Announcing the 2013 Faces of Israel Outreach Tour!

February 4, 2013

We are thrilled to announce a new partnership with Natan and ROI Community!

After another successful year and the completion of 225+ educational programs in North America and Israel over the past three years, Faces of Israel will be embarking on an outreach tour to bring dynamic educational programming to remote Jewish communities in the summer of 2013.

This programming will be offered free of charge or at a subsidized rate to communities that do not currently have the resources for educational engagement. This tour is made possible thanks to a generous grant from Natan. Details to come!

For more information or to nominate your community for a subsidized program, please contact Amy Beth Oppenheimer at

Faces in Vegas, Tucson and El Paso

posted on February 8, 2012

The past two months have been a whirlwind of teaching opportunities!  Following my trip to the Bay Area, I made my way over to Vegas for two community-wide programs: an activities-based session with the local Hebrew school in Henderson and an adult education presentation on the other side of town.  Following the event, a participant kindly gave me a guided tour of the strip and the gorgeous architecture that it boasts.

In mid-January, I drove the RV past hundreds of saguaro toward Tucson where I presented four programs in three days: a private meet-and-greet presentation at the house of Federation’s young leadership, a packed (250+!) JCC presentation in conjunction with the university’s Jewish Studies program, an interactive session for the local academy’s adorable middle school students and a deep dive into Reform Judaism in Israel at the local temple.

A quick flight took me up to Portland Oregon for a campus presentation through the chaplain’s office at Lewis & Clark College, and I am now writing from El Paso where I have never had more fun teaching!

On Monday morning, I ran a special program for the El Paso Jewish Academy‘s 5th-8th graders.  Three students were standing outside to greet me and subsequently introduced themselves as the student council. I later found out that they had dressed in their finest “for Amy”.  Adorable.

A few hours later, I drove within throwing distance of Juarez on my way to the University of Texas at El Paso. The university program had a diverse turnout of Jewish community members and students, B’nai Anusim and non-Jewish students who had heard about the program from their Communications class and other departments.

Perhaps the most meaningful part of the entire week came last night at the community-wide Faces of Israel presentation.  The session was an hour and fifteen minutes followed by great Q&A, Gift of Life registered participants for their bone marrow drive at the reception and most people stayed 45 minutes after everything ended just to continue the conversation.

A woman came up to me at the event and said this:  “I just wanted to tell you how incredibly engaging your presentation was and how contagious your passion is.  You know, I never come to these events – especially on a weekday night.  But yesterday morning, my 6th grader Jayden came home from the academy raving about your program.  I’ve never seen him so excited.  He made me promise that I would come to see you and then tell him how much I liked it when I get home.  Really, excellent job.”

There is no higher compliment possible than a usually disinterested 6th grader coming home and telling his mother that she must come to the program.  Wow.  I stick around El Paso for another day or two to do some volunteer teaching at the local academy and then it’s off to Houston!

written by amy beth oppenheimer

Faces of Israel Hits The Bay Area!

posted on november 21, 2011

It’s been a crazy week of programming in the Bay Area and I almost don’t want it to end!  I presented four programs in four days and – after each event – a handful of inquisitive individuals received a tour of the RV.

Sunday’s program brought together the Berkeley community at Congregation Netivot Shalom for two hours of presentation and even-handed dialogue.  There was strong representation from different elements of the community and the evening included a cross-denominational panel with Rabbis Menachem Creditor, Andrew Straus and Yonatan Cohen.  Check out Menachem Creditor’s review of the program here.

Monday night took me to Berkeley Hillel where I met with a group of student leaders for some deep thinking, engagement and “devil’s advocate”-style conversations.  When I wrapped up the event at 8:45 pm, not a single student moved.  The students were captivated and spent another half hour discussing Israeli society, Jewish identity and – of course – what it’s like for me to live on the road.

I mixed things up on Tuesday evening by joining Beth David’s Hebrew High School teenagers for a fun and altogether different kind of program, complete with engaging activities and an arts and crafts project.  According to the hebrew high school principal Lindsay Greensweig Ehrman and Beth David Rabbi Daniel Pressman:  “You kept our teens engaged for two hours – even we can’t do that!”  Sweet.

I closed out my Bay Area marathon with a program in Contra Costa on Wednesday evening.  The event, hosted by Temple Isaiah and cosponsored by the Contra Costa JCC, Bnai Israel and Beth Chaim, yielded a turnout of over 100 people in a room that was packed to capacity!

This Bay Area mad dash followed two months of programming in the Pacific Northwest (in Portland OR and Eugene OR), in addition to a quick trip down to Los Angeles.  (Check out the Faces of Israel photo album for more pictures!)

East Bay, it was wonderful sharing Faces of Israel with you and I’ve been getting requests for follow-up programming.  Awesome!

Marin, Palo Alto, Peninsula, San Francisco and communities in the rest of North America: Let me know when you’re ready to schedule Faces in your community!  Is anyone planning Yom Ha’Atzmaut yet?  :-)

written by amy beth oppenheimer

Faces of Israel Hits Reno!

posted on august 28, 2011

Today I presented Faces of Israel in Reno, Nevada.  Sharing the program in Reno had special significance for me because my husband Yair and I inadvertently lived in Reno last fall.  (We intended to visit Reno in 2010 only for Rosh HaShana, but the Jewish community adopted us, we became quite involved and we literally parked the RV alongside the local synagogue for almost three months!)

The first program of the day was a community-based event at Temple Emanu-El cosponsored by five synagogues in the Reno – Lake Tahoe area.  I was delighted to see that members of both Lake Tahoe synagogues made the hour trek in for the program.  We watched four chapters of the film, two of which were chosen by the audience, and retired to the Emanu-El library for what became 1-2 hours of rapt conversation over lunch.  Attendance was at 50+, a solid turn out for the local community.

Faces of Israel in Reno

I headed over to the University of Nevada at Reno (UNR) for the afternoon, where I led an informal but much more intimate program for nine students and four faculty.  The advantage of a small group is that the increased ability to connect with each individuaI.  The program was a joint effort of AEPi and Hillel, and the students plan on hosting a follow-up program later this fall.

All in all, a wonderful and packed day.  I head out of the “office” for a week beginning this evening, and will continue to plan the Faces of Israel 2011-2012 schedule upon my return.  Think about bringing Faces of Israel to your community in the coming year!

written by amy beth oppenheimer

To Be or Not To Be… Jewish

posted on august 21, 2011

Surprise! There is more confusion and contradiction over what exactly it means to be Jewish in the Holy Land, this time involving the Interior Ministry. The Israeli paper Ha’aretz published an article on July 20 on a woman whose plans to immigrate to Israel as a Jew were subverted by the Interior Ministry, the government body in charge of citizenship. The Interior Ministry does not recognize a person as a Jew if they don’t enter the country as a Jew, even if the person is declared Jewish by an Israeli rabbinical court.

This brings up the interesting conundrum that a person can be considered to be Jewish by traditional Jewish law and yet not Jewish by the State of Israel. In the case of Yehudit Weizman, a mother of three children, it’s all the more troubling.  Weizman has had a Jewish upbringing and life, from her Jewish childhood in Hungary to her traditional Jewish wedding to an Israeli – until her desire to immigrate to Israel stopped her in her tracks. The problem stems back to her grandmother’s decision to convert to Christianity during World War II. This decision renders Weizman a person with the status of “no religion,” according to the Interior Ministry. In order to achieve citizenship as a Jew, she has been told, she has to convert.

Tzohar, the Orthodox organization viewed in many circles as an alternative to the more stringent Israeli Chief Rabbinate when it comes to issues of establishing and smoothing issues of Jewish identity, is putting forth a bill to help with the thousands of cases of “clarification of Judaism,” that, like in the case of Ms. Weizman, prevent people who identify as Jews – and even have rabbinical support and proof of their identity – from receiving Jewish validation. On a technical level, the bill aims to expand the size and power of religious courts declaring people as Jewish, so that even if the Interior Ministry doesn’t agree, the religious court’s ruling might be able to stand independent.

What will happen to these Jews requiring “clarification of their Judaism?”  How will the bill put forth by Tzohar fare in the Knesset? When will Yehudit Weizman finally be recognized by her home country as the Jew she has been her whole life? Only time will tell. The question of what forms Jewish identity, and what it means to be “a Jew” is still one as pertinent as ever.

written by elie lichtschein

Faces of Israel in Montreal

posted on august 9, 2011

Faces of Israel debuted in Canada this evening with a strong turnout of 150+.  Though the film itself was previewed at the recent Le Mood festival, tonight was the first full-fledged Canadian Faces of Israel program and I was excited to share the project “north of the border”.

The program was hosted at The Shaar and cosponsored by many local groups including Shaar HaShomayim, The Ghetto Shul, Dorshei Emet, Shaare Zion, Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Shaare Zedek, Bet-El and Gen J.  The audience was representative of the sponsoring institutions and it was interesting to see a uniquely Quebecouis perspective on religion and state issues in Canada.

The group seemed more in favor of a separation of ‘synagogue & state’ than many of my American audiences, yet at the same time took a fairly conservative stance on issues relating to Israel.  Many participants stayed after the presentation to ask questions, and I was pleased at the respectful nature of discussion throughout the evening.

Canadian Faces of Israel Debut

It was a challenge to present Faces of Israel on Tisha B’Av, but it was also rewarding to deliver a meaningful program and help the time quickly pass for those who chose to fast.  I hope that this will be my first but not my last Faces of Israel presentation in Canada, and look forward to working with the community in the future!

For those who are interested in picking up a Faces of Israel DVD, copies are available at the Shaar HaShomayim office.  Thanks and enjoy!

written by amy beth oppenheimer

Faces of Israel in Denver and Boulder

posted on august 8, 2011

This weekend I had the opportunity to share Faces of Israel with the Jewish communities in Denver and Boulder.  Both programs were community-wide events that were cosponsored by congregations and local institutions across the denominational spectrum.

The turnout was strong with around 80-90 people at the Denver program, including many community leaders and even a former state legislator.  Several individuals stayed late after the program to ask questions and share their personal experiences of trying to get married or converted in Israel.  A representative of the American Jewish Committee expressed a strong interest in bringing my presentation to their 20s, 30s and 40s group, so I hope to be returning to Denver in the coming year!

The Boulder program was smaller, but also more intimate at around 30 people.  The crowd was diverse and highly engaged.  The Faces of Israel presentation was followed by an extended reception where I was able to connect individually with the attendees and spark great conversation.  The Boulder presentation also featured a programmatic first, as I was presented with (artificial!) flowers by one of the organizers.  Her rationale was that there would always be a place for them in the RV.  Clever!

A wonderful visit, and I look forward to furthering the conversation in Colorado in the coming months!

Faces of Israel in Denver

Faces of Israel in Boulder

More photos available at

written by amy beth oppenheimer

Faces of Israel: Wisconsin Camps Tour

posted on august 4, 2011

I just returned from a week in Wisconsin where I presented Faces of Israel at three Jewish summer camps.  My trip started off with a quick flight to Madison, where I visited JCC Camp Chi and was treated to a stay at the lovely Perlman Resort.  I met with the Staff-in-Training on Thursday evening for a session that ran at just under 2 hours and explored hot topics in Israel, and broke the SITs into smaller discussion groups, allowing for deeper conversation.  My visit to Camp Chi was quite short, however I was invited to attend and present at the Friday morning staff think tank before leaving.  I gave an overview of religion and state issues in Israel and why they matter, and held a Q&A – all over breakfast donuts, making the session that much sweeter.

The 4-hour drive north to Rhinelander went by fairly quickly as the scenery was beautiful and I did a phone-training on the Faces of Israel educational materials for a couple of camps.  Upon arrival at Ramah Wisconsin, I found that a synchronized swimming competition in the camp lake was well underway.  The competition was a riot and I was generally impressed by the quality and quantity of theatrical productions during my visit (Mamma Mia, Pippin, God of Our Fathers, A Capella and V Monologues over four days).   I spent a warm and welcoming Shabbat at Ramah that was followed by hours of programming on Sunday and Monday.  While at Ramah, I ran Israel seminars and programming for campers going into the 8th, 9th and 10th grades as well as staff sessions.  Good questions were asked and after holding a brief materials training for the camp’s educational director, I left Ramah feeling like I made a difference.

The trip to JCC Camp Interlaken was quick and I arrived at camp in the thick of their “Man vs. Beast”-themed Maccabiah day.  As the festivities came to a close, I stole the 10th graders for an evening session marked by thoughtful commentary about religious pluralism.  One camper shared that when she thinks of religion and state issues in the United States, her mind turns to the president signing off the State of the Union with “God bless America.”  Tuesday was very eventful as the powerful crack of a lightning-struck tree frighteningly awoke many of us at 5:15 am, and the subsequent weather warning brought the entire camp into storm shelters.  But it was all part of the experience and I managed to squeeze in a Faces of Israel staff training before heading back to Denver last night.

The Wisconsin tour brings my camp visits to a close for Summer 2011, but – if you find yourself in Colorado this week – make sure to join us for communal Faces of Israel programs in Denver and Boulder today and Sunday!

written by amy beth oppenheimer

Faces of Israel at URJ Camp Coleman

posted on july 27, 2011

I spent the past two days presenting Faces of Israel at URJ Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Georgia and I have never seen a more engaged group.  During my visit, I ran meaningful and content-rich sessions for campers going into the 9th, 10th and 12th grades.  The sessions focused on the importance of having a Jewish state, and the predicament of religion and state issues in the Jewish homeland.

The campers engaged in passionate conversations about what it means to be Jewish and had the opportunity to design their ‘ideal Jewish state’.  Each camper was then made the prime minister of his or her new state and we jumped into the difficulty of decision-making…  Who should be given citizenship in the state?  Should the country be run according to the Jewish calendar?  What should Shabbat look like?  What sort of national curriculum should be instated?

The campers beautifully rose to the challenge and many stayed after the end of the session to continue the conversation, pick up additional resources from me and even buy DVDs of the film footage.

Before leaving camp, I ran a “Hot Topics in Israel” lunch and learn for the staff and again stayed for an hour after the program to answer questions and spark debate about religious pluralism in Israel.  One of my sessions at Coleman was recorded for a new film project about Israel education at Reform camps, so keep an eye out for that.

My only regret was that the visit was too short, but what a wonderful time and I hope to return next year!

written by amy beth oppenheimer

Faces of Israel Camp Tour: Ramah Outdoors, BBYO and Moshava

posted on july 26, 2011

The whirlwind has begun!  Before heading out to visit BBYO Kallah and Moshava Indian Orchard this past weekend, I was invited to add some “Israel oomph” to Ramah Outdoors’ summer line-up.

It was exciting to visit such a young camp at the beginning of its journey and the Ramah in the Rockies campus is charmingly rustic.  I led an evening program for staff on Tuesday night, which featured a high level discussion on the sometimes-humorous and sometimes-frustrating marriage process in Israel.  The Wednesday night program got teen campers thinking about the difficulties of policy-making in Israel, understanding the nuances of the current political system and learning about small victories for religious pluralism in Israel.  Ramah will be using Faces of Israel for follow-up programming during this and future summers.  On a non-related note, the lack of food waste (and presence of delicious healthy food!) at Ramah Outdoors was remarkable and should be a model for other camps.

The trip to Pennsylvania on Thursday was very eventful.  I began traveling at 1:30 am and – due to delays and other mishaps – continued traveling for the next 21 hours.  An exercise in patience.  When I finally made it to Lake Como, I ran a session at BBYO Kallah, which was a definite success.  I broke the kids into groups for a conversation about religion and state issues, and debuted a new discussion prompt:  “Israel should be more like the United States / The United States should be more like Israel / Neither.”  This led to some fun arguments and conversation about whether the countries could or should learn from each other.

I spent the weekend with Moshava where I ran a program for 350+ staff.  Though the room was well over 100 degrees and the program started at 11 pm camp time, it gave both the American and Israeli staff some food-for-thought and initiated conversations that continued through the weekend.  I was thrown a fun surprise when – 5 minutes into the program – the camp director instructed me to give the entire presentation in English and Hebrew since Moshava has a particularly large mishlachat.  This gave my high school Hebrew a particularly good exercising, which is needed from time to time.

A quick post on Camp Coleman is to come, and then I’m off to visit the Wisconsin camps this Thursday!

written by amy beth oppenheimer