September 2008

LeShanah Tovah Tikatayvu!

Elul 5768

WELCOME to the new MERCAZ USA E-Letter being sent to MERCAZ members and supporters from the 2006 World Zionist Congress elections. Information to Unsubscribe is available below.

MERCAZ USA is the Zionist membership organization of the Conservative Movement, the voice of Conservative Jewry within the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Zionist Movement and the Jewish National Fund to support religious pluralism in Israel and strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. Click here for all the organizations that benefit from MERCAZ USA's involvement in the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Israel. Click here to (re)join for the current 2008-2009 fiscal year.



After more than twenty years at 155 Fifth Avenue, the MERCAZ USA office has moved, along with the national headquarters of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, to its new location at 820 Second Avenue (between 43rd and 44th Streets), New York, NY 10017. Entrance to the office is from the 10th floor. Telephone and fax numbers and email address remain the same: 212-533-2061 (tel), 212-533-2601 (fax),

Looking to join an organized trip to Israel? Click here for a list of upcoming Conservative Movement synagogue trips for 2008-2009. Click here for a list of different short-term and long-term programs to Israel.

CALLING ALL TEENS! The deadline for entries to the biennial MERCAZ/Women's League Essay Contest for scholarships to participate on trips and study programs to Israel is fast approaching. This year, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel, our essay topic is "Israel at 60: Achievements and Challenges". Entries must be received by September 25th. Click here for more information. Click here for the official entry form.

Ramah Programs in Israel enjoyed a banner year in 2008, with well over 1,000 participants in its various programs, including those for middle school and high school students and their families.

Among the programs reaching new heights was Ramah Israel Seminar, which sent over 320 participants to Israel this past summer. Together with USY Pilgrimage, there were more than 660 high school students in Israel this summer for Conservative Movement-sponsored Israel experience programs.

Other Ramah programs that saw increases in 2008 included T.R.Y. (Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim) and USY High, as well as Ramah's family trips and Solomon Schechter and other day school 8th grade trips.

Rabbi David Lazar, rabbi of the Masorti congregation "Tiferet Shalom" in Tel Aviv, was among a delegation of more than a dozen rabbis, including two from Israel, who attended this past spring, an interfaith dialogue in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

While the talks were not entirely smooth and politics and disputes over the Palestinian issue did inevitably intrude, the meetings were useful, as Rabbi Lazar remarked, in enabling the Arab and Muslim participants "to hear, not only an Israeli but to hear a Jewish rabbi speak . . . and so one of my responses [was] trying to tell them the story of the Jewish people, which often they [had] not heard [including] the Holocaust".

NOAM Israel, the youth movement of the Masorti Movement in Israel, announces a new project: a traveling musical singing group named "SHIRAT MAHAR - The Song of Tomorrow".

SHIRAT MAHAR, composed of ten NOAM youth leaders with rich musical backgrounds, is planning to visit North America at various times during the year and offers a variety of programs to sponsoring communities. For more information, contact


MERCAZ USA - Rena Magun greeting her father Joe at Ben-Gurion Airport.FULFILLING A ZIONIST WIFE'S DREAM

Rabbi David Ebstein, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, and his wife Rena Magun made aliyah a dozen years ago, settling in Jerusalem. After a number of years on the staff of the United Synagogue's Fuchsberg Center working on special projects, David retrained as a licensed tour guide. Rena is the Assistant Executive Director of the Overseas Department for Melitz.

Several months ago, Rena's mother passed away. Below is David Ebstein's report on the day that his father-in-law Joe Magun arrived in Israel as a new immigrant:

"Yesterday my father-in-law made aliyah with Nefesh b'Nefesh. It was one of the most amazing days I have ever experienced. Nefesh b'Nefesh has the day planned perfectly. The flight gets in early in the morning, you meet relatives on the tarmac after a short bus ride (the old Terminal One at Ben Gurion Airport), and there is singing and dancing and a short but meaningful ceremony. NBN is a real class act, doing 'avodat hakodesh' (holy work).

Rena's father is a remarkable man whom I love dearly. Just 7 months ago, he was widowed, losing his wife of almost 62 years. He has found the strength to continue and begin to rebuild his life after lovingly taking care of my mother-in-law for the last 10 years of her life as she slowly declined. We aren't sure how much of the year he will spend in Israel and how much he will spend in Florida, but we are grateful that while he is in good health, he will be spending lots of time with our family, and especially our four kids.

It is ironic that my mother-in-law, a staunch Zionist who almost made aliyah from a DP (displaced persons) camp in Germany after the war, never made aliyah and my father-in-law, did. How did this happen? According to family lore, Joe and Chana met peeling potatoes for latkes on Chanukah in Vilna in 1944. Although they both knew that marriage was their destiny, Chana felt she needed to go to Israel and see her only relative, her sister, who had survived. Apparently, she boarded a train and was about to begin her trek to the holy land.

Joe got on board and convinced her to come with him to America for only a short time. His mother, together with his sister, had survived the Shoah (Holocaust) because they had gone to America in 1939, to visit her only brother. His father, a doctor, had been murdered by Lithuanians while he was on the way to treat one of his patients, leaving Joe with only two relatives after the war.

Chana reluctantly got off the train, they married and eventually came to America where they lived their entire lives, raising four children. Rena's mother taught her children her love for Israel and Hebrew, and Rena decided, metaphorically speaking, to get back on that train on behalf of her mother. After 7 wonderful years in the pulpit we made aliyah and have been living in Jerusalem for the past 12 years. But, back to the story!

When I approached the tarmac at Ben Gurion, I was concerned that perhaps I had missed my father-in-law. As I looked around at the sea of welcoming relatives, various youth groups, NBN officials, a plethora of Israeli flags, I began to cry. Rena has been crying for days, but for me, the tears began when I saw her waving a banner welcoming her dear father who was finally making aliyah, without his wife.

After hugging and kissing him, we escorted him into the welcoming hall where Joe and his daughter spontaneously began to dance. We were joined by our rabbi and my dear friend, Barry Schlesinger (rabbi of Moreshet Avraham, the Masorti congregation in East Talpiot, and president of the Rabbinical Assembly-Israel Region) and various congregants, and, before you know it, we surreptitiously had started some passionate mixed dancing (on the flight, there had been a few secular Jews, some Conservative Jews - Rena's father being one of them - and a majority of modern Orthodox Jew and haredi olim). It was great. Barry unfurled the banner of the Conservative Movement; we took pictures and just enjoyed this wonderful moment.

On the way home, we stopped off at the Eretz haChayim cemetery where we cried again at my mother-in-law's grave. What a day! 'M'simcha liyagon l'simcha' (from gladness to sadness and back again)! At home that night, we ate on our porch under our vines ('ish tachat gafno') and basked in the glory of the day. Words just cannot do justice to the many emotions of the day. And at dinner, in addition to discussing the highs of the day, we talked about what every Israeli family probably talked about that night, the terrorist attack in Jerusalem only 10 minutes from our home. My father-in-law had the privilege of fighting the Nazis and he is never surprised when our enemies 'omdim aleinu l'chaloteinu' (rise up against us). Although he is a new oleh, in many ways, he fits right in.

Our cup runneth over. 'Zeh hayom asa HaShem, nagila v'nismacha vo'
(Psalm 118:24)."

For more information about Joe Magun's aliyah and klitah, contact Rabbi David Ebstein at:

If you are interested in more information about making aliyah, click here.

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