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Gaza War “Live from Israel” Briefings &

Rafting connect post-college age young adults

by Lou Balcher

With four decades of Jewish programming on campus and community under my belt, I would assert that Jewish communal programming history was made on Sunday, August 17, in the boardroom of the JCC in Allentown, PA.

In the midst of Israel’s war with Gaza, a leadership cadre of East Coast Jewish young professionals interacted “Live from Israel” with four top experts in consecutive Skype briefings.

Following a day of rafting on the Lehigh River in the Poconos, a heart-felt Havdallah, and a get-to-know-you pizza party gathering, including imbibing party games into the night until 3 AM, it was questionable what shape the young professionals would be in for the 9 AM Sunday morning seminar.

To the relief of the organizers, although scheduled to end at Noon, participants were still saying final farewells at 1:15 PM, showing that lack of sleep was not a deterrent to benefiting from engaging Israel educational programming.

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An independent session with each of the Israel experts who presented would rightfully be a major impactful event for engaging young adults and connecting them to Israel.

Having all four successively in one program...

...followed by discussion and analysis with three on-site Israel experts, Joseph Puder and Ferne Hassan, Mid-Atlantic directors of the StandwithUS Israel advocacy organization, and former Israeli Consulate Academic Affairs Director Lou Balcher, constitutes an Israel educational, organizational coup.

The event was hosted by the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, in cooperation with Young Jewish Leadership Concepts, a non-profit young professionals network, providing continuous Jewish young adult programming since 1986.

Other organizational supporters included, AEPi, Birthright Next, B'nai B'rith International, Gratz College, Hasbara Fellowships, the Jewish Federation of Cumberland, Gloucester & Salem Counties (Vineland, NJ), and the World Zionist Organization.

The August Rafting Weekend participants heard a constant refrain, independently mentioned from each of the Israel Experts, referring to the unity of the Israeli people as a prime result of the challenges of the War with Gaza.

Professor Guiora shared from personal experience that, “Hamas leaders are extremely intelligent...” “...but as different from the previous Gaza engagements, they made a strategic error by attacking Tel Aviv, they consequently united all of Israel” in this latest conflict.

He further related the new Middle East geo-political realities with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Gulf States, all openly welcoming Israel in to a new pragmatic alliance, which an American administration failed to fully understand as the negative ramifications of Secretary of State Kerry's failed efforts to engage Turkey and Qatar, and undermine the efforts of Egypt to seek to resolve the conflict.

Regarding the “terror tunnels,” Guiora indicated that Israel has known about them for years, but was seemingly unaware of the magnitude of the strategic threat they represented to Israeli communities. Guiora noted that the tunnels are a “game changer” with respect to both the current and future military conflicts.

Israeli sports icon Tal Brody informed the gathered young professionals that basketball’s new Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt had as his last post guiding Maccabi Tel Aviv to another European basketball championship.

Brody shared a personal story that all Israelis have “adjusted” to Gazan missiles. Even when travelling on the highway with his wife, when the Red Alert sounds, he knows to stop the car and lay down in an open area. First, though, he will reach into the trunk of his car to pull out the blanket he keeps, so his wife does not have to lay on naked ground.

Aryeh Green related two major points on media coverage of the Gaza War. “If it bleeds, it leads” In the highly competitive and saturated world of media, “conflict sells.” Foreign journalists have noted to Green that their editors will not publish stories of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, as it does not fit their needs.

Secondly, Green commented on a certain “pacifism” shared by most journalists. War should be avoided at “all costs” — even if it is a necessary defensive war. Further, there is an “intellectual milieu” pervasive on college campuses with a strong anti-nationalist leaning.

Quoting his former boss minister Natan Sharansky, Green referred to US campuses as little “Islands of Europe in America” in which the national identity of Jewish peoplehood playing out in the State of Israel is counter to the accepted intellectual framework which promotes universalism rather than particularism - and where nationalism is a dirty word. This view shared by the international correspondents in Israel, guides their coverage.

Gil Hoffman connected with the Allentown seminar from a kibbutz in northern Israel, taking his family away from the missiles in the South. Hoffman related that his child’s first comment when they arrived at the kibbutz was, “where is the miklat” – bomb shelter. Children in Israel have adjusted to life aware that they have only seconds to locate where safety is.

At first remarking on the unity of Israelis, and countless examples of people helping people in times of trouble, Hoffman shared hints of possible short lived political unity and the “war within.” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s approval rating has been dropping, and sniping from political opponents during a time of war was previously inconceivable.

Still the political left could only attract a few thousand for a Peace Rally in Tel Aviv, which prior to the current Gaza conflict would attract more than 100,000. And the IDF has been the major source of pride and appreciation as “more than 100%,” including uncalled volunteers reported to their reserve units.

Following the Skype Briefings from Israel, each participant had comments and questions answered with the on-site Experts.

Rafting, Havdallah, late night parties, and four experts from Israel on a Sunday morning Lox and Bagels Skype Seminar in the midst of Israel’s War with Gaza, made history in Allentown, PA for Jewish young adult programming.

YJLC is currently planning its next Leadership event, PocoSki27 – 27th Annual Pocono Ski Leadership Weekend, set for Valentine’s/President’s Weekend, February 14-16, 2015. Organizational collaborators and young adult leaders are invited to connect to make another Jewish communal historic event for young professionals.


Lou Balcher is co-Founder of Young Jewish Leadership Concepts (YJLC). Formerly with a nine-year stint as senior national American staffer on campuses for the Israel Foreign Ministry as Director of Academic Affairs for Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, Balcher currently serves as a consultant to synagogues and Jewish organizations, with a major “gig” as National Director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, Israel.