Ramat HaNegev Meets JewEL

On October 7th-13th, 2015 the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas hosted a delegation of 6 young adults between the ages of 25-30 from its Israel partnership community in Ramat HaNegev.  During this time, they met and connected with members of the Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership program (JewEL), learned about Jewish Las Vegas, Judaism in America, and the diaspora.  The goals of the visit were to enhance the connections between both communities; to strengthen the younger generations’ Jewish identity and connection with Israel; to build joint social/educational program between the partnership communities; and to build personal relationships and acquaintances between both communities.

To say that the 7 day delegation changed the lives of 6 young adults from Ramat HaNegev and the 9 JewEL members who hosted them, as well as hundreds of others who met the delegates, is an understatement. The Ramat HaNegev delegates all stayed in JewEL member’s homes for the week. The hosts included Sarah and Clayton Steinberg, who hosted Jared White and Rotem Galili; Andrew and Marissa Spivak, who hosted Shai Kesse; Marty Paz and Sandi Goldhecht, who hosted Gali Ezer; Marni and Daniel Unger, who hosted Sapir Biton; and Robert Wank, who hosted Ran Laviv.

Each day was filled with various programs and activities to show the Ramat HaNegev Delegates what life is like in Las Vegas as a Jewish Young Adult. The first day they arrived, jet-lagged and exhausted, the delegates met with their hosts, Federation professionals and leadership, and Joan and Laurence Davis, who sponsored the delegation. “Joan and I feel very passionately about supporting this delegation,” noted Laurence Davis. “We believe that the strength of the future of the Jewish people and Israel is in the hands of our young adults.” After reviewing the itinerary and getting to know each other, the group headed to Town Square for lunch at Yard House. Despite having just met, the table was loud with conversation and laughter because everyone was making friends quickly. “Everyone was a little timid when we first met, not knowing exactly what to expect,” noted Andrew Spivak. “But as soon as we all sat down together for a meal, we couldn’t stop talking. We were all very fast friends.” After lunch everyone had a chance to go their host homes and unpack and refresh before JewEL’s October Happy Hour event.

JewEL’s October Happy Hour was hosted at Hearthstone Kitchen and Cellar at Red Rock Resort and Casino. More than 112 guests were in attendance, including 33 brand new members to JewEL. The Ramat HaNegev Delegates attended happy hour and enjoyed meeting many Jewish young adults involved in JewEL. “We loved meeting so many people,” said Gali Ezer. “It was amazing to see so many young Jewish adults coming together to hang out.” JewEL Members also really enjoyed meeting the delegates and having the opportunity to talk with them and connect about Israel, life in America, their careers, and many other interesting topics. “I really enjoyed meeting the delegates from Ramat HaNegev,” noted Dr. Azin Azma, JewEL Vice Chair. “It was an incredible opportunity to connect with people our own age living in Israel and talk about life. I loved meeting Sapir and talking to her about being in Medical School. It was really interesting because she served in the IDF and took some time off before starting Medical School. It’s a different experience that I had.” As the night grew late, jet lag hit the Israeli’s and it was time to head back to their host homes for a good night’s rest. They were going to need it for the full week ahead.

The second day, Thursday October 8th, began bright and early with a breakfast panel at Desert Torah Academy. The panel consisted of Las Vegas Jewish Agency and Organization Directors and representatives in order to educated the delegates about how the Jewish Community functions in Las Vegas and America. The panelists included Jeff Metz, from the Jewish Community Center; Ken Moskowitz, from Jewish Family Service Agency; Sari Mann from AIPAC; Jolie Brislin, from the Anti-Defamation League; Bernice Friedman from Jewish National Fund; and Marni Unger from the Jewish Federation. Panelists educated the delegates about their mission statements, functionality in the Jewish community, and relationship with Israel. “It was really interesting to learn about all the different Jewish organizations and what they do for the community and Israel,” noted Rotem Galili. “It’s truly beautiful to see how a Jewish community comes together to support each other and ensure a safe and vibrant place for Jewish people of all ages.” After the panel concluded, delegates were given a tour of the beautiful Desert Torah Academy Campus by Rabbi Rodman. As Rabbi Rodman showed the delegates the campus he explained the many unique and special qualities of the school, including their special education program. “We were so impressed with the beautiful campus,” noted Sapir Biton. “It was wonderful to see a Jewish Day School in the states and Desert Torah Academy is truly a stunning campus.”

Following the panel and tour at Desert Torah Academy, the group made their way to the UNLV Campus to meet with Hillel Students and learn about American Jewish life on College Campuses. The delegates joined students for lunch at Smash Burger and heard from Janna Bernstein, Director of Residential Life at UNLV. Janna is also a member of JewEL, participated in Birthright Israel this past summer, is a graduate of the JewEL Leadership Development Class, and a current board member of Hillel. Janna spoke about what life on campus at UNLV is like and some of it’s unique offerings. “Campus life at UNLV is different than many Universities because most of our student don’t live on campus,” noted Bernstein. “Yet, we try to have as many opportunities and programs as possible to engage students to be more involved with the Campus. We have Jewish holiday programming in the dorms for our students who celebrate and I’m currently working on putting together an inter-faith council as well.” Delegates also met with Hillel Student Leadership and discussed relevant issues on campus today such as BDS, anti-Semitism, Israel advocacy, and what Jewish Life on Campus looks like. “There are many ways to be Jewishly involved on Campus,” noted Danielle BenShimon, a UNLV Student, Campus Emerson Fellow for StandwithUs, and an active Hillel Student Board Member. “Weather you’re looking for social connections, Israel advocacy opportunities, or religious study, they are all parts of Jewish Campus life offered here at UNLV.”

After a very full and educational day, delegates and their hosts joined the JewEL Board for a fun and relaxing dinner at Public School 702 in Downtown Summerlin. The group of 25 enjoyed a long and leisurely meal together filled with lots of laughter, story telling, and new friendships being forged. “It’s moments like this where the real connections happen,” noted Jared White. “When a group of young adults sits together around a dinner table, shares a meal and some wine, that’s where the real magic happens. I loved meeting everyone from the JewEL board and I will never forget the connections and friendships I made here.”   

Day three, Friday October 9th, began with another breakfast panel this time at the Jewish Federation offices. The panel consisted of five local Rabbis, all from different movements, to help educate the delegates about the various movements and expressions of Judaism in America. The panelists included Rabbi Tecktiel from Midbar Kodesh Temple; Rabbi Cohen from Temple Sinai; Rabbi Anderson from Young Israel Aish; Rabbi Shuchat from Chabad East Or Bamidbar; and Rabbi Mintz from Congregation P’nai Tikvah. The delegates prepared the questions for the panelists in advance, and asked meaningful and thoughtful questions. They asked about what elements and traditions make each movement different and the history behind their specific movement. They asked about their thoughts on marriage laws in Israel and their views on young secular Jews living in Israel. The conversations and discussions were engaging and educational for everyone in attendance. “This was my favorite program of the trip,” noted Sapir Biton. “I was fascinated by the discussions and conversations that here held on the panel. I could have asked them questions all morning!” 

Following the panel delegates headed to Downtown Las Vegas on Fremont street to get a taste of the “Real Vegas.” The group walked along Fremont Street into the famous Vegas Casinos such as the Golden Nugget, Plaza, and El Cortez. They saw the newer side on Fremont East and enjoyed lunch at the Container Park. “It was just like the movies,” laughed Gali Ezer. Following lunch, the group was given the very special opportunity to visit the PALMS Hotel and Casino for a private tour of the VIP suites and Ghostbar Nightclub.  Thanks to Ben Wegener, JewEL Board Member and PALMS Employee, the group was able to visit Ghostbar Nightclub for a unique daytime visit to one of the city’s best views of the strip. It was the perfect photo opportunity! The group also had a tour of two famous VIP Suites at PALMS including the bowling alley suite and the old Playboy Suite, complete with rotating bed and private Jacuzzi overlooking the strip. “The VIP Suites at PALMS are unbelievable,” noted Clayton Steinberg. “It was really fun being able to get a behind the scenes tour of the property.”

The group convened for Shabbat dinner at the Unger’s home before attending Friday Night Services at Congregation Ner Tamid. Members of JewEL and NextGen, the young adult group at CNT, joined together for a beautiful Serenity Shabbat service followed by a Young Adult Oneg in the outside amphitheater. “I had never attended a Shabbat service like this before,” noted Shai Kesse. “It was really different, but I enjoyed the experience. It was also beautiful to see so many young people come together to celebrate Shabbat.” Following services, more than 30 young adults enjoyed desserts and drinks and the delegates had the opportunity to meet and socialize with more young adults from our Jewish community and reflect on the Service they attended. “It was really nice meeting some young adults from Israel,” noted Starr Rabb, a member of NextGen. “I am making Aliya to Israel next month and now I can connect with them when I get there!” After a very long and interesting Shabbat, everyone went home for a good night’s rest.

Day four, Saturday October 10th, was filled with a variety of fun events that showed the delegates the true versatility of Las Vegas. Everyone convened at the Steinberg home in the morning for a delicious breakfast from Bagel Café. After everyone fueled up and packed lunches for the road, the group headed to Mount Charleston for a hike and some fresh air. “It was the perfect time of year to hike on Mt Charleston, all of the leaves were changing and we had a glimpse of the fall air chill,” noted Sarah Steinberg. “The group hiked Mary Jane Falls, which ends at a waterfall with a beautiful overlook of the mountains.” “The hike was really beautiful,” said Ran Laviv. “But I mostly enjoyed the conversations that I had with people during the hike. It was nice to be in nature with our new friends.” After the hike the group headed to spend some time at the Las Vegas Moishe House. The Moishe House residents hosted the delegates for some nosh and drinks, while they discussed the role of the Moishe House in the Community and met with more young adults. “We loved meeting with the delegates from Ramat HaNegev,” noted Gil Benaloul. “It was especially meaningful for me because I staffed one of the Federation’s Birthright Israel buses this past summer and met a couple of the delegates when we visited Ramat HaNegev. It was very cool to be able to host them in my home in Las Vegas!”

After hanging out at the Moishe House for a while, the group went back their host homes to clean up and relax before an exciting night out on the Las Vegas Strip! The group reconvened at the Mirage Hotel and Casino to see the infamous Cirque Du Soleil show, LOVE. “LOVE has always been my favorite Vegas show,” noted Marni Unger, Director of Leadership and Community Development for the Jewish Federation. “But being able to see the reactions of the delegates while they saw the show was priceless. It’s amazing how music, dance, and theater can connect people on a whole other level.” After the show everyone enjoyed some time on the Strip, seeing the Bellagio fountains, posing with street performers, and taking in all the fun sites. “Watching the Bellagio fountains was on my bucket list,” noted Rotem. “It was so beautiful!” After a very long and exhausting day, everyone went home for a good night’s sleep.

Day five, Sunday October 11th, was another busy and fun filled day for the delegation. The group enjoyed an amazing brunch with the JewEL Foodies Cluster at Echo and Rig in Tivoli Village. More than 25 JewEL members joined together to enjoy a very special brunch on the downstairs patio with the Ramat HaNegev guests! “I enjoyed meeting the group from Ramat HaNegev so much when I met them at Shabbat Services, that I had to come to brunch to see them again,” said Jason Wertheimer. “It was a great opportunity to connect with our peers living in Israel.” Brunch included a choice of entrée, bottomless mimosas, and family style fries and chicken sausage. Guests enjoyed a leisurely brunch and conversation as well as the opportunity to connect with more young adults in the community. After a very filling brunch, all of the delegates went to Joan and Laurence Davis’s home to help prepare dinner for Jewish Federation Leadership!

Sunday evening was a very special gathering for everyone. The delegates spent all afternoon preparing an amazing Israeli feast at the Davis’s home for Federation Leadership, including members of the Board of Directors, Women’s Philanthropy Council, and JewEL Board. There were more than 30 people in attendance and the delegates made enough food for the entire IDF! They served 4 different types of Israeli salads, 5 different types of Shakshuka, breads, pastas, and even home made desserts. “They cooked all afternoon,” said Joan Davis. “It was such a pleasure having them in our home and spending time with them. They told us all about their trip so far and caught us up on their lives in Israel. They really are like our second set of Grandchildren.” The evening was an incredible opportunity for the delegates to meet with Federation’s Leadership and discuss the importance of the delegation, the Federation’s Partnership with Ramat HaNegev, and the critical role that young adults play in securing the future of Israel. “Spending time with the young adults from Ramat HaNegev was inspiring,” said David Stone, Chairman of the Board of Directors. “The Jewish Federation strongly believes in the importance of strengthening our partnership with Israel and our sister communit Ramat HaNegev and this delegation is the true embodiment of that vision.” Meaningful and fun conversations lasted well into the night, until everyone rolled out of the house with full bellies and even fuller hearts.

Day six, Monday October 12th, was the last full day that the delegates had in Las Vegas. The morning began with two very important meetings, first at Congresswoman Dina Titus’s office, followed by Congressman Cresent Hardy’s office. Although Congresswoman Titus was not available, delegates met with her office’s representative Michael Naft for a candid conversation about American politics, Israel, and the Iran Deal. Naft spoke about Titus’s unwavering support of Israel and explained more about her position on the Iran Deal. Delegates asked questions about how the local and national political system works in the U.S. “Meeting with Michael Naft was really interesting,” noted Marty Paz. “Mike has been active and involved in our Jewish Community for years and was incredibly relatable and candid with the delegates. He answered their questions honestly and directly, while speaking from his heart about the Congresswoman’s support for Israel.” After an engaging and meaningful meeting at Titus’s office delegates headed to North Las Vegas City Hall to meet with Congressman Hardy. Hardy spoke with the delegates about his recent visit to Israel this past summer, his unwavering support for Israel, his position on the Iran Deal, and other international situations such as Syria. “The Congressman was incredibly generous with his time and answered all of the questions the delegates asked,” noted Unger. “We were really grateful that the Congressman spoke about his recent visit to Israel and his love for the country and her people. We are lucky in Nevada to have representatives who are deeply supportive of Israel.”

After a very interesting and educational morning, the day continued with lunch at the Holocaust Resource Center.  Susan Dubin, Myra Berkovitz, and Doug Unger helped organize a fantastic program at the Holocaust Resource Center including a tour of the Center, overview of the mission and vision, and conversation about the role that the Center has played in advocating for Holocaust Education in Clark County School District. The group was joined by Connie Kratky, Administrative Coordinator for the Equity and Diversity Division at Clark County School District, who spoke more in detail about the role of The Holocaust Resource Center in advocating for Holocaust education in the public school system as well as the critical and invaluable role they play in educating teachers about the Holocaust and how to bring that knowledge to their classroom. The group was also joined by the local Gesharim group who spoke about their volunteer efforts here in Las Vegas and about their love for Israel. Gesharim is a group of young Evangelical Christians who are passionate about Israel and making a positive impact in our world through volunteering in local communities. “It was so interesting to meet young people who have a deep love for Israel when they’re not Jewish,” said Shai Kesse. “We are so lucky to have people like them in the world and they are truly making a positive impact.” The Gesharim group in Las Vegas is very actively involved in volunteering with the Holocaust Resource Center and JFSA.

After a very full morning and lunch program, the group decompressed and relaxed at Town Square, while fitting in some last minute shopping. The group reconvened for dinner with all the hosts and Laurence and Joan Davis for a truly Vegas dinner at Red Rock Casino Buffet! The group’s last meal together was bitter sweet. Laughter filled the table as people shared some of their favorite memories from the past week, but with a twinge of sadness knowing that it was the last time the group would be together for the foreseeable future. “I feel like I was at summer camp or on Birthright Israel this past week,” said Sandi Goldhecht. “We got so close so quickly with our new friends from Israel, it was one of the most memorable weeks of my life. The connections and friendships that we made are going to last forever.” The delegates thoroughly enjoyed the buffet as the rest of the group enjoyed watching their excitement and many trips to the food area.

Following dinner all the delegates and hosts went back to the Steinberg home to have a wrap up session and reflect upon the past week’s adventures. Everyone sat in the living room and began discussing their favorite moments, things that they learned, what they want to take away from the experience, and most importantly the next steps. “This is only the beginning,” noted Sarah Steinberg. “The beginning of something amazing and eternal.” Conversations, laughter, and tears were shared well into the night because no one wanted to say goodbye. But eventually, everyone departed after many hugs and kisses with a firm promise of, “see you soon.”

Day seven, Tuesday October 13th, was time to say goodbye to our new friends and partners from Ramat HaNegev. The delegates enjoyed one last breakfast with the Davis’s before heading to the airport to say goodbye. “We are deeply appreciative to Laurence and Joan Davis for their generosity in making this delegation happen,” noted Unger. “They truly made dreams become reality and have made a difference in the lives of young adults in Israel and right here in Las Vegas. Their actions, passion, and generosity will have a life long impact. This was just the beginning, and we look forward to sending a delegation back to Israel!”

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