Originally published in the UK Jewish Chronicle

We — my husband and I — made aliyah twice.

First, as a starry-eyed young couple, the second time as a family of five after six years back in the United States. After some debate, we opted for a soft landing over intense integration and wound up in Bet Shemesh. Before arriving, I had heard rumours of a rabbi excommunicated on account of his books on dinosaurs, and of gyms where televisions were outlawed, but I chalked such things up to extremists. After all, I had grown up in Lakewood, NJ and we all always got along just fine — – jeans-wearers and sheitel-donners alike.

It soon became clear, however, that I had moved to the front line. Nowhere near any of Israel’s borders but the front line of ever-increasing religious extremism. Over the years, it has crept in — sometimes seeping so slowly that we don’t notice until too late, sometimes slamming us against the proverbial wall.

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Originally printed in In Jerusalem June 9, 2017

Can a bike change a child’s life? Rabbi and educator Nachum Wasosky has seen it happen for hundreds of children and is working to add another thousand to that number.

Raised in a single family home in the US, Wasosky knows he was lucky to have people looking out for him, making sure that he had what other kids had—school trips, a place on sports teams, and emotional support. He attributes his well-being and success to feeling like a normal kid with just as much value as anyone else.

It’s an awareness he’s brought with him throughout his career in informal education for youth and what drives him to help as many as he can.

During his six years of study at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, Wasosky realized that what he had missed out on as a child was the positive aspects of being Jewish. As a kid, he wasn’t exposed to those things that would have made him want to identify as a Jew.

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In his recent article, “How CNN’s ‘Believer’ Smears Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox As Intolerant ‘Black Peril’” published in the Forward, Rabbi Avi Shafran takes issue with CNN religion reporter Reza Aslan’s portrayal of Haredi Jews in Israel as “bent on creating an oppressive theocracy.” Shafran, who believes Aslan’s piece maligned the Haredi, used his op-ed to depict the ultra-Orthodox of Israel as simply wanting their “space and their traditions.”

I disagree with Aslan’s conclusions that Haredi “demographic changes pose a severe threat to Israel’s status as a modern, secular democracy.” I have faith that Israel will continue to remain a free country. Unfortunately, I cannot agree with Rabbi Shafran either. The fact of the matter is that there is growing extremism in Israel, yet Rabbi Shafran presents an alternate reality and whitewashes this truth. That this is done by a rabbi who serves as a spokesperson for much of the Orthodox world is part of this very problem.

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Originally published in In Jerusalem, April 28, 2017

Planning a meaningful, enjoyable and affordable event to celebrate a bar/bat mitzva, wedding or anniversary can be daunting. Doing so from across the world can be exponentially harder. Yet, every year, that is exactly what thousands of Jews from around the world do in order to celebrate their smahot in Israel.

The calm before the guests arrive

Celebrating in Israel connects the celebrants with their nation, land and history. It also provides an opportunity to add meaningful elements to the occasion that go beyond a party, by partaking in one of the many hessed (charitable kindness) opportunities available specifically for people marking their occasions here.

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