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New Video for Stand By Me – Please Watch

Stand By Me is a nonprofit organization that provides emotional and physical support to local Israeli-Jewish American cancer patients and their families.

 

 

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‘BDS: The Attempt to Strangle Israel’, Featuring Alan Dershowitz – Sponsored by the Milstein Family Foundation

The latest strategy employed by those who wish to strangle Israel is called BDS. It may sound harmless, but do not be fooled. It stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and not only is it poisonous for Israel, but for the world as well. Israel is one of the freest countries on earth, where everyone–including Arabs–benefit from that freedom. If Israel continues to be singled out by BDS and suffocated economically, the damage would ripple throughout the globe. In five minutes, learn about BDS and why it must be stopped.

The content was produced by Prager University and was sponsored by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.

 

 

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The Blaze: ‘The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made’ was sponsored by Adam and Gila Milstein

Some Are Calling This the ‘Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made’ — and It’s Taking the Internet by Storm

 

It’s been dubbed the “most important video about Israel ever made” — and it’s being widely circulated on the Internet amid the recent Gaza conflict. Featuring nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager, who is known for his strong conservative views, the pro-Israel YouTube video aims to explain the Middle East conflict in under six minutes. “The Middle East conflict is framed as one of the most complex problems in the world,” the video claims. “But, in reality, it’s very simple.” “It may be the hardest to solve, but it is the easiest to explain,” Prager says. “In a nutshell, it’s this: one side wants the other side dead.” According to Prager, the “simple” problem is difficult to solve because most Palestinians and Arabs “do not recognize the right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist.” To support his thesis, Prager briefly overviews several decades of history, contending Israel has always sought peace with its neighbors. The conservative talk show host concludes the video leaving viewers with one final thought. “If tomorrow, Israel laid down its arms and announced, ‘We will fight no more,’ what would happen? And if the Arab countries around Israel laid down their arms and announced, ‘We will fight no more,’ what would happen?” Prager asks. “In the first case, there would be an immediate destruction of the state of Israel and mass murder of its Jewish population. In the second case, there would be peace the next day.” The video, officially titled “The Middle East Problem,” has amassed more than 3 million views since it was uploaded in late April. According to YouTube statistics, most of the views have poured in over the past couple weeks. Yet, not everyone is buying Prager’s argument. An op-ed published in Israel’s left-leaning newspaper Haaretz said the video “got it all wrong.” “One 5-minute video that has been circulating on Facebook purports to explain the overall Arab-Israeli conflict simply and concretely. Those who’ve posted it praise its concrete and ‘unemotional’ tone. It is indeed simple and unsensational. The problem is, the explanation put forth is anything but supported by the evidence,” asserted the op-ed, authored by Mira Sucharov. Sucharov, an associate professor of political science at Canada’s Carleton University, argues that the “they hate us” theory “serves to trivialize the actual concerns and claims of the other side.” Further, she added that Prager’s video “ignores the mutual letters of recognition exchanged between Israel and the PLO in 1993.” “It is easy to say that the other’s acts of protest — sometimes violent, other times in the form of boycott and divestment or general civil disobedience — stem from hatred,” Sucharov wrote. “It is much harder to sit and listen to the fears of the other and to examine one’s own actions to see how they shape those perceptions.” A request for comment on the video was not immediately returned Monday evening by the Palestinian American Council or Americans United for Palestinian Human rights.

The content was produced by Prager University and was sponsored by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.

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LA Times: UC appoints Jewish student regent amid controversy

By LARRY GORDON For the second time in two years, passions surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts have entered an unlikely forum: the UC regents' selection of student representatives on the university governing board The regents voted Wednesday for a Jewish undergraduate from UCLA to join a Muslim from UC Berkeley as the student voices on the panel. The two, who both faced controversy over their selections, promised to cooperate on student-related causes, although they have taken opposing positions on whether UC should divest its holdings in companies that do business with the Israeli military. The UC regents confirmed Abraham "Avi" Oved as the new student representative, despite protests from a pro-Palestinian group and others that he may have a conflict of interest. Critics say his campus political campaigns were supported, at least indirectly, by a donor who backs Israeli causes. Oved served as internal vice president of the UCLA campus undergraduate student government and is active at the UCLA Jewish Student Union and the Hillel organization. Last year the board selected Sadia Saifuddin, a UC Berkeley student government leader, who is now the voting student regent through the upcoming school year. Some Jewish organizations opposed her selection because Saifuddin, the first Muslim student regent, supported the campaign for UC divestment. Oved opposed such divestment and the regents are considered unlikely to approve such a controversial financial move. Regent George Kieffer, who heads the committee on student regent selection, said there were parallels in the two consecutive years of controversy. "That's what happens at a university with differences of opinion," Kieffer said after Wednesday's vote. But he said he was pleased that Saifuddin, who cast the only vote against Oved's confirmation, nevertheless said the two will work together. The group Students for Justice in Palestine contended that Oved had unseemly connections to Adam Milstein, a businessman who supports Israeli causes and has expressed opinions the regents consider offensive to Muslims. Milstein donated money to the UCLA Hillel, according to Oved. The Hillel group gave financial support to the campus political slate that included Oved, he said. Oved, whose parents emigrated from Israel, has denied directly taking any of Milstein's money for his political races and has said opposition to his regent nomination arose because of his anti-divestment stance. Oved and his supporters note that UCLA has no rules banning donations to student campaigns. Milstein said in a statement Wednesday he was pleased by the regents' vote but emphasized that neither he nor his family foundation donated to Oved. The allegations about Oved's funding were part of an "anti-Semitic smear campaign" meant to intimidate pro-Israel students, he said. Milstein denied that he was anti-Muslim: "The one thing I actually am is pro-Israel…. That, by default, does not make me anything else." The UC systemwide student association recently sought to delay the confirmation vote until the next regents meeting in September so the situation could be more fully investigated. Several student leaders, speaking at the meeting here Wednesday, said the board showed disrespect to student opinion by moving ahead. Demonstrators silently stood in protest after the vote, holding signs that read "Not My Student Regent." The regents rejected the call for postponement, saying Oved had done nothing wrong. Kieffer noted the UC student association had done much of the thorough screening that led to Oved's nomination. He said it would be "meaningless" to delay since UCLA's student election code does not require disclosure of campaign donors. Saifuddin said she could not support Oved's nomination when so many students wanted further investigation. "It is greatly troubling that students' concerns about their representative are being dismissed," she said. Yet, Saifuddin promised to guide Oved "through the myriad moral and political factors" student regents face. Oved, an economics major who grew up in Encino, said Middle East issues are not relevant to the most important issues facing UC. He said he wants to work on such efforts as boosting financial aid, increasing classes, helping victims of sexual assault and improving mental health services. And he said he would "reach out to communities that may have felt uncomfortable" with his nomination. Oved quoted the late feminist poet Audre Lorde in his statement that people should honor their differences. "This sentiment of recognizing, accepting and celebrating differences is one I wish to carry throughout my term as student regent," Oved said. He will serve one year as the student regent designate, able to offer opinions but barred from voting on UC issues until he starts his term as a full regent in the 2015-16 school year. In other business, the regents heard from members of a task force recently formed by UC President Janet Napolitano to develop better ways of preventing and investigating sexual assault allegations on UC campuses. The group's chair, Sheryl Vacca, a UC senior vice president and chief compliance and audit officer, said a wide range of recommendations would be presented at the regents' September meeting with a goal of transforming UC into "a national leader." [email protected] Twitter: @larrygordonlat Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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Jewish Journal: Birthright to bring Israeli-American kids to their homeland

As the sun dipped below the horizon on the evening of May 6, nearly 100 local supporters of Birthright Israel gathered under a massive tent in the backyard of the Encino estate of philanthropists Adam and Gila Milstein.

Two hours later, Adam Milstein had announced a new Birthright program for Israeli-Americans and helped raise $6.5 million for Birthright — about $3.5 million for the new program — with the promise of much more. 

That’s thanks in large part to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and media mogul Haim Saban, who, together, contributed about $3.5 million. Other large contributions were made by various attendees and board members of the Israeli American Council (IAC), a Los Angeles-based group that seeks to strengthen the Israeli-American community.

At the dinner, Adelson, 80, pledged to match up to $50 million in donations made this year to Birthright and spoke broadly about his historical connection to Israel and his commitment to ensuring that any Jew who wants to go there won’t face the same fate as his father, who was too ill to go by the time Adelson and his siblings could afford to send him.

“I don’t want one Jewish person not to be able to go to Israel because they are too old and too sick,” he said.

Speaking for more than 30 minutes and passionately explaining his fear that American Jewry is vanishing, Adelson — whose support from last year is helping the IAC expand nationwide — said that Birthright is the single best guarantor of keeping young Jews interested in being Jewish. Coming seven months after a Pew Research Center survey reported an alarming decline in involvement among young Jews, Adelson’s admonition sounded particularly urgent.

At one point, he even looked at Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and predicted that, absent programs such as Birthright, Jewish communal organizations will be the first to disappear.

“Jay won’t need a job — there won’t be a Federation,” Adelson warned. “You better take that seriously. And then it will be AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and then it will be the ADL [Anti-Defamation League], the day schools, the Jewish camps. There won’t be any need because there won’t be any Jews left.”

Today, Adelson — whose net worth is just under $40 billion, according to Forbes — is heavily invested in Jewish life in America. He told the Journal after his speech that he has given more than $240 million to Birthright since the beginning of his involvement seven years ago, when his son’s inability to reach the top of Birthright’s waitlist alerted Adelson to the fact that, because of  lack of funds, thousands of young American Jews weren’t making it to Israel. He asked Birthright’s leadership how much it would cost to clear the waitlist. Their answer was $30 million. Adelson cleared it.

His reach has extended to Jewish life in Israel in recent years with his purchase of several news outlets, including the country’s largest newspaper, Israel Hayom, and a paper of the Zionist-religious right, Makor Rishon. The new Birthright program announced by Milstein is the IAC Leadership Taglit Birthright Trip. It will be jointly run by Birthright and the IAC with the goal of reversing what he said is a trend of assimilation in the Israeli-American community. “[This is] a community that’s not connected to Jewish organizations or Jewish life,” Milstein said. “If we were not there to work with this community, there is a real probability that they will assimilate quickly. They don’t go to synagogues. They don’t get a Jewish education.” 

Milstein estimates that about 1 million Israeli-Americans live in the United States. He said that Jews between 18 and 26 who have at least one Israeli parent and have spent most of their lives in America will be eligible. “When an Israeli-American comes on Birthright, the impact is probably five times more than the impact on Jewish-Americans,” Milstein said. “The reason is simple — Israeli-Americans are connected to Israel already.” 

In line with Birthright’s recently loosened eligibility requirements, Israeli-Americans who previously toured the land on an organized trip before the age of 18 will not be disqualified. Even so, Milstein predicts that many of the participants will not have intimate knowledge of the land. “They don’t know the land of Israel,” he said. “They know the house of their grandma; they know the beach in Netanya.” 

The new program, which will begin marketing this summer, hopes to send the first group of Israeli-Americans to Israel in the winter. A key component of the trip, Milstein said, will be regular follow-up with the participants after their return. He added that American Jews who prefer to go on a Birthright trip with Israeli-Americans will be able to apply to the program as well. 

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Jewocity: 5,000 spots open for Sifriyat Pijama B’America, the IAC free Hebrew-language children’s book program

Los Angeles, CA, February 20, 2014 – The Israel-American Council (IAC) has opened Sifriyat Pijama B’America’s (SP-BA) registration for the 2014-2015 school year. There are now 5,000 spots available for families to join the highly popular free Hebrew-language children’s book program on a first-come, first-served basis. Due to popular demand, IAC has made a total of 15,000 registrants possible this year with additional funding. SP-BA, a partnership of the IAC, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, is the Hebrew version of PJ Library and provides free monthly Hebrew children’s books to thousands of Israeli-American families throughout the United States. SP-BA offers Jewish children, ages 2-8, and their families an opportunity to create a tradition of reading stories in Hebrew together and enjoying meaningful conversations on Jewish topics and themes at home. The goal is to foster affinity for and knowledge of Jewish values from a young age while connecting to Israel. Each year the program grows and increases the number of new families nationwide. Last year 10,000 families benefited from the program. Because of growing demand, IAC has made additional funding possible to support 15,000 families with the program for the coming year. Spots in the popular program fill quickly, so families that register after the 2014-2015 school year capacity fills will be added to a 2015-2016 waitlist. SP-BA has recently partnered with Storyly, the first online library of children’s Hebrew stories, to offer Israeli parents across the United State a new, fun way to improve their children’s Hebrew language skills while nurturing a love of Israeli culture. As part of the new partnership, IAC offers free Storyly subscriptions to SP-BA members. With Storyly’s pioneering service, children can have dozens of Hebrew books read to them by their parents on the storyly.com or on the iPad; they can also listen to stories as audio e-books, or have the stories read to them by friends or relatives via a VIDEO-CHAT experience, based on Google Hangouts technology. For more information regarding Storyly, please visit: http://www.sp-ba.org/free-storyly-subscription. More information on registering for free SP-BA books and becoming eligible for a free Storyly subscription can be found at: http://www.sp-ba.org. To learn more about the Israel-American Council (IAC) please visit: www.israeliamerican.org

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Israel Hayom: Israeli American Council aims to boost Israel from the US

Adam Milstein, the Los Angeles businessman who was among the founders of the Israeli American Council, says the goal of the group is to contribute to the Israel-U.S. relationship and strengthen the Jewish and Israeli identities of future generations.

Milstein described how the IAC was founded and listed reasons why it has succeeded while other similar ventures have failed.Adam Milstein, the Los Angeles businessman who was among the founders of the Israeli American Council, spoke on Monday on a panel called "The Untapped Strategic Asset: Israeli-Americans" at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Jerusalem.

"We are businesspeople who give not only our time, but also our money and knowledge of the business world to advance a plan of action that we believe in," Milstein said, likening the IAC to a start-up company.

"The State of Israel was behind us from the start and [then] Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles Ehud Danoch initiated the establishment of the organization.

"We formed an Israeli community in the U.S. in order to strengthen the State of Israel and contribute to the special relationship between Israel and the U.S. Additionally, the goal is to strengthen the Jewish and Israeli identity of future generations and to come together with the Jewish community in the U.S.

"The aim is to set up eight offices like this throughout the U.S. We are building an organization of the community in other cities like Miami and Boston, and in New Jersey, in order to reach every Jew in the U.S. and every Israeli-American."

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The Times of Israel: Why we set up the Israeli-American Council

In 2006, during the Second Lebanese War, Ehud Danoch, Israeli Consul General of Los Angeles at that time, was organizing a support rally for the State of Israel. He confirmed the attendance of political leaders, such as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and he reached out and invited the close to 700,000 local Jewish and Israeli community members.

Ehud was deeply disappointed that only a few thousand Jews showed up at the rally and even more frustrated that despite the approximately 200,000 Israeli’s living in Los Angeles, only a handful of Israeli’s showed up to support the State of Israel.

The Israeli community in Los Angeles, which was the largest “settled” (not “sitting on their suitcases”) Israeli community in the US, was absent. It wasn’t that they didn’t support the State of Israel, but there were no lines of communication to reach or rally them.

Ehud knew something dramatic had to be done so he approached about ten local successful, philanthropic Israeli business people that were already involved in the Jewish and Israeli community. He challenged them to establish an umbrella organization that would unite and empower the local Israeli community to support the State of Israel and get involved in pro-Israel advocacy.

Many similar efforts in the past had been made to create a united community. Those mostly volunteer organizations failed because of the constant need to raise funds. Nevertheless, this new effort by Ehud Danoch was substantially different. He approached business people that were willing and able to put in their own time, money and contacts to create and support this vision. Also, the fact that the State of Israel, through its consul general of Los Angeles, was behind this campaign, made a huge difference.

As a founding board member, I, along with the selected others, accepted the challenge and embarked on an historical journey of galvanizing an Israeli community in Los Angeles which would later expand to the establishment of the Israeli-American Community in the United States. Just like the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, we followed the biblical “Naaseh V’Nishma” declaration and decided to ‘act first, deliberate later’. We put up our own money, rolled up our sleeves and immediately started a comprehensive community-building action plan that was improved, adjusted and expanded along the way.

Originally called the Israeli Leadership Council (“ILC”), the mission of our new organization was to build an active and giving Israeli community in order to strengthen the State of Israel, to ensure the Jewish Identity of our children, and to provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community.

The ILC’s action plan was based on reaching hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in Southern California by sponsoring existing – and building new – educational, advocacy, leadership and cultural events for every age group and for the community as a whole. We sponsored grassroots local Israeli organizations that promoted the Hebrew language, our Israeli heritage and our Jewish values. And, wherever there was a gap, we created our own projects and programs.

For young children, we established Sifriyat Pijama B’America – a program providing free Hebrew children’s books, promoting Jewish values. The program started, three years ago, with 1,000 families and now reaches 10,000 families (more than 50,000 Israelis) in the United States every month. For students in non-Jewish schools, we funded after-hours Hebrew language learning. For high school, we supported existing Tzofim & B’nai Akiva activities and established new Tzofim tribes. For students in American universities, advocacy and leadership programs such as Shagririm and Mishelanu. For young adults, we created BINA, a community of intellectual young Israelis and Jewish Americans connecting through ideas, business networks, and cultural activities. For mature Israeli adults, we sponsored Moadon Israelim, which organized cultural, musical and theatrical.

As for community wide events, we sponsored a concert for Sederot featuring Ninet Tiab and students from Sederot that raised $300,000 for their smart classrooms. We annually produce the Israeli Independence Day Festival that brings 15,000-20,000 people to celebrate Israel. We put together a musical concert with Matisyahu and Moshe Peretz to promote giving and community volunteering. In 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense, our Tzav 8 contact list was able to rally thousands of local Israelis to show up and support the State of Israel.

Initially, funding came solely from our members and the Board. Later, we began to receive significant support and donations from highly influential Israeli and Jewish philanthropists, including Haim and Cheryl Saban, Sheldon and Miri Adelson, Beny and Adele Alagem, Leo and Ruth David and David Wiener. Over the years, many of our Board Members have increased their annual donations to six figures.

As we grew and expanded, it became very clear, that while the members of our Israeli Leadership Council felt 100% Israeli, no one else recognized us as such. The State of Israel labeled us as Yordim. Americans saw us as U.S. citizens and our children definitely didn’t want to be perceived as kids of foreigners. Personally, when we wanted to give money to support pro-Israeli politicians and we introduced ourselves as Israelis, they would respond by saying, ‘We can’t take money from Israelis! You are foreigners!’ At that point we realized we needed to be identified as “Americans” if we wanted to have a voice in the American political arena.

Our identity was defining itself as Israeli-Americans, or Americans of Israeli descent. In early 2012 the ILC changed its name to the Israeli-American Council, the “IAC”. Once we changed our name and established ourselves as an American organization, both the Jewish-American community and the State of Israel realized our potential and began to see us as their strategic asset.

In the past 30 years, the population of Israeli-Americans reached an estimated 500,000-800,000. The majority of them do not affiliate with Jewish life or play a role in the active pro-Israel community. Due to the fact they are mostly secular, they experience the same high rate of assimilation as the Jewish community in America.

However, the fact will always remain, Israeli-Americans not only love Israel, they accept Israel without conditions. Add that fact to their understanding of the Middle East “Bad Neighborhood”, and you have a passion and comprehension that is unparalleled.

Until very recently, the State of Israel and the American Jewish Community had not recognized the historical significance of reaching and connecting with these unaffiliated Israeli-Americans in order to utilize their substantial power and voice.

Today, the significant mission of the Israeli-American Council is to recognize, reach and empower this UNTAPPED STRATEGIC ASSET, the Israeli-American community. We are expanding nationwide in order to grow and develop a generous, active and influential Israeli-American Community, thereby ensuring the Jewish identity of our future generations and strengthen the State of Israel.

At a time when Jewish unity is more critical than ever, the recognition by the State of Israel and the inclusion of Israeli-Americans in the American Jewish Community is vital.

Read more: Why we set up the Israeli-American Council | Adam Milstein | The Blogs | The Times of Israel http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-we-created-the-israeli-american-council/#ixzz3VMmp0Es6 
Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

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Israeli Leadership Council changes name

When the chief executive officer of the Israeli Leadership Council announced at the group’s March 10 gala that the nonprofit’s name is changing to the Israeli American Council (IAC), the reaction from the 900 people in attendance was modest. As animations of the group’s new logo flashed on screens around the Beverly Hilton ballroom, polite applause briefly drowned out the clink of silverware against plates.

But for the leadership of the ILC — now the IAC — the message embodied in the new name is significant, signaling the group’s increased comfort with its dual Israeli-American identity.

“We felt that the name ‘Israeli Leadership Council’ did not reflect what we’re doing today,” said Adam Milstein, an IAC board member.

Founded in 2007 as the Israeli Leadership Club by a group of local Israeli-American businessmen who joined forces to ensure they could mobilize their community in support of the Jewish state in times of crisis, the organization has since grown into a nonprofit with a $3 million annual budget.

Its mission is threefold — supporting Israel, strengthening Jewish identity among young Israeli-Americans and building connections between the Israeli-American and Jewish-American communities. To that end, the IAC supports more than a dozen different projects and organizations.

Adam Milstein first suggested to the board that the group change its basic brand, from “Israeli” to “Israeli-American,” about 18 months ago. Eli Tene, then the group’s co-chair and currently a member of its seven-person board, remembers reacting skeptically. “Why change something that’s working?” Tene remembers thinking, he said in an interview Sunday.

Success, indeed, is not at issue: In 2012, the organization reached about 50,000 people, up from 3,500 during 2010. Most of that growth can be attributed to two major projects: Taking charge of the citywide Celebrate Israel Festival last year, which drew 15,000 attendees to Rancho Park in May, and, secondly, helping to found Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which distributed free Hebrew children’s books to 2,000 families across the country in 2012, reaching an estimated 17,000 people. Both of those programs are projected to expand in 2013.

Still, Milstein was undeterred, and he lobbied his fellow board members in support of the name change. His argument was twofold: By defining themselves as Israelis, Milstein said, the current generation of immigrants are separating themselves from their American children, who “want to be like anybody else.”

Milstein also said he had come to realize that he could do more on behalf of the Jewish state, where he was born, by embracing his identity as an American citizen. “Nobody around us looked at us as Israelis, and we were defeating ourselves because we were not recognizing who we are,” he said.

A real estate investor who has lived in the United States since 1981 and been an American citizen since 1986, Adam Milstein is one of the country’s top donors to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). When he has lobbied American and foreign officials on behalf of Israel, Milstein said he began to notice a subtle discomfort when he said he was “from Israel.”

“Nobody said it,” Milstein said, “but I would see it in their faces.”

If the old ILC logo — three white letters on a blue shield, flanked by gold olive branches — subtly suggested that the group was an arm of Israel’s foreign ministry, then the new IAC logo — a Star of David half-enveloped by red and white stripes — has far more in common with that of America’s pro-Israel groups.

Now, the IAC is pushing Israeli-Americans to get involved in local Jewish communities in the diaspora, as well as in Israel advocacy. IAC chair Shawn Evenhaim spoke about connecting Israeli-Americans to their Jewish-American counterparts at the Jewish Federations of North America’s 2012 General Assembly. Milstein addressed the importance of Israel advocacy at an IAC-organized panel discussion at AIPAC’s policy conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. He forcefully rejected the idea that Israeli-Americans have already “paid their dues” to Israel by serving in the IDF.

“This is your miluim service,” Milstein said in an interview in his office in Encino just a few days after the panel, referring to the month-long reserve duty all Israeli men are required to perform, over and above their required full-time military service. “This is how you support Israel.”

Boosting Israeli-Americans’ support for Israel is one key aspect of the IAC’s mission, and political leaders from all levels of government and from across the political spectrum attended Sunday’s gala.

Longtime Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) was there, as was the newly elected Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-San Fernando Valley). The two candidates who advanced to a May runoff for Los Angeles mayor, City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti, were also present, and Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles, David Siegel, read a letter from Bibi Netanyahu, thanking the IAC for strengthening the ties of Israeli-Americans to Israel.

The gala’s honorees included businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison, whose company owns a large interest in Carnival Cruise Lines and a controlling stake in Bank Hapoalim, and Daniel Gold, who developed Israel’s Iron Dome’s missile defense system (see related story, p. 27). Hotel magnate and political mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Ochshorn Adelson, also received an award at the gala.

Despite the absence of a few of the group’s biggest supporters — including Haim Saban, who was away on business — the IAC raised an estimated about $2 million on Sunday.

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AISH: Reaching Israelis in America – Adam Milstein is using Hebrew to stem the tide of assimilation amongst Israelis living in America

Adam and Gila Milstein initially moved to the United States from Israel with their two youngest daughters over 30 years ago. Their plan was to stay for a couple of years to allow Adam to complete his Master’s in Business Administration at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. When he graduated he started working to pay off his college loans and before they knew it 20 years had passed and they never came back to Israel.

The Milsteins joined what Israelis call the “yerida” or descent (the opposite ofaliyah or ascent – i.e. moving to Israel). Adam ended up going into commercial real estate and after a successful career, he and his wife became involved in philanthropic work to help the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

The Milsteins with one
of their Hebrew books.

Although both their daughters attended Jewish day schools for elementary school, there weren’t many choices when it came to finding a non-denominational Jewish high school. The Milsteins therefore ended up sending their daughters to a secular private school in the Valley. Although they were happy with the education, they were disappointed to notice that most of their daughter’s friends were non-Jewish – although it was to be expected considering that only a small portion of their classmates were Jewish. However, when their daughters started dating non-Jewish boys, the Milsteins began to get uncomfortable.

When Adam told his daughters that they needed to marry Jewish, their response was an emphatic, “Why?”

Adam realized he couldn’t explain to his daughters why they needed to marry Jewish.

“I didn’t have a good answer for them,” he recalled. “They pointed out that I myself lived a totally secular life. Why should they do otherwise?”

Marrying Jewish didn’t fit into their secular values with which they had raised their children up until that point.

Adam realized that it was time to discover why preserving his Jewish heritage was so important to him and his family. He started attending Aish LA events in 2002 and began learning regularly with Aish HaTorah’s Rabbi Dov Heller.

An Epidemic

As he learned more about Judaism and his Jewish pride increased, he became more and more aware that assimilation among Israeli-Americans was becoming a major epidemic. There are an estimated 700,000 to 900,000 Israelis living in the United States. Since the majority come from secular families, they often lack the ability to pass on Jewish tradition to their children once outside of the land of Israel. According to Milstein, this results in intermarriage and assimilation rates that are much higher as those of American Jews.

“The parents feel they’re Jewish even though they are completely disconnected from Jewish observance and community simply because they are Israeli,” he explained. “Their kids, on the other hand, don’t want to be Israelis or immigrants. They want to assimilate into American culture and get as far away from their ‘foreign’ roots as possible. American Jews already have an infrastructure to pass Judaism on to their children. Israelis have nothing. They rarely belong to any synagogues because it costs a substantial amount of money to become members. How will their kids stay Jewish? Kids need Jewish life or Jewish education otherwise they will assimilate more rapidly.”

Gila Milstein reads Hebrew books
to her grandson and his friends.

In many parts of Israel these problem exists as well, albeit to a lesser degree. “Kids don’t have the same Jewish connections nowadays,” Milstein continued. “In my time everyone served in the Israeli army and we understood the importance of a Jewish State. Today, an unprecedented portion of Israeli youth in large metropolitan areas such as Tel Aviv tries to avoid the draft.”

Nonetheless, outside of Israel, Israelis are particularly vulnerable to assimilation, unprepared for life in the Diaspora. “Expatriate Israelis keep thinking they are going back to Israel someday,” Milstein explained. “They have to realize that they are here for good. As the saying goes, they’re sitting on their suitcases. They don’t realize that they are actually sitting on a time bomb.”

The Mother Tongue

As part of a solution, the Milsteins founded Sifriyat Pijama B’America (SP-BA). Inspired by PJ Library and its Israeli counterpart Sifriyat Pijama, SP-BA provides an opportunity for young Jewish children living in the United States, ages three to six, to receive quality Jewish storybooks in Hebrew each month – for free.

The program gives young Jewish children living in the US quality Jewish storybooks in Hebrew each month – for free.

Each year, nine children’s books are chosen by the Israel Ministry of Education and a committee of experts in early childhood and Jewish education in addition to a music CD or DVD. The curriculum is composed of popular storybooks by Jewish authors in Israel and the U.S. that teach Jewish values on a universal level – to which children everywhere can relate. Book titles include “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat,” “King Solomon and the Bee,” “Old Hillel’s Patience,” and other classic stories. Messages range from satisfaction with one’s lot, appreciating all of God’s creatures, discovering one’s inner beauty, and overcoming negative impulses. Each book or CD is accompanied by a guide to help parents further engage their children through activities and discussions.

“In a world where everything is TV, I-Pad, and computers, books are more important than ever,” Sharon B., a single Israeli mother living in L.A., said. “Not only are they free, but they are the right books with the right values.” She insists that her children speak Hebrew at home, yet getting Hebrew books was always a challenge. “Hebrew is my language. I don’t want my children to lose their roots. They have to eat, sleep, bathe, and speak Hebrew!” she said. Finding out about SP-BA was welcomed news.

Naomi W. came to the U.S. on vacation 14 years ago, met her husband and stayed. She is thrilled to finally have quality Hebrew books to read with her children – who speak Hebrew to her in the home, even though her husband is American. “They’re classics – books I grew up reading,” she said. “They’re beautiful, cute, and the kids love them!” Although they sent all their children to a Hebrew speaking pre-school, when it came time for elementary school they were unable to afford a Jewish day school. “It’s always a struggle to keep your children connected to Israel and Jewish life,” she recalled. “When our children went on to public school, they lost their Hebrew.”

Continued Jewish Education

In addition to fostering a strong Jewish identity and an appreciation for Jewish values and culture among the new generation and encouraging the use of Hebrew as the official language of the Jewish People in Israel and the Diaspora, the mission statement of SP-BA is also to encourage unaffiliated Israeli-American families to get involved in Jewish education.

“We are trying to reach out to Israelis and embrace them and bring them back to Jewish life, Jewish education and the Jewish people.”

“We are trying to reach out to Israelis and embrace them and bring them back to Jewish life, Jewish education and the Jewish people. Otherwise they might be lost completely,” Milstein said. “This process doesn’t just happen through listening to bedtime stories in Hebrew. We hope that once they read the books to their children, it will create an appetite for more Jewish life. What we are truly seeking to do is to build communities with Jewish day schools as their focal point and help Israeli-Americans – especially those who are unaffiliated with Jewish institutions – to connect with Jewish life and Jewish education.”

This year, parents will be invited to enroll in SP-BA for free through a local Jewish day school with the goal of bringing unaffiliated Israeli-Americans who are often not connected to the mainstream Jewish community into the Jewish day school system, thereby strengthening local Jewish communities across the country. By establishing relationships with 30 affiliated Jewish day schools – in Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey, the Bay Area, San Diego, Chicago, Washington DC, Phoenix, Denver, and other cities across the U.S. – families who otherwise haven’t become a part of the local day school community will feel welcome attending Jewish community events in the schools in the future. SP-BA organizes monthly or bi-monthly group reading events, costume parties, and plays to bring participating and new families together and to bring the books to life. Children need not be enrolled in an affiliated school to participate in SP-BA, but the registration events are an important first step in greater involvement in the local Israeli-American and Jewish communities. 

In this sense, SP-BA is an amalgamation between the PJ Library — which mails books directly to the homes of almost 100,000 North American children ages 6 months to 8 years — and the four-year-old Israeli spinoff, Sifriyat Pijama which, in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Education, distributes books to 120,000 children through local schools and anticipates increasing the number of children to 200,000 next year.

“Amazingly the program in Israel is extremely popular notwithstanding the fact that Hebrew books are not in shortage there,” Milstein said.

SP-BA was quickly adopted by the Israeli-American Leadership Council (ILC), a nonprofit working to build an active Israeli-American community and to ensure the Jewish identity of the next generation, strengthen the State of Israel and provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community, in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Avi-Chai Foundation, in addition of course to the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.

The Birth of a Movement

“The number of participants in Sifriyat Pijama B’America is growing exponentially,” Milstein said. “When we started out last year, we had a goal of reaching 1,000 families. A few weeks later, we already had 2,000 families receiving books on a monthly basis with close to a thousand on our waiting list. We are thrilled to have secured funding to be able to expand to reach an additional 4,000 families this year.”

He stresses that the goal is not that participants should become religious per se. “I’m not telling you what kind of Jewish life to keep as long as you’re a part of the Jewish people. Secular in Israel is still Jewish. Secular in America is nothing.”

Additionally, he feels that if united, the Israeli-American community could become a powerful movement. “We can’t count on Europe anymore for support. It will be a majority Muslim by 2050. The only country in the world that supports Israel is the U.S. mainly because of the strong Jewish lobby. Let’s transform the Israeli community into a powerful, productive force to support Israel.”

Today, the Milstein’s two oldest daughters are married to Jews. Their third daughter, who was born in the US, is a pro-Israel activist and serves as the New England campus coordinator of Hasbara Fellowships. Adam and Gila prefer not to imagine what would have been had they not gotten involved in Jewish education, community, and lifestyle. Now, they are passing the chain down to the next generations.