. They will think in ways that sometimes only a parent would – putting others before yourself and sacrificing yourself to save your team mate, or giving up your own life for your country.

It is a crazy notion to think about, but this is our reality.

So behatzlachah, good luck, to all the seventeen going eighteen year olds in Israel.

Your journey to adulthood awaits…


Shlichim Update March 2016

Hello Westchester! We, your Israeli Shlichim (Israeli Emissaries) thought to update you on our activities in Westchester. Here is some of the work that our we have been up to these past few weeks – working on college campuses (Hillels of Westchester), numerous synagogues and youth movements:


Helping in some Israel spirit at Pace University – with Hillels of Westchester


Hillel partnered with the dance team on Manhattanville campus and our shlicha Yael taught them an Israeli dance (Rikudei Am) which they performed at campus’s International Bizarre.


Sharing some Israeli food and culture with the dance club on Manhattanville College campus

Pace Krav Maga March 8 2016

Taught a basics of Krav Maga (Self-Defense) for Hillel students at Pace University


Presented lecture on Zionism at SUNY Purchase University as a pre and post birthright curriculum. Our Hillel students will also be attending the AIPAC conference… look out for them there!


Mini Israel lesson before screening “Beneath the Helmet” at Manhattanville College


Our Shlichim brought together a very special crowd (Hillel students and Imam Adamu from Ghana) to learn about Project Ten in Westchester. To find out more about how you can get involved in making real change, contact Daniel Aschheim:


Advising the 2nd meeting of BBYO in Northern Westchester at the Rosenthal JCC


1st class Peekskill March 9.2016

This past week Northern Westchester, First Hebrew of Peekskill, had their first Conversational Hebrew class with Yael! To join in for the lesson, Sign up if you are interested!


“Israel 101” class with Rabbi Greenberg’s teens on their Monday evening class at Temple Shaaray Tefila – Thank you for the invite!

IDF boot camp Shaaray Tefila March 7.2016 7thGrade

Yet another I.D.F. Boot camp program for the 7the graders at Temple Shaaray Tefila


Our shlichim organized an evening with the Argov Program in Leadership and Diplomacy- the flagship political science program from IDC Herzliya’s Government School in Harrison. Students presented their research projects on tackling some of Israel’s biggest challenges.


Events coming up with our Shlichim:

* March 15th 7pm – Hispanic Kosher food night and short presentation by Yael Lewis on Spanish Jewry at Manhattanville College.

* March 16th 2pm – Lecture with Yael Lewis about Diversity in Israel at Anshe Sholom in New Rochelle.

* March 17th 6:30 pm – Israeli cooking at Purchase college

* And more….

For more information on any of these events contact-

Contact our Shlichim / if you want some Israel programming for your campus, synagogue, youth group, etc. 

Time of Anguish

In concluding this difficult month of November I wanted to share some big picture thoughts. We have seen a historical terror attack in France where 130 people were taken from this earth by terrorism. I would also like to acknowledge the death and injury of so many young and old innocent civilians that have been robbed of their future while freely walking the streets of Israel– as every citizen, whether Jewish or not, has the right to do. The continued random stabbings, car-ramming attacks and shootings have not only claimed the lives of Israeli innocent civilians, but has recently claimed the life of a fellow American student, Ezra Schwartz, who like many other students was doing a gap year in Israel. So on this dark and solemn Sunday evening I would like to share some of my thoughts during the last 2 months and perhaps give some positive remarks about the current situation.

“There is nothing we can do” (ein ma la’asot), “It’s not ok” (ze lo beseder) and “it will be ok” (yihiye beseder) – these are the typical remarks of an Israeli referring to Israel’s corrupt politicians, the exorbitant rent, the mandatory draft or the unjustified government funds that go to the Ultra-Orthodox population. And these are just a few issues out of the pool of issues Israel deals with.

Currently, a lot has been going on in Israel. This month marked 20 years since the death of Yitzhak Rabin. Over the past 2 months the atmosphere in Israel has been one of hesitation and uneasiness as random terror attacks fill up every Israeli’s newsfeed. Israelis think twice before leaving the house and do not walk the streets freely. It also marks a little over a year since Operation Protective Edge, or Tzuk Eitan, where Israel lost 64 IDF soldiers, who were mostly just boys. The current situation coinciding with the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s death, marking a time when peace seemed attainable, brings a feeling of downheartedness and hopelessness throughout the country. Yet, these painful and hard times are not new to Jews in history.

Politicians were corrupt in countries such as Russia, Germany, and South America where Jews lived and still live today. Historically, Jews frequently had to pay “special taxes”, such as the Dhimmi/Jizya tax paid under the early Islamic period, in Europe in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries or under the Roman Empire.

There was a mandatory draft in many countries where Jews lived. In the 1800’s Russia drafted all including young Jewish boys. During the First World Wars many Jews fought proudly for their country. And just one generation ago, in South Africa, the mandatory draft was still in place – where my own father served in the combat infantry mortar division.

A few weeks ago I heard Professor Rachel Hallote speak about the historical context of Fiddler on the Roof at Hillel of SUNY Purchase College. She spoke about the old Shtetl in the areas of Poland as disenfranchised citizens who would, every so often, experience a looting or a pogrom by their neighbors. This got me to thinking that despite today’s hardships we are somewhat privileged today.

Although we sometimes forget, before the 21st century, the world saw war at least every century – the World Wars in Europe, Balkan Wars, The Crusades, the list goes on. Pertaining specifically to the Jews, were the 11th century massacres in Europe, persecution and later expulsion in Spain in the 15th century, pogroms in Russia in the 19th century, and so on. These incidents occurred every 100 years or so.

So yes, Israel has problems, like any other country has problems. The Jewish nation has problems, like many other nations that have problems. But these problems are our problems. They are not problems imposed onto the Israelis in the form of a “special tax” or an oppressive hostile government. Rather the Jews are a free nation living freely among many other free nations and governing themselves. The highly diverse population living side by side is positively mesmerizing.

We cannot let thoughts of opportunity, aspirations and hopes as a vibrant Jewish community inside and out of Israel be drowned out by the negativity that is so easy to succumb to. We must own our problems and continue to debate, discuss and argue for progress and improvement as the Jewish people have done throughout the centuries.

Although we are living in challenging times where it may seem that anti-Semitism is resurging and that the conflict in Israel is endless, we have been through worse. We must always remember that although we have many concerns and issues to deal with, we have the State of Israel in which we can still dictate what our future will look like. So the next time debating with someone, I would keep the big picture in mind because there is more that unites us than divides us – surviving a millennia of persecution and reviving a nation in the homeland called modern Israel that has become the desert bloom.