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JNF Bike Mission to Israel October 2017: an outstanding vacation!

This past fall, my husband Alan and I were planning a trip to Israel to visit our daughter, who is studying in Tel Aviv. We have been to Israel many times; we lived in Israel for a year with our four children – so we were looking for another way to view the country.

As we were contemplating our options, I noticed an email from JNF float across my computer. A bike tour of the Negev desert was being advertised. I shared this ad with my husband, who is an avid cyclist – and his response came back to me in a matter of minutes. Let’s do it!
Without much information, and quicker than we decide what to order in a restaurant, we booked our spots on the bike tour. The excitement of seeing Israel as cyclists, and having an active vacation as part of a group, was enticing to us.
That’s when we were told that a number of the participants were from Edmonton. We thought –really? Amazing. It will be fun to hang out with other prairie folk. Must be an interesting group if they all want to go cycling together. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
We met up with the group in Tel Aviv on the date of the bike departure. Alan and I quickly discovered that we were “the foreigners”. Of our intimate group of 14, ten of the members of the group hailed from Edmonton. The other four included my husband and me, the father of one of the Edmontonians – who is based in Niagara on the Lake, and a woman from Toronto.
From the first night the group bonded immediately. Despite the fact that we were  “the foreigners”, we were warmly welcomed into the group. Laughs were in abundance. Within a short period of time, our group developed a roster of inside jokes, code words, and affectionate teasing of one another. Sure, there were the stronger cyclists and the less experienced cyclists, but the bottom line was that we were all committed to this incredible experience of seeing the beauty and culture of the country of Israel together.

We cycled for seven days, accumulating a total of just under 240 kilometres in our trek through the Negev.
Our journey began with a drive from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon. En route we stopped to visit “Achim l’Chaim” – Brothers for Life. This JNF project had a profound impact on all of us. Achim l’Chaim is an organization that supports wounded soldiers. Soldiers shared powerful stories of the traumas that had changed their lives, the impact of PTSD, and other injuries that they had survived. We left Achim l’Chaim with strong memories of the soldiers we had encountered.
After an overnight in Ashkelon, we mounted our bikes for our first serious day of cycling. We headed to the Erez crossing, looking into Gaza, where we focused our cameras in the opposite direction from Gaza, as one is not supposed to photograph the Erez border crossing.
 We continued by bike to Sderot, well known for being close to the border of Gaza and the recipient of many rocket attacks over the years. I was surprised to see the work that had been done in this city by JNF. There were several beautiful parks and developments within the city. From the publicity I’d read about the seriousness of the attacks the city had undergone, this is not at all what I expected. As a matter of fact, we had the best lunch of the whole trip in a small restaurant in Sderot, where the serving staff continued to bring copious amounts of food to our tables. It is impressive to see how well the residents of Sderot live, despite the constant danger – evidence that JNF has done much to improve their standard of living.
 Following Sderot, we visited Shlomit, a community that felt as if it had been pulled out of the late 1800s – a group of pioneers reminiscent of the first settlers – the halutzim of Israel. People live in caravans, at the junction of Israel, Gaza and the Sinai. There are about 50 families, a religious Zionist community, committed to building the land and populating this remote area. I wondered how unpleasant it is during a sand storm, as I felt the sand and heat making me a wee bit dizzy. One of the women took us to visit the farms where various crops were growing in the desert, under the benevolent eye of JNF. We discussed the fact that none of us felt the desire to move to Shlomit – but one had to admire the resolve of the residents!
That night we slept in Mitzpe Ramon, on the edge of the Mahtesh hagadol.
The next day we cycled from Mitzpe Ramon to Yerucham. We stopped at Sde Boker to taste some wine from a local winery. In Yerucham we ate lunch in a restaurant in the home of the Malcat Yerucham – the Queens of Yerucham.
From Yerucham we began our descent to the Dead Sea through the Hatira Crater. That is where I had my first moment of panic when I looked into the astonishingly beautiful crater and realized I had to go…down. However, that was nothing compared to the descent down the road known as the Scorpion Ascent. I focused on my husband and promised not to look over the edge as we rode our brakes slowly down a steep zigzag path that continued for over 15 minutes, without a guardrail. Definitely a proud moment for me when I reached the bottom and the rest of the group cheered; I had confided in them earlier that I have a fear of heights!
We continued our bike ride on the Peace Route, along the Israel- Jordan border, stopping at a location to see the farming accomplishments in the area. We spent the night  at the Dead Sea.
The next day was a challenging cycle from the Dead Sea to Masada. This was the first time that my husband and I had taken the cable car up Masada instead of climbing. We were so hot and exhausted from the bike journey, I felt no guilt in accepting the cable car option!

From Masada we went on to Jerusalem to prepare for Shabbat.
Shabbat was a highlight of the trip. That night we all walked to the Kotel to have Kabalat Shabbat at the Wall.
The meal that we ate in the Leonardo Hotel that night was the most memorable of the week. For my husband and I, who keep kosher, the options of steak, roast, lamb, chicken – were endless and mouth watering.
We sang zemiros (led by my husband) until late into the night, at one point dancing around our table!
After a thoroughly relaxing Shabbat in Jerusalem, we did a night ride through the Old City – one of the scarier cycles as it was a challenge to avoid the cars and people on the narrow cobblestone streets!
The following day we rode on a new bike trail that circles Jerusalem. What a treat! We had been accustomed to riding on the highway. To ride on a bike path felt like luxury. Our journey that day ended at the Cramim Spa Hotel – a highlight in every way. The food, the spa, the hotel rooms, the service – everything about Cramim is to be recommended. I would be happy to visit annually.
The next day we were transported to Tel Aviv for a final dinner and to bid fond goodbyes to our newfound friends.
Our holiday was a thorough ten out of ten. My husband and I are thrilled that we accomplished the challenges of the bike journey through the starkly beautiful Negev Desert. We have a whole new group of close friends.
We visited sites that we would not have been able to visit had it not been for the JNF arrangements. We saw the desert in a way that cannot be compared to views through the windows of a car.
Would I do it again? You bet!

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Hamas murdered their friend. Now, they help Israeli soldiers to keep his memory alive

David Newman (right): David died helping to save the lives of others who were at the music festival on October 7 when Hamas massacred hundreds of attendees

By VIRGINIA ALLEN (The Daily Signal) David Newman sent a text to a friend the morning of Saturday, Oct. 7. Something terrible had happened. Word quickly spread among Newman’s group of friends, who had known each other since high school.
Newman, 25, had traveled the night before to the music festival in southern Israel, close to the border with the Gaza Strip. It was supposed to be a fun weekend with his girlfriend “celebrating life,” something Newman, who served with the Israel Defense Forces, was good at and loved to do, friend Gidon Hazony recalls.
When Hazony learned that Newman, his longtime friend, was in danger, he and another friend decided they were “going to go down and try and save him.” Trained as a medic and armed with a handgun and bulletproof vest, Hazony started driving south from Jerusalem.
Hazony and his friend ended up joining with other medical personnel and “treated probably around 50 soldiers and civilians in total that day,” Hazony recalls, but they kept trying to make it south to rescue Newman.

But the two “never made it down to the party, and that’s probably for the best,” Hazony says, “because that area was completely taken over by terrorists. And if we had gone down there, I think we would’ve been killed.”
Hazony later learned that Hamas terrorists had murdered Newman on Oct. 7, but not before Newman had saved nearly 300 lives, including the life of his girlfriend.
When the terrorists began their attack on the music festival, many attendees began running to their cars. But Newman and his girlfriend encountered a police officer who warned them to run the opposite direction because the terrorists were near the vehicles, says David Gani, another friend of Newman’s.
Newman “ran in the opposite direction with his girlfriend and whoever else he could kind of corral with him,” Gani explains during an interview on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
“They saw two industrial garbage cans, big containers, and so David told everyone, ‘Hide, hide in those containers,’” Gani says. “And so what he did over the course of the next few hours is, he would take people and … he was this big guy, and he would just chuck them in that container. And then he would go in, wait, wait till the coast is clear, and then he’d go back out, find more people, put them in there.”
Newman’s actions that day, and the atrocities Hazony and so many others in Israel witnessed Oct. 7, led Hazony, Gani, and several friends to quit their jobs and set up a nonprofit called Soldiers Save Lives. The organization is working to collect tactical and humanitarian aid for the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF.
According to the group’s website, Soldiers Save Lives has supplied over 20 IDF units and civilian response teams “with protective and self-defense gear.”
Gani, board chairman, chief financial officer, and chief technology officer of Soldiers Save Lives, and Hazony, president of the organization, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to raise support and awareness for their mission to provide IDF troops with needed supplies.
If you would like to find out more about Soldiers Save Lives or donate to them, go to
Reprinted with permission.

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Our New Jewish Reality

Indigo bookstore in Toronto defaced

By HENRY SREBRNIK Since Oct. 7, we Jews have been witnessing an ongoing political and psychological pogrom. True, there have been no deaths (so far), but we’ve seen the very real threat of mobs advocating violence and extensive property damage of Jewish-owned businesses, and all this with little forceful reaction from the authorities.
The very day after the carnage, Canadians awoke to the news that the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust had inspired sustained celebrations in its major cities. And they have continued ever since. I’d go so far as to say the Trudeau government has, objectively, been more interested in preventing harm to Gazans than caring about the atrocities against Israelis and their state.
For diaspora Jews, the attacks of Oct. 7 were not distant overseas events and in this country since then they have inspired anti-Semitism, pure and simple, which any Jew can recognize. Even though it happened in Israel, it brought back the centuries-old memories of defenseless Jews being slaughtered in a vicious pogrom by wild anti-Semites.
I think this has shocked, deeply, most Jews, even those completely “secular” and not all that interested in Judaism, Israel or “Zionism.” Jewish parents, especially, now fear for their children in schools and universities. The statements universities are making to Jewish students across the country could not be clearer: We will not protect you, they all but scream. You’re on your own.
But all this has happened before, as we know from Jewish history. Long before Alfred Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl, the 1881 pogroms in tsarist Russia led to an awakening of proto-Zionist activity there, with an emphasis on the land of Israel. There were soon new Jewish settlements in Palestine.
The average Jew in Canada now knows that his or her friend at a university, his co-worker in an office, and the people he or she socializes with, may in fact approve, or at least not disapprove, of what happened that day in Israel. Acquaintances or even close friends may care far more about Israel killing Palestinians in Gaza. Such people may even believe what we may call “Hamas pogrom denial,” already being spread. Many people have now gone so far in accepting the demonization of Israel and Jews that they see no penalty attached to public expressions of Jew-hatred. Indeed, many academics scream their hatred of Israel and Jews as loud as possible.
One example: On Nov. 10, Toronto officers responded to a call at an Indigo bookstore located in the downtown. It had been defaced with red paint splashed on its windows and the sidewalk, and posters plastered to its windows.
The eleven suspects later arrested claimed that Indigo founder Heather Reisman (who is Jewish) was “funding genocide” because of her financial support of the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which provides scholarships to foreign nationals who study in Israel after serving in the Israeli armed forces. By this logic, then, most Jewish properties and organizations could be targeted, since the vast majority of Jews are solidly on Israel’s side.
Were these vandals right-wing thugs or people recently arrived from the Middle East? No, those charged were mostly white middle-class professionals. Among them are figures from academia, the legal community, and the public education sector. Four are academics connected to York University (one of them a former chair of the Sociology Department) and a fifth at the University of Toronto; two are elementary school teachers; another a paralegal at a law firm.
Were their students and colleagues dismayed by this behaviour? On the contrary. Some faculty members, staff and students at the university staged a rally in their support. These revelations have triggered discussions about the role and responsibilities of educators, given their influential positions in society.
You’ve heard the term “quiet quitting.” I think many Jews will withdraw from various clubs and organizations and we will begin to see, in a sense like in the 1930s, a reversal of assimilation, at least in the social sphere. (Of course none of this applies to Orthodox Jews, who already live this way.)
Women in various feminist organizations may form their own groups or join already existing Jewish women’s groups. There may be an increase in attendance in K-12 Jewish schools. In universities, “progressive” Jewish students will have to opt out of organizations whose members, including people they considered friends, have been marching to the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and similar eliminationist rhetoric, while waving Palestinian flags.
This will mostly affect Jews on the left, who may be supporters of organizations which have become carriers of anti-Semitism, though ostensibly dealing with “human rights,” “social justice,” and even “climate change.”
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took part in a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm on Oct. 22 in which she chanted “crush Zionism” along with hundreds of other anti-Israel protesters. Israel is now unthinkingly condemned as a genocidal apartheid settler-colonialist state, indeed, the single most malevolent country in the world and the root of all evil.
New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens expressed it well in his Nov. 7 article. “Knowing who our friends aren’t isn’t pleasant, particularly after so many Jews have sought to be personal friends and political allies to people and movements that, as we grieved, turned their backs on us. But it’s also clarifying.”
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.

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Former Winnipegger Vivian Silver, at first thought to have been taken hostage, has now been confirmed dead

Jewish Post & News file photo

Former Winnipegger and well-known Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver has now been confirmed as having been killed during the massacre of Israelis and foreign nationals perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on October 7. Vivian, a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri was originally thought to be among the more than 1200 individuals who were taken hostage by Hamas.

To read the full story on the CBC website, go to

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