Posts Tagged ‘Gadna’

In Defense of 15-Year-Olds Shooting M-16s

January 14, 2012

This opinion piece was first published in the “Forward Thinking” blog at the Forward. It was reprinted in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

The Gadna corps' symbol

More and more frequently, I am confronted with alarming examples of the growing chasm between Israeli Jews and American Jews. Sometimes it is the Israeli misperception of American Jewish life that rankles me. On other occasions, I am dumbfounded by the lack of understanding of Israeli realities and sensibilities on the part of American Jews.

I would put an opinion piece by Joshua Bloom, Director of Israel Programs for Rabbis for Human Rights-North America published Tuesday in the Huffington Post into the latter category. In his article, Blum criticizes Gadna experiences for North American teens visiting Israel. Gadna (an acronym for g’dudei noar ivri), is the Israel Defense Force’s pre-military program for pre-army age teens. Gadna is staffed by IDF soldiers, and a minimum week-long Gadna stint has, in recent years, become a typical component (sometimes optional, sometimes mandatory) of many youth group Israel adventures.

Bloom seems to think that there is no justifiable reason for a week of Gadna on these trips. For him, American Jewish youth learning about life in the army, visiting different kinds of military bases, engaging in physical challenges, learning orienteering and survival skills, getting briefed on IDF history, and training to shoot a weapon amount to “the promotion of violent institutions.”

I beg to differ. I personally did Gadna for three summers in a row when I was a teenager back in the mid-1980’s, well before it was a common thing to do. And I didn’t just do one-week stints — I toughed it out for six weeks at a time. Those 18 weeks were probably the most formative ones of my life. Looking back nearly 30 years later, I can say unequivocally that I emerged from those summers not only more physically fit, but also a different, more aware person. And let me assure you, I did not turn out to be a promoter of violent institutions.

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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


The Old Man In The Garden

May 27, 2011

Neal Levy, left, with his boss, the legendary Teddy Kollek in 1993.

I can’t let this day pass without acknowledging the fact that it marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Teddy Kollek, the legendary former mayor of Jerusalem, whose persona, more than anyone else’s in history (with the exception, perhaps, of King David’s), is most tightly intertwined with that city. He died on January 2, 2007.

Born in Hungary on May 27, 1911, he was named by his Zionist parents for Theodore Herzl. After growing up in Vienna, he and his family made aliyah to what was then British Mandate Palestine, where he was a founder of Kibbutz Ein Gev. In the 1940s he got involved with The Jewish Agency and the Hagannah, and the rest was history, as they say, in terms of his political career. In addition to leading the Israeli capital for an unmatched 6 terms, from 1965 to 1993, the internationally recognized Kollek was founder of the Jerusalem Foundation, which has raised huge amounts of funding for projects that have changed the face of the city and the quality of life for all its residents.

Kollek always seemed to me, as he did to so many others, to be larger than life. While in graduate school at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I wrote a major paper on him (its title, as I recall, was “Teddy Kollek and Jerusalem: A Symbiosis”). My professor, the well-known political scientist Yaron Ezrahi, didn’t give me a top grade on it, remarking that it read far too much like a laudatory PR booklet than an analytical piece of critical research. Apparently, I was too dismissive of the viewpoints of the mayor’s detractors. What could – and can – I say? I was probably guilty as charged.

I did have the opportunity once of seeing Kollek in person. It’s just too bad that this chance to meet someone of his stature was squandered on my youth. I was 17-years-old at the time. At some point during the 6-week Gadna pre-army program I was on, we met with Kollek in a garden somewhere in Jerusalem. Not fully appreciative at the time of who he was, I remember sitting exhausted on the ground, trying to listen to what this old man seated on a chair among us was saying, but probably spending more energy on just trying to keep my eyes open as the midday summer sun beat down on my weary head.

My colleague Neal Levy, on the other hand, had the privilege of working for Kollek as the West Coast Regional Director of the Jerusalem Foundation. Today, he shared with me a photo of him with Kollek taken in June 1993 at the home of Norman Lear. Kollek was in L.A. hobnobbing with Hollywood bigwigs in an effort to fundraise for the Jerusalem Cinematheque, the Jerusalem Film Festival and the newly established Jerusalem Film and Television School (now referred to as the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television).

I, too, have a photo of Kollek from that summer back in the mid-1980s, when to me he was just an old man sitting in a garden telling stories to a bunch of teenagers. It’s in an album stored away somewhere in my garage. I should go and look for it.

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Green Olives, Going Green And David Gryn

March 29, 2011

Who knew that olive oil, which is so good for you, can be bad for the environment? Thanks to a visit to BGU professor Zeev Weisman’s Phyto-Lipid Biotechnology Lab, I will never be able to look at or eat an olive in quite the same way. From now on, while I enjoy my olive oil-based salad dressing or pasta al’olio, I will be thinking about the millions of tons of waste material (pomace) left behind after the olives are pressed. Very appetizing, eh?

All that waste has high concentrations of phenol contaminants that can poison the soil and water. As olive oil consumption increases throughout the world, so does the amount of this pomace and contamination.

Dr. Weisman and his team of graduate students, in concert with colleagues at other universities in Israel and in other countries, are hard at work using MRI technology to find the optimal ways to produce biodiesel, bio-ethanol and anti-oxidants for pharmaceutical use from this pomace “gold mine,” as the professor calls it. They are developing energy sources not only from olives, but also from other sources like castor and pomegranate seeds.

Prof. Zeev Weisman showing us some of his olive oil and discussing its properties.

Not all of the work is done in the lab. Researchers from Dr. Weisman’s lab go out into the field – specifically Moshe Zohar’s fields at his Boker Valley Vineyard Farms (aka Nachal Boker), where he grows “test” olive and pomegranate trees. In addition to olives and pomegranates, Zohar grows grapes and makes his own wine for sale to visitors to his ranch, which also doubles as a bed and breakfast destination for visitors to the Negev Highlands region.

Moshe Zohar at his Boker Valley Vineyards Farm, where he practices limited irrigation (sweet and brackish water) agricultural techniques suited to desert conditions.

Before leaving BGU’s main Beersheva campus for Zohar’s ranch, we were given a “Green Campus Initiative” tour by Dr. Dan Blumberg and some of his colleagues, as well as a couple of students. BGU has taken huge steps in the past few years to become “greener” in a whole variety of ways, and it has paid off in terms of financial savings and increased energy conservation awareness in the university’s community. BGU is the greenest campus in Israel and ranks among the greenest universities in the world.

Dr. Dan Blumberg in BGU's Green Campus Initiative nerve center, where energy consumption is monitored and corrected 24/7.

We ended our day today with a blast from the past, as far as I was personally concerned. I had the chance to revisit my teenage years as we toured David Ben-Gurion (né Gryn) and his wife Paula’s house (“tzrif,” or hut) at Kibbutz Sde Boker and went to their graves overlooking the magnificent Zin Canyon at Midreshet Ben-Gurion. It was great to meet and learn from Prof. Paula Kabalo of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism. But even better for me was the chance to pass by the Sde Boker Gadna (army youth corps) base where I spent a good chunk of several summers in the early-mid 1980’s. There’s nothing like the sight of communal tents, a military mess hall and army latrines to make one wax nostalgic.

Or am I the only one who gets misty-eyed at such a view?

I’ll admit that I might be unique in this regard, but I certainly was not the only one in our group completely taken with another view – that of Nachal Zin at sunset.

The Zin River Canyon at sunset

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.