Category Archives: International

Israel in The Winter

By David Gole

Last Friday I arrived at LAX, still stunned from one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had – a sober birthright trip. Around October, my counselor asked me if I had ever been to Israel before on an organized trip to which I replied “Yes I have been there 3 times, but never on an organized trip.” When she asked me if I wanted to go on a sober birthright trip, I had to think about it for a minute. A “sober” birthright trip, is that even Kosher? At first, the thought of a bunch of recovering addicts and alcohols traveling the Promised Land sounded like either a lot of fun or a recipe for disaster. Being the optimist that I am, I willingly took the plunge into the unknown.littledavyisraelblg

When we arrived in Tel Aviv, everything I experienced 7 years before started coming back to me. Many of the things I had seen were just how I remembered and experienced them; only last time I did not lose my luggage. We then drove from Ben Gurion Airport up to the Golan Heights where we stayed for three nights. Though I had my skepticism about being with people in recovery in Israel, it quickly disappeared when everyone seemed to bond almost immediately as we got to look out onto Syria and hiked around Gamla. On the way to Tzfat, 4 Israelis joined our trip and so did my luggage. Like we embraced each other on that first day, we welcomed the Israelis with open arms and open hearts. After spending 3 days in the north, we ventured on our tour bus down to the holy city of Jerusalem.

The memories of Jerusalem before I went consisted of three things – Ice Cream, Candy, and Jewish mumbo jumbo that I was too young to identify with. This time, now that I am older and have a better understanding of what’s going on around me, I was able to appreciate the Jewish side of Jerusalem a lot more. Going to the Western Wall on Friday night with 50,000 Jews singing and dancing followed by dinner over looking the wall was an incredible experience. Saturday night, we went to Ben Yehuda Street for a little sober fun and danced everywhere. On our last day in Jerusalem we went to Yad Vashem where the fellowship of our group really stood out as everyone expressed their compassion for each other. After that we went to the marketplace and bargained with our Israeli friends. Exhausted from an emotional day, we all went to sleep very satisfied with our purchases and the money we saved.

The next day was our last day with the Israelis and we tried to enjoy ourselves as much as possible. We went to Herzliya where we visited a recovery center called Matrix. It was nice to see people with less time because it reminds me of where I was when I started this process and it shows them that it is possible to string time together. Proceeding our time with the residents of Matrix Recovery Center, it was time to say our goodbyes to our Israeli friends, where everyone was sad to see them leave.

New Year’s Eve in Netanya was just not the same without our Israeli friends, but that didn’t keep us down for the duration of the trip. New Year’s Day we hit Tel Aviv and Yafo with full force. Visiting Independence Hall was eventful for me because after seeing learning about what I had seen in Poland, the declaration of Israel’s Independence was very important for Jews everywhere. We did not spend the night in Tel Aviv; instead we drove south to a Bedouin Camp in the Negev Desert and spent the night with everyone in a tent.

The night in the Bedouin Tent was rough. It was cold, sandy and almost everyone woke up with some type of sickness. Early that morning we rode camels around the Negev and then drove to Masada. Even though everyone that was sick was given the option to take the tram, the resilient nature of recovering addicts drove most of us to tough it out and hike the mountain. After hitting the major landmarks in the Negev like the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi, we spent our last night 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem at a kibbutz.

On the final day of the trip, we went back to Jerusalem to celebrate bar and bat mitzvahs and have some quality time in the old city. The final goodbyes were very emotional, but our Israelis friends, dressed in animal costumes, surprised us at the airport. All in all, the experience I had on birthright with people that deal with the daily struggles of addiction was one for the ages. It was amazing how quickly these friendships blossomed and how we were able to show the Israelis on our trip that although we are not a normal birthright trip, we can still have fun without waking up every morning with a hangover. I can honestly say that this was one of the most influential moments in my life and strongly encourage recovering alcoholics and addicts to go on a sober birthright trip.



Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Community, International, Sobriety, Spirituality

David in Krakow

By David Gole

Having just arrived back from my trip to Poland, I have several experiences I am still reflecting on. While Warsaw was a very exiting city, Krakow is a different story. When I picture Poland I envision a lot of old buildings and snow. Krakow fulfills that exact stereotype in a way that it glorifies the past. During World War II, Krakow was virtually untouched by the Nazis with only a few of the monuments being rebuilt. In retrospective, my experience in Krakow was both joyous and emotional.

David Walking PolandPart of my trip was to learn about Forum for Dialogue Among Nations, which runs a program to educate high school students about Jewish culture in their town. The first day in Krakow, we traveled to the near by town of Wadowice, which is the hometown of Pope John Paul II and home to almost 2,000 Jews before the war. There we visited the local high school and engaged in what the students were learning about Jewish culture. The students asked us questions about America and wanted to learn more about what it meant for us to be Jewish.

Living in Los Angeles where a large percentage of the people I know are Jewish, I don’t really think about what it means to me. In this small town where the Nazis exterminated almost every Jew, to be able to come to this town was both a unique and special experience. After a short tour of the monuments around the town, we left an everlasting impression on these students and went on our way back to Krakow.

Along with the happy experience of meeting these kids, I also experienced one of the most horrifying things to ever happen on this planet – Auschwitz. The day we went to Auschwitz, we were on the bus before the sun came up. It was around -14°C and I was still cold with my 3 Layers of Clothing. When we got off the bus, the haunted feeling of being in a place where millions of people were murdered consumed me. In the first camp of Auschwitz, called “Auschwitzy One,” the first thing you notice is the infamous sign that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means “work makes you free”. The barracks, which were intended to house 100 polish soldiers, were used to house 1,000 prisoners at a time.

BarracksAuschwitz one is also home to the only remaining gas chamber and crematorium. On the walls of the gas chamber you can see nail marks of the victims trying to claw their way out. Although Auschwitz one killed millions, it seemed like a cakewalk compared to Birkenau, or “Auschwitz Two.”

At Birkenau, the second camp of Auschwitz, everything is outdoors and the shelters consisted of thin planks of wood and tiny three level bunks, which they piled on as many people as they could on one bunk. The toilets were nothing but holes in stone benches and all of the prisoners were given a total of 5 minutes each day for everyone to use them. Only half of Birkenau still stands while the Nazis destroyed the rest of the camp during the Soviet invasion.

Gas ChamberThe most powerful experience I had was in the building called the Sauna. The Sauna is where everybody who worked in Birkenau got processed and where all of the paperwork was stored. At the last part of the sauna, my father, Cantor Joseph Gole, led us in the Kiddush to mourn the souls of the fallen and we followed with the singing of Hatikvah, the Israeli National anthem. By the end of the prayers, nearly everyone in our group was very emotional with tears in their eyes. In that moment, my father and I shared one of the most emotional experiences in my life as we walked out of the camp in an embrace both crying.

While the Holocaust was a tragedy in itself, there are two ways to view the aftermath. I can either see the Holocaust as the worst thing to ever happen to the Jewish people—an event that took several of my family members away. Or I can see it in a more positive light. Hitler’s goal was to kill off every Jew on the planet, a mission that was never complete. In that sense, we won. Today, Jews are now able to sing Jewish prayers in Auschwitz, which probably makes Hitler scream in his grave.

In a few weeks, I will be going on a birthright trip to Israel. With the knowledge I have acquired on my trip to Poland, I will have a better understanding and appreciation for the creation of a Jewish homeland.


Filed under Community, Education, Gratitude, Incarceration, International, Judaism, Spirituality



By David Gole

I just got back from my 10 day trip to Poland, a journey that I’ll never forget. Before landing in Warsaw, I wasn’t very hopeful that I was going to have a pleasant experience. Being American and Jewish, I was unsure whether the stereotype of polish anti-Semitism were true or not and prepared to face prejudice remarks from the local citizens. I thought that all of the buildings would have a Russian-Soviet look to them and that the city would look very gloomy and ugly.

To say the least, the city of Warsaw proved me wrong. Everyone that I have spoken to in Warsaw has been very hospitable and friendly. From seeing the city, the architecture is comparable to that of a western European town in a way that was quite surprising. I really learned a lot in Poland. I learned about impact of the Jewish culture on Polish history and how to bring recognition to a society that has pretty much forgotten. While this trip is going to be an experience of a lifetime, it is very fast-paced and there is always something going on.

We walked through the old town of Warsaw to see the castle and other buildings, which had been restored after the war. We also went to site of the Ghetto where Nazi Germany fenced off the Jews and people with Jewish lineage from the rest of the city. After visiting the former location of the Ghetto, we had a meeting to learn about their plans to build a Polish-Jewish Museum and introduce us to the Chief Rabbi of Poland Rabbi Michael Schudrich.

On the second day of the trip we met with Dr. Maciej Kozlowski, who is an Ambassador-at-Large for Polish-Jewish relations as well as the former Polish Ambassador to Israel. Following the meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the group had the privilege of attending a Ceremony to present Medals and Certificates of Honor to Poles who acted righteously toward Jews during the war.

After the Ceremony, I got a chance to meet with several politicians from Poland, Israel and the United States. That night, I attended a dinner where the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations presented their educational program and their plans for expanding it along the country.

On my last day on Warsaw were visited the Warsaw Rising Museum. There I was able to learn about the uprisings in Warsaw against the Germans in 1944 and against the Soviet Union 1970. At lunch we were able to sit down with Kevin Kabumoto, who is the Internal Unit Chief of the Political-Economic Section at the United States Embassy. Although the group drilled him with questions, he was able to answer everything with poise and confidence.

My memories of Warsaw are bittersweet. The fact that Warsaw was able to go through times of destruction and oppression and still rise up to be what it is now fascinated me. It is a good lesson to learn that whenever life keeps you down you can always rise up again.

Read the next blog about my time in Krakow.



Filed under Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Current Events, Gratitude, International, Judaism, Spirituality, Uncategorized

The Numbers of Empathy

By David Gole

It has been almost 70 years since the holocaust and the era of hearing a story from a survivor first hand is coming to an end. Where do we go from here? How do we remember this part of history and make sure that it never happens again? Several youthful descendents of survivors have started a trend to carry on the legacy of their ancestors, who had experienced a living hell—through permanently tattooing the numbers of a survivor on their body.

Uriel Sinai / Reportage Getty Images

Uriel Sinai / Reportage Getty Images

Tattoos in Jewish culture are very controversial. Jewish law states that a Jew should be buried the way they were born, preventing people with body piercings and tattoos from being buried in a Jewish Cemetery. Lately, Cemeteries have become more lenient, being considerate of survivors who still have the tattoo on their body.

In modern culture, many young adults have been getting tattoos to express themselves in a non-destructive manner. These tattoos have enabled some Jews to become closer to their relative and help create an unbreakable bond between them. Though some people have become accustomed to young people getting tattoos, many frown upon the idea of holocaust tattoos being sported by young Jews.

When people see someone out in public with holocaust numbers tattooed on their forearm, they might ask “Why do you wear these numbers on your arm?” or “What does it mean?”. Others might be more angry than curious about such a “sensitive” tattoo. Some may be ridiculed for being insensitive to the extermination of millions. In one instance, a police officer said “God created forgetfulness so we can forget.” If that is the case, the why do we say never forget? Yes there are other, probably better ways to remember the holocaust, but the one thing you have to admire about these young Jews is their empathy. It takes a lot of bravery for someone to stand up for what he or she believes in, no matter what anyone else may think about it.

What do you think about this? Should young Jews be tattooing a survivor’s number on them, or should they find another way to honor their memory?


Filed under Gratitude, International, Judaism, Spirituality, Uncategorized

Becoming a Part of History: Birthright Blog 1

By Chris Alvarez

Honestly, I didn’t have very high expectations for my trip to Israel. I thought that it would just be a lot of tourist sites and cheesy Jewish sing-alongs.  I was expecting to be bombarded with propaganda on why I should move there and make little Israeli babies. But I wasn’t.  I found it to be enlightening and spiritually fulfilling.  There were two days in particular that awakened a sense of spirituality and history in me that I had never felt before.

It was day two and we spent the morning hiking the Oasis of Ein Gedi. We trekked through streams to reach a waterfall. In the middle of the desert.  Here we were, in the desert, swimming beneath a waterfall! I couldn’t believe it—I felt like I was living in a dream.  After that surreal hike we got onto our tour bus and headed to the Dead Sea.  I had always wanted to swim in it, and I finally had my chance.  As I walked into the water it was a lot hotter than I thought it would be and there wasn’t sand at the bottom.  The bottom was coarse salt rock that would have cut my feet if I hadn’t been wearing shoes.  The water felt a bit like chicken soup.  After floating out of the Dead Sea, our group made its way to Masada.  Masada Roman TrailWe took a cable car up to the top of the Mountain and toured the ruins of the fortress.  Learning about what happened there was emotional.  Most people think a mass suicide took place right before the Romans conquered it but that’s not entirely true.  There was only one suicide.  The rest of the death—the men, the woman and the children—were murders. After hearing about this tragedy and seeing the history and beauty of the area, I knew this trip to Israel would change my life.  The next day we made our way to Jerusalem where my connection with Israel was solidified.

It was Friday right before sundown and I was standing in front of the Western Wall.  Our Birthright group was there for Shabbat services and I made it a priority to have a private moment at the holiest site in all of Judaism.  I was not religious growing up but standing there I couldn’t help but feel like the most religious person in the world.  As I stood at the wall a wave of emotion came over me.  Western Wall PrayersThe moment I touched the wall I began to cry.  Millions of people have fought and died for the chance to do what I was doing.  I wrote down my hopes, dreams and prayers for the world and put them on a small piece of paper. With all my might I shoved the note, folded to the size of a postage stamp, into the wall, jam packed with millions of others. At that moment I had a spiritual experience. For just a moment, all the pains, heartaches and sadness in my life was lifted.   Since that moment at The Wall I have felt like a completely different person. I became a part of something bigger than myself; I became a part of Jewish history.


Filed under Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Current Events, Education, International, Judaism, Sobriety, Spirituality, Temple

The Redemption Chronicles

A Moment’s Rest

Welcome back to The Redemption Chronicles with me, Photoblogger E-Pad!  I have returned, and will once again be posting every week.  This week’s entry:  A Moment’s Rest.


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Filed under Beit T'Shuvah, BTS Communications, Community, Current Events, Education, Family Wellness, Gratitude, International

Consistent for 14 Generations

By Jaron Zanerhaft

On Saturday, April 21, 2012, I watched His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak at the Long Beach Arena.  The lines, perhaps 10,000 people strong, stretched into the parking lot for hours, with metal detectors and heightened security allowing people in at a trickle. Neo-hippies, college professors, Vegan protestors, and everyone in between were represented at this Long Beach happening. A friend and I arrived early but still ended up waiting in line long past his supposed 1:30 start time.  When we finally entered the atrium, we found ourselves in a veritable bazaar of Tibetan wares, Himalayan incense, and general Buddhist literature including His Holiness’s published writings.Dalai lama, long beach, arena, aquarium, peace talks

Just as we took our seats, the Dalai Lama shuffled on stage with a wide smile, took off his shoes, folded his legs beneath him on his too-large arm chair, donned a sun visor, and dove right into a childhood anecdote about riding on his mother’s shoulders and yanking her ears to steer her in the direction he wanted her to walk in.

In his notoriously goofy style, the 14th Dalai Lama delivered a string of seemingly unrelated ideas including the family origins of Anxiety, the possibility of religious unity, secular ethics, compassion and simplicity, true richness and equality, masks, and even objectification of our fellow human beings.  Many of these ideas are not new in the world, but to hear them all put together in one speech, delivered in less than two hours—that is something novel.

I have heard ideals of peace and truth preached from religious leaders, friends, and musicians, but I find it difficult to hold everything together long enough to move forward with a coherent and consistent set of actions.  I empathize with friends during their tough times, but I find it hard to imagine that actual people occupy the other cars during rush hour.  I bowing, dalai lama, 14, compassion, humilitystudy hard when I see a clear path to knowledge, but I run away when I encounter confusion.  I am a characteristically tenacious and loyal friend, yet I still struggle to keep in touch with those who matter most to me if distance divides us.

I believe that it is time to heed His Holiness’s unspoken, implicit message of consistency.  There’s too much good in this world to let any event pass without imbuing some form of that goodness into it.  At least for a moment, my eyes are open, and I am grateful that I can see.

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