Work and pray in Israel high-tech

dina 1 (3)When I started working at my current IT company in 2000, we (the religious employees) would have an makeshift mincha prayer in the lobby of the company gym each day at 1:30pm, and we’d get a minyan of about 15-30 men. It wasn’t the idea place to pray, but it wasn’t possible to get a permanent time reservation for a conference room, and none were big enough in any case. We used a shoebox to hold the small paperback prayer books, a tzdedaka box and some kipas for the occasional non-religious guys. Someone later donated about twenty Sephardi mincha/maariv siddurs, which we had to put away after each session. The nusach style of prayer depends entirely on the hazan and tolerance is high enough to accept any flavour such as Edot Mizrach, Chabad, Sefarad and Ashkenaz as well even though that is a minority.dina 2

After a few years, we decided to try our luck with HR (human resources) and ask for the company to set aside a room or two for a dedicated synagogue. While we were officially ignored, off the record we were told that if we were given a synagogue, then other people might demand their own place of worship. We had to accept that answer, but nonetheless, all this time, we did appreciate the access to the area during off-hours the gym.

On fast days, we could not bring a sefer Torah, so we had to close down and recommend people go into the nearby cities for alternatives.dina 3 (2)

As we gradually grew in size, we moved into the actual training room with the gym equipment but later, the gym was closed and turned into more office space, and we had to move to a basement hallway in another building . Our new location was able to fit more people, and a combination of growing number of religious guys as well as a wish to offer an additional minyan, gave us the encouragement to open a new ‘second-chance’ mincha at 4pm. Someone donated a shelf and we were able to give a more proper display for the prayer books.dina 4

We never gave up on looking for some place else because this location had disadvantages of having the people come through (some would be considerate and wait, others could not [be expected to] wait 10-15 minutes), and we were continuing to grow, with overflow into side hallways as the company grew and adjacent companies began to populate the building expansion and their employees joined as well. Around 2011, we decided to go over the heads of the HR department and
approach our company maintenance / operations department for a better location. This time we were happily surprised beyond our highest expectations. The company was still not going to allocate any office space but they decided to relay our request to the building complex owners who happily accepted the idea with no hesitation.dina 6

Over the next few months, adjacent to a busy intersection, yet tucked discretely into a quiet side of a typical glass covered IT office building, a contractor closed off a section of the parking lot and turned it into a fully furnished synagogue that can seat over 50 as well as a women’s section (who also come), with aron kodesh (including a cage to lock in a sefer Torah), and a nicely stocked library with more siddurim and seforim – all donated by the building owners with no strings attached except the name of a family matriarch for this small chapel now called Ohel Dina. On fast days, a Torah is now brought by one of the workers and we can have a regular prayer with reading, and the attendance swells to more than double the usual (including standing room). During the wintertime when the sun sets early, we also organize a Maariv prayer. When there is a mourner, he does not need to search for a nearby synagogue, and there are never any struggles to be the hazan either. The synagogue is open to all people who work in the area’s office buildings and visitors. Having this synagogue at work is really convenient and another awesome reason to live in Israel.

dina 7 (2)dina 9 (2)



RFI: community, shul, schools and the different communities

Tamara asked for information on the Facebook group, and I decided to go all out and put together a longer answer than normal to update the blog.

Tamara: Hi we would love to visit Ariel as part of our Aliya pilot trip and out looking for more information on the various dati communities in Ariel. Grateful for any information re: community, shul, schools and how far/ separate the different communities are from each other. Thanks in advance

Ariel is a relatively new town of over 35 years, and while religious people have lived here for virtually the whole time, a major growth and increase in size, activity, and identity started happening only over ten years ago and is still underway. More younger families are moving to Ariel to take advantage of the lower cost of living and the ability to contribute to the community. If you come to live in Ariel, be aware that you will be part of creating something, there is still much to do, no matter which community you decide to move to. Most of the shuls/communities are not as established as older ones in the other Israeli cities. ‘Ariel Aliyah’ means integration and yet also a little bit of nurturing our Anglo-ness. Is there an Anglo shul? Shvut Ariel in the central Rova B neighbourhood has a larger number of Anglos but calling it the ‘anglo shul’ is somewhat misleading label. It just means that they get the most Torah Tidbits each Shabbat 🙂 IMO, there is no anglo shul. The Anglos (and religious people) are spread out around the city. There is no anglo ghetto, for better and worse, depending on each individual’s needs. Coming to Ariel means you will probably become Israeli faster and learn Hebrew faster if you get involved even partially in the community. Some shuls are more active than others. There are two neighbourhouds which will have a higher (it is relative) concentration of religious families and that is the central ‘HaArava’ and the eastern Moriah areas (perhaps a subject for a future real estate update).

(Are we assuming right that you are Ashkenazi?) There are actually six Ashkenazi shuls/communities in the city (and nine other Sepharadi shuls + the university). Ohel Efraim (west), Shvut Ariel (central) already mentioned. There is also Chabad (central), the new Almog (central-east), and on the further eastern side, Netzarim north and Netzarim south. Currently, most of the dati nurseries/kindergartens are in the central area but that is temporary and they will be spread out around the city in the coming years. The two religious schools mentioned are actually on the east and west sides so if you are thinking long term, you might want to live near the schools, IMO.

The Netzarim community on the eastern side that has not really been mentioned yet in comments is the largest and most active shul/community in the city. They have an office, they have community committees, they have community activities as well as activities open to the general public and are also very active in the university coordinating two separate streams to integrate religious and academic studies as well as social initiatives. They have a hesder yeshiva and a small kollel and are in general have the most community-oriented culture similar to a shul overseas (IMHO). They have a north and south branches and still coming to grips with many in the community moving into the new main neighbourhood. And even though they are probably the most established oranization, there is still a lot of work to do and place for someone to find their way to contribute to community building. In other communities, there is even more areas to contribute to existing initiatives and the create new ones too.

Schooling – daycare, nurseries/kindergartens, elementary day school, middle school, high school, university, hesder yeshiva, we are only missing a yeshiva gedola to top it off. How many other cities can claim all of that? Only seven others in Israel.

Daycare for 0-3 is definitely cheaper than the other central Israeli cities where it might be over 2000NIS a month, maybe not including Friday which some private and public places in Ariel might offer. There are a few mishpachtonim – which are literally family-oriented day care options and there are two ma’ons which are government-regulated and (perhaps subsidized if the family is approved).
Religous Nurseries/Kindergartens – In 2000, there were 3, than 4, 5, 6, 7 and this is still expanding. Some religious families even sent/send their children by bus to the Chabad nursery in Emmanuel because of its superior offering, and IY”H Chabad Ariel will be opening its first nursery in Ariel this fall, already overbooked by 50%.
G1-6 Elementary schools – already mentioned briefly and still a subject that brings out some emotions. You can PM Rechelle Hochhauser about the Mamad or me about the talmud torah boys and girls schools. Just to add that next year, the Neve Ariel Talmud Torah will be growing into G7 and there are plans for a middle school and more.
As for the other middle school and high school options, there are only a few anglo kids at those ages, and I am not familiar enough with them to comment with options of those grades.

And last but not least – without any hard stats to base this on – the majority of Anglos who have made aliyah to Ariel in the past ten years stay around, they buy homes shortly after, they find jobs, and they participate in the community BUT we also appreciate and tolerate that some people have a peculiar humour (or none), some are grumpy, and we all enjoy the Israeli civil right to criticize everything. I think another aspect of Ariel Aliyah is that we will also tell you the downsides and this is from the belief that more awareness makes for a stronger and more informed decision process.


It’s been a while.

Contributions to the blog dropped off since the official community program contracted and Facebook made it easier to keep in contact but perhaps we can jump ahead five years and give some updates.

Building and Reuniting

Originally posted in the English E-Newsletter for Yeshivat Har Etzion Alumni Tishrei 5770Building and Reuniting Hillel Maizels and Avi Zimmerman2

As the years pass by, it’s not uncommon for Gushnikim to bump into each other and sometimes even get together to catch up. Yet, how often does it happen that Gushnikim find their paths not only coinciding but also intertwining?

After completing Rabbanut Semicha at Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rav Hillel Maizels’95 MTA and his wife Yael participated in the Rothschild Foundation’s “Likrat Shlichut” program, which trains community rabbis in Israel. Rav Hillel and Yael, who were familiar with community life as it exists in South Africa and Buffalo, New York (their places of upbringing, respectively), identified the need for a similar system here in Israel. They sought the appropriate community, with both the desire to develop itself and the potential to do so.

Avi Zimmerman ’95 was living in the City of Ariel with his wife Dana and their two children, Gilli Shirah and Eytan Ohr. Though he is an occupational therapist by profession, Avi accepted the city’s offer to run the new Community Aliyah Program for North American olim. The program, sponsored by all of the major aliyah organizations and institutions, encourages olim to make aliyah directly to Ariel. Many olim have been drawn to Ariel with its substantial benefits and assistance, affordable housing, easy access to Israel’s employment centers, an incomparable quality of life and an ever-developing vibrant religious community. Nonetheless, Avi recognized that the success of Ariel’s aliyah program would be dependant not on the initial arrival of the olim, but rather on their comfort level in the city and their subsequent commitment to build their lives there. The city needed a community oriented rabbinic figure, who could both provide personal guidance to the new olim and assist them in integrating into the framework of an Israeli society.

When Rav Hillel heard that the city of Ariel was looking for an Anglo community rabbi he immediately pursued the contact details. Moments later, the two Gushnikim, who spent 5 years of yeshiva together, were talking about community life in Israel, the future of the Jewish People and the earliest opportunity for the Maizels family to visit Ariel for Shabbat. A few visits later, Rav Hillel, his wife Yael and their daughters Hodaya and Elisheva were all geared up to make the move to Ariel. Rav Hillel now serves as the Rav of the Ohel Efraim community in Ariel and is teaching in a local school.

Maybe it’s not such a coincidence to see Rav Hillel and Avi teaming up. Back in Yeshiva, when Avi was the madrich for the American students, Rav Hillel was themadrich for the MTA students from South Africa and Australia. A few short years down the line, and the Maizels and Zimmerman children are playing in gantogether, while their fathers and mothers are working to develop a paradigm for community life in Israel. Whether it’s a reunification or a natural continuum, Rav Hillel and Avi are taking what they developed in Yeshiva and giving it as a gift to so many others.

The big day- back to school

Jonnah and Sami at SchoolAs we approached the beginning of the school year, there was a feeling of excitement in the air. For about a week prior to school starting, whenever you met another parent, the conversation always started with – it’s almost time for school to start. Hooray!!!!

Gan started on September 1st, Jonah’s 5th birthday. So it was a good day in general! He is in Gan Chova this year which is the equivalent of Kindergarten. He also switched from the 3-4 year old gan to the 4-5 year old Gan.

The Big Day

Jonah was mostly looking forward to his new Gan and we had gone to an Orientation the week before. We met the teachers and saw the Gan and the yard (complete with basketball net). Although as we got closer, he was a bit more hesitant and as we passed his old Gan he said, “I don’t think I want to go to a new Gan”. But he put on a brave front and we arrived at the Gan. The teachers greeted him warmly and he sat down at a table to play with the other kids. I stuck around for a few minutes, taking pictures, and chatting with him and some of the other parents. Every once in awhile he would glance at me and give me a shy smile. He was fine with me leaving…..I was the one who was having a harder time. Well, Sammy (my 2 year old) was really excited to go to Ma’on (daycare) and kept pulling on me, “Let’s goooo”. I waved goodbye to Jonah and off we went.

I cannot begin to compare the difference between leaving him last year and leaving him this year. And I am NOT envious at all of the new Olim going through this with their own kids. I remember the tears, the emotion, and the heartbreak. In fact, one day I too left in tears. I kept wondering, what did I do to my kid??? How could I take him away from a Gan he loved going to every day and put him somewhere that he doesn’t know the kids, doesn’t speak the language, and is in tears as I leave. Those were a rough couple of weeks in the beginning.

But now I look at him and listen to him talk about Gan and I want to burst with pride. Because not only does he enjoy going (and his teachers seem to love him) but he is helping out the 2 other Olim boys that are in his Gan. Whether it’s translating between them and the teacher or showing them different toys, or playing with them in the yard, he is helping them fit in and feel comfortable. And next year, those boys can help the next batch of Olim. It’s a good cycle we have going here. And a fantastic community. Baruch Hashem, Baruch Hashem, Thank G-d!!! Life is good. 🙂

Natalie Zacks

Aliyah Tales of Ariel II


by Benjamin Laskin

 Once my processing for Aliyah was well underway, my next major decision became, “Now, where the heck in Israel am I going to start this new life of mine?” I needed a place to absorb and I hadn’t a clue where to go. So, I did what any serious, sane person would do. I pinned a map of Israel on the wall of my apartment in Japan where I was living, and tossed a dart. After all, Israel is Israel, and it’s so small, anywhere is everywhere.


Four darts later and worried that I’d lose my security deposit, I was quite certain that there were no Israeli towns or settlements in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, Lebanon, or Jordan, I decided that a slightly more pragmatic approach to such an important decision was called for.


I dug up the handful of colorful fliers that I had picked up while on a visit to the Jewish Agency in Los Angeles describing various towns and cities in Israel that were looking for new immigrants. They all sounded good on paper, but that is, after all, the purpose of a flier. 

I needed a little more info than that.


I got online and clicked around, trying to get a better sense of some of these places. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be in or around Tel Aviv or Haifa. Nothing against those cities, but they didn’t tickle my romantic and idealistic fancies.


I narrowed my search to four or five possibilities. I sent some emails and waited. And waited some more. Only one address had returned with a rapid reply. The one I had sent to Ariel.


Within a few quick back and forths with Avi Zimmerman, I knew that here we had a guy who took his position seriously and could be counted on. Avi far exceeded my expectations, and when the big day arrived and I landed in Israel, Avi was there to drag my weary, bleary-eyed carcass from the airport and cart me off to Ariel. I remained under his big, brotherly wing until he had made sure all my important documentation and ‘to-dos’ were complete, including securing my apartment. I was overwhelmed not only by Avi’s concern and generosity, but by the very special Ariel volunteers who assisted us, led by the indefatigable and wonderful ‘Den-Mother-in-Chief’, Jenny Simon.


Having made aliyah directly from Japan where I had been living for some eighteen years, culture shock was unavoidable. On top of that, I was entirely solo, with not a single friend or relative in Israel to greet or help me. However, thanks to Avi, Jenny, and many others of the Ariel English-speaking community, my transition from a sushi- nibbling ‘gaijin’ to a falafel-snarfing Ole couldn’t have gone smoother.


After a few months, I wasn’t just chucked aside by Avi, either. He continued to demonstrate honest interest in my well-being and always made time for me from his busy schedule. Avi has moved on to another Ariel-related program, but his successor, Reuvan Franks, has filled Avi’s gigantic shoes most admirably. Like Avi before him, Reuvan is as helpful as you want him to be, and even though I am now a nine-month ‘old timer’ here, I feel that he is always ready to assist me in any way he can.


Ariel is a lovely town with many wonderful people, especially those in the English speaking community. Bonds are made fast, and kindness and generosity shine down on new arrivals like the Shomron sun we live under. It is hard to imagine a better and easier way to absorb in Israel than by coming to Ariel. Don’t toss darts and expect everywhere to be the same. Head straight for the bull’s-eye, Ariel.


Benjamin Laskin


I’m not someone who has wanted to make aliyah his whole life.  My family never regarded it as an option when I was growing up, and I had never even been to Israel until a few years ago.  But over the last few years as I’ve become more religiously observant, I’ve also begun to feel a stronger connection to other Jews and to our homeland. I began to understand that living in the land that Hashem gave us is an important part of our covenant with Him as Jews, and I wanted to fulfill my part in that covenant by living in our homeland. I wanted to live where the holidays that are celebrated are Jewish holidays and where the rhythms of daily life are Jewish. I wanted to be in Israel if, G-d forbid, bad things happen to our people, and to be there to celebrate when good things happen. I got tired of watching from the sidelines.  And I grew to feel more and more like an outsider living in exile in the U.S. 
I’ve never thought that Israel is some kind of paradise. I think my life in Israel will be harder than my life in the U.S. had been. Making aliyah wasn’t an easy decision. At times during the process I got cold feet and had second thoughts. Several times I decided not to do it at all. I didn’t think I could quit my job, sell my house, move myself and three dogs to a place where I didn’t speak the language fluently and wouldn’t even be able to read my phone bill. But I could never talk myself out of it. And somehow it all worked out. That must mean something. I did know for quite a while that my heart was in Israel and my soul was in Israel; now I’m very happy that my body is here too.
Making aliyah to Ariel has made everything much easier. There is warmth and support here for new olim, and having Reuven Franks, Ariel’s Community Aliyah Coordinator, makes a huge difference. I would not have known how to go about opening a bank account, leasing an apartment, getting my dogs licensed, or any of the other innumerable tasks that are a part of daily living without Reuven’s help. He helped me with all those things, and that’s incredibly valuable.
Terry Troutner

Aliyah Tales of Ariel


There are a few experiences in life – that you just get to have once. For better or for worse. They are the kinds of experiences that make you say, “Woah, is this happening to me?” The ones that can make you feel drunk on life. The major ones are “Lifecycle Events”. Births, Marriage, and Death.


I was privileged to add a Bonus Event to my Lifecycle this week, to my chain of events. I added Aliyah – I elevated my life, my family’s life, as we moved up to Israel.

I was not prepared for this experience. Even though I have been working for it and wanting it for 11 years. The week or so leading up to our departure, people kept asking, are you excited? Every other time I’ve gone to Israel, the adrenaline starts kicking up about that time. I get on the plane and my heart is pounding. This time, it wasn’t like that. I was just Ready. Emotionally. It was Time.

I expected the sad and tearful goodbyes. For the past 6 months or so, when I even thought of saying goodbye, I got choked up. I expected tears as we took off, but they didn’t come. I expected more tears as we landed – but there were just a few. Happy tears. Happy and thankful to be coming home for good.

And I was right, goodbyes were rough. And as we landed in Israel, I did get teary-eyed. I looked across the plane at My Shauli (we were each sitting with a kid at opposite window seats) and I longed to be able to hold his hand – as we landed in our new home. Our new country. And I fell in love all over again because he made this possible. He helped me realize my dream.

We landed, we clapped, we cheered. I cried – but just a little. We got off the plane and headed down the steps, waited for the bus and sped away to the terminal. As I looked out the window and saw the palm trees, I remembered my first view of the land. The palm trees, and the feeling of that blast of hot air. And my heart was overflowing. With love for Shu, Jonah, Sammy, and for coming home. FInally. My eyes started overflowing too at that point… The director of Nefesh B Nefesh, or the Rabbi who started it, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, was on our bus with us. And he saw me crying. He told me, “Don’t do that, now you are going to get me started all over again!” It’s cool that he still gets emotional with each new landing. I pulled myself together and we pulled up to the terminal. And no matter how many live or taped landings I had seen – no way was I prepared for what came next. For how I felt.

The shuttle doors opened and all of a sudden, there was Israeli music blasting. “Havaynu Shalom Aleichem, Havaynu Shalom Aleichem…..” Music blasting, people cheering, everyone waving and smiling. Cameras here, there, everywhere. Everyone welcoming us Home.

I gasped and the tears started flowing. There are no words that can begin to describe how I felt at that moment. No way to capture it. And I just stood there for a second, taking it all in. A random army lady saw me, she looked overjoyed to see me and told me, Welcome home. She gave me a little Israel flag and a hug, holding me tight. There were tons of cameras and video cameras in my face. Taking pictures of the boys in the stroller, Jonah almost asleep. 🙂 We walked along, through the aisle created by the masses of people and all I could see were smiles and tears of joy. I’m the one who came home – yet I can see the excitement in their eyes! I stopped, I covered my eyes, I was sobbing. This is my dream come true. Better even because I’m here with my incredible husband and 2 (and a ½) amazing children. We are home.

Well, if I was that emotional seeing strangers, you can only imagine how I felt when I saw the Zacks crew there to greet us! I saw Nava first and I just started yelling and waving wildly, “It’s Nava, it’s Nava! Shu, do you see her?” Then I saw Naphtali, Daniel, Aviva, Shevy – and I couldn’t get there fast enough!! I couldn’t get past the crowd but I just wanted to get over to them – to hug them. To thank them for paving the way for us! As soon as I got there, I wanted to hug everyone, I held onto Aviva for dear life. The crowd controller was trying to move us along, telling us we were holding up the line. Then Shlomo appeared and I followed him to get inside. Our friend Inbar for Sheirut Leumi in Detroit is there and I hug her – the crying starts again.

At that point, I’m about to faint. It’s almost too much to handle. Physical and emotional overload. Someone hands me a bottle of much needed cold water. Of course, then I notice my head scarf is practically off- woops and so I slip on the handy Nefesh b’ Nefesh hat they gave out. Now I know what those are for. Golda and Sarra arrive and more hugs, I don’t want to let go. Then Arye is there and Simmy and we are surrounded.

Avi Z. and the Ariel gang is there to meet us and I’m so grateful. I can’t wait to move there! We picked a good spot. We take a huge group picture. Go Zacks!

And on that note, since it’s almost 2:30 am and I’m running out of scrap paper to write on, I’ll bid you adieu. Or Shalom. Lehitraot. And for those in America, come soon! There is always room.

My Life By Donuts Mom