Sunday, December 25, 2011

Haifa's Multi-Cultural Holiday Lessons

Shalom Girls and Boys:

It's December 25th all over the world. It's the fifth day of Hanukkah.  It's also Christmas day.  I think it's important that we respect each other and I wanted to get some good tips on how to do it. So I just surfed the net, and you wouldn't believe!  I found the coolest way to be ecumenical (ask your parents or your teachers what that means) and it happened last year in Israel!

I'm going to take you back to the terrible Carmel Forest fire last December. A forest is a source for Christmas trees. The Carmel Forest is right next door to the Israeli city of Haifa -- a city where not only Jews live, but also Christians and Muslims.

Bet you didn't know that. In fact, I bet you don't know that Christians make up 2% of Israel's population.  Think about it. It makes sense. The story of Christmas did take place here, in The Holy Land.

But back to Haifa. Every year it wants its Christian residents to feel at home, so it puts up a huge Christmas tree. Last year's fire burned out all hopes for a tree, so a clever Israeli artist came up with the idea of creating a tree out of recycled plastic bottles like this one.

Haifa's Jews, Muslims and Christians contributed bottles.  It was a real joint effort and a great example of ecumenism (remember, I told you to find out what that word means). It attracted a lot of attention all over the world, and a British newspaper interviewed the artist and made a video clip all about it.

This year Haifa has a real tree. It's also holding its 18th annual Holiday of Holidays Festival. Eighteen -- that's Chai (life in Hebrew), and I hope this festival has a long life because it's all about religious tolerance. Remember I said Haifa's population is mostly Jewish but that it also has Muslims and Christians living in it? Well, each of these religions is celebrating a special holiday this month. Hanukkah and Christmas, plus the Muslim holiday, Eid Al-Adha, which has a connection with Abraham. Do you realize that he wasn't only the father of our people? We are descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac, but remember Abraham's other son Ishmael?  The Muslims are his descendants. That means we're cousins, which means we should at least be tolerant of each other. But I don't want to get into that. I'm more interested in something else that unites us --- FOOD. If this Holiday of Holidays Festival is celebrating three different holidays, that means three different types of food. So tell me, what am I doing shmoozing with you like this when I could be eating????

Gotta fly...Zvuvi

Photo Credit

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Judah Maccabee Slept Here

Shalom Girls & Boys:

Today I'm going to be your flyguide and take you to the city of Modiin.

Once upon a time Judah Maccabee slept here, and so did his father Mattathias and all of his brothers.  They began their revolt against the Greek rulers in this city.  I don't have to tell you the story of Hanukkah. I bet you're learning it right now. But because Hanukkah is also called the Holiday of Lights, I want to show you how beautiful Modiin looks when it's lit up at night.

Modiin is the miracle city in the middle of Israel -- right between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Over 74,000 people live there.  Many new olim (immigrants) from the United States move here. Most are young families. The mayor and his staff work here, in this modern City Hall.

Even though Modiin is a cool, 21st century city, it is still VERY respectful of its past. That's why men, women and children enjoy participating in archaeological digs during vacation time.
They are proud of what professional archaeologists have dug up. Take a look at the synagogue floor archaeologists found dating all the way back to the time of Judah Maccabee.
And signs of Judah Maccabee himself? Sorry, I can't show you exactly where he slept, but how about where he is buried?
Are these the REAL graves of the Maccabees? Some say YES, but many archaeologists say NO...and that's the mystery we're working on now.
Maybe I'll have the answer for you next year. For now, Happy Hanukkah from the city where the story of Hanukkah began, and thank you Modiin city for the pictures on your website. Special thanks to Modiin Councilman Alex Weinreb for his photos of the Maccabee graves, ancient synagogue floor, and this photo of a rainbow over Modiin. (I don't get it. Did Noah land his ark in Modiin???? Gota check that out!)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Meal Quiz: What's the Hebrew Connection to the Word "Turkey"?

Shalom Girls & Boys:
I'm flying in early because I know you're on vacation AND I have an important Thanksgiving question to ask: Is there a Hebrew connection to the word turkey (as in fowl)?

I couldn't believe my wings when I found out this little tidbit. Christopher Columbus thought that the New World was connected to India, so he called this fine feathered friend tuka -- which means peacock in India's Tamil language. Now hold on. I know I said there's a Hebrew connection, but I think it's a double one -- to English and to Tamil.  Here goes. Legend has it that turkey merchants in Spain -- the same country that sent Columbus on his way -- changed the Tamil word to the Hebrew word tukki -- which means parrot in Hebrew -- and that this word eventually evolved into turkey. It certainly makes sense to me. Say these two words out loud and hear how similar they sound. Go ahead. TUKKI.  TURKEY.

Want an even funnier coincidence? How do you say turkey in modern Hebrew? Hodu.

Is there another meaning to the word hodu?
The answer is "yes." It means we give thanks -- as in Thanksgiving. It's also the Hebrew name for the country India, and isn't that where Columbus thought he was heading?

You get it girls and boys?  However you slice it -- the words not the bird -- there is definitely a Hebrew connection to the Thanksgiving holiday. Ask people descended from the Puritans. They should know.

I could just gobble up all this information.  Hey. Wait a minute.  Isn't the word gobble connected to Thanksgiving as well? I mean, isn't that the main word in the vocabulary of a turkey?

Uh oh.  I think someone's getting ready to swat me.

Photo Credit

Monday, October 31, 2011

No Angry Birds Over Here

Shalom Girls and Boys:

I am sooo excited. Remember I mentioned Israel's Minister of Education in my last post? Guess what? His ministry is at it again, only this time they've decided to use a project in biodiversity to help encourage us to live in peace with our Arab neighbors. And the best thing? It's a project revolving around beings that have wings and fly.
Yup. You guessed it....

BIRDS! As in these friendly feathered creatures.
Aren't they the picture of peace? We don't have any angry birds over here. Angry people...sometimes. But not birds. In fact, last year I wrote a post all about birds in Israel. Maybe that's what inspired the Education Ministry? I sure hope so.

Their new project called Ken La Tzipor -- Yes to Birds -- is being organized together with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and it's being used in all the schools located in Israel's northern region. I mean ALL the schools. Every school where Israeli Jews and Arabs attend. A lot of Israeli Arabs live up north, which is why this project is meant to promote peaceful coexistence through biodiversity. How? Every Jewish and Arab student up north is going to be asked to pick their favorite bird as part of a lesson in coexistence. To help them choose they're going to receive special workbooks on birds in Israel, and playing cards that have pictures and information on all the fine feathered friends living over here. Not the half billion that pass by every Spring and Fall (230 species!) The ones that call Israel their home.

My first question is, are they going to have a party or a meeting for the Jewish and Arab students picking the same birds? I hope so. Stay tuned. I'm going to try to find out.

My next question is, what about the rest of us who fly and have wings? Peace through insect biodiversity. That's edgy, don't you think?  What's that? You say no, it has too much sting.
We'll see.

Photo credit

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Zvuvi is Watching His Diet

Shalom Girls & Boys:

What will it be? A cream cheese or a chocolate spread sandwich?
CHO-CO-LATE, CHO-CO-LATE. That's what real Israeli kids eat -- or USED TO EAT during the 10 o'clock snack break at school. And if the school day lasted until 2:30 p.m., then for lunch too! But not any more. Nuh, uh. Today it's a real NO NO because  a lot of Israeli kids have'm just gonna say it. FAT!

There used to be a time when it was hard to find a fat Israeli kid. We used to come home, do our homework and then s-w-i-s-h out of the house we went, straight to the park, playground, anywhere outdoors where we could play soccer, climb trees and ride our bikes. But then our country became this hi-tech capital, with a computer in practically every home, know the story. You've got the same problem. We're all sitting on our tachat -- that's backside in Hebrew -- much too much and snacking while we're playing, and gaining pounds and inches.

Not good, said Gideon Saar, Israel's Minister of Education, when he saw the latest kids' health and weight statistics. So starting this year he's insisting on healthy eating in school. The Education Ministry is even giving kids colorful boxes divided into sections for fruits, vegetables and healthy sandwiches. Minister Saar says now he's going to go after the vending machines. I mean give a kid a break! Or at least a toffy. Not him. Instead, he's coupled healthy eating with a new Move Your Body program.  Instead of sitting and eating, we're doing Zumba in school.

You know what they say: If you can't beat them, join them. So now I'm going to school so I can be schooled in healthy eating habits. The principal says I have to make sure that my parents eat healthy as well. She didn't like it when I told her they always eat on the fly.
ZVU-VI she shouted. What kind of sandwich did your mother make for you today?
I opened my colorful lunch box that Eema packed with cucumbers, carrots and apple slices. Slowly, I lifted the top of the pita bread and peeked inside the sandwich.
Hummus and tehini I mumbled.
EXCELLENT! she said.

Photo credit

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I'm On My Way to See the Largest Simhat Torah Flag

Shalom Girls & Boys:
It's Rally Round the Flag time. The Simhat Torah flag. We're all going to dance and sing, and wave our flags. But first I'm flying over to the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv where they have a really cool exhibit of Simhat Torah flags through the ages. The coolest flag of all is the largest Simhat Torah flag ever.

This got me thinking: How and when did we Jews start the custom of making special Simhat Torah flags to hand out to kids like you and me, so that we can march (or fly) around the synagogue with them? Sometimes I can be serious (not often, it's bad for my image), so I did a little research and here's what I discovered. The tradition of making flags goes all the way back to 17th Century Ashkenaz, which was in Eastern Europe. I even found sample flags. Maybe they'll be some of the flags I'll see today!

I must be getting really serious (Oh, oh, time to take my temperature!). I even found a historian at Tel Aviv University named Dr. Chaim Grossman who researched Simhat Torah flags. He says the flags created in Ashkenaz were made out of such thin paper that there was no way kids like you and me were going to take good care of them. So sorry, there are no flags going allll the way back. Dr. Grossman also doesn't know exactly how the custom began, but he thinks it was probably taken from a different culture.

So, you know what I did? I looked up the history of flags.  I gotta be honest. It just wasn't fun enough. So I found something better. How to make a Simhat Torah flag  and a Youtube clip of Simhat Torah in Israel.

Gotta go. But first a quick quiz: what flies? Answer: Simhat Torah flags and Zvuvi.

Photo credit

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We Just Had Our First Serious Rainfall

We had a surprise visitor yesterday -- Mr. Rain.
Sounds funny to you, but rain in September is almost unheard of in Israel. A huge downpour like the one we had yesterday -- that's a miracle! Do you think it means we're going to have a good year? I hope so. After all, Rosh Hashanah is only a few days away and we don't start praying for rain until Shmini Atzeret/Simhat Torah.

Why do we pray for rain? Because Israel has a dry climate with a short rainy season that begins in October and ends in April.

October's rain is not really rain -- more like spitting. A few drops and poof, it's over. November is a little bit better. December-February are the 3 months we count on. If it doesn't rain we're in trouble. We have very few water resources and our population is growing, making us one thirsty country. Our main water source is Lake Kinneret. We constantly measure its water level to check if we're O.K. Unfortunately, very often it only reaches the red "Danger" line or under it, which means we're having a tough time.

So the fact that it rained soooo early and soooo much -- that's BIG TIME news for us.

The importance of rain is not anything new to the Land of Israel.
Hey, I have an assignment for you. Find out how many times rain is mentioned in the Bible....where, when and why. Once you have the results, write and tell me.

Shana Tova...a sweet, wet year

Photo Credit

Sunday, September 11, 2011

We Should All Be Schooled in Tolerance

Shalom Yeladim from Grades 4, 5 & 6:

I don't usually speak to specific grades, but this time I've got a problem that I want to share with you.

The school year started in Israel and schools opened as usual – that is, most schools. Many parents of children attending the Ner Etzion school in the city of Petach Tikva refused to let the school doors open. Why? Because this school is located in a neighborhood where everybody comes from Ethiopia and a lot of these parents want their children to be integrated into schools outside their neighborhood, attended by all types of Israelis.

Here's the thing – not all parents sending their children to Ner Etzion agree to send them to other schools. There are some who want their children to stay together in this school because they feel it is easier to learn in a place where everyone is alike – physically, financially and with the same educational background.

What should an Ethiopian parent in Israel do? What should the schools do? It's a tough choice with no simple answers, but maybe you can find some creative solutions.

Here's what I want you to do. First of all, learn all about Ethiopian Jews -- their history and how they came to Israel. Teachers, you can use this link to help you.

Next, I want you to divide up into groups with some of you pretending you are Ethiopians and the rest of you being you, Jews living in the United States, Canada, England and Australia. The Ethiopian children want to be part of your class but they are so different from you. Be honest. Would you accept them as equals? Invite them to your house? Go paint-balling with them? Help them with their school work? How can you help them feel that they're just like you? Because I'm going to be honest with you – I feel that all of us have to stick to the principal Kohl Yisrael Areivim Zeh La'ZehAll Jews must help and care for each other.

Once you come up with some ideas, write and tell me so that I can pass them on to friends over here in Israel.

Toda Raba...Zvuvi

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Happy Ending to the Summer Vacation

Shalom Yeladim:

Sorry I haven't been in touch for a while but I've been kinda busy buzzing around this summer. Yesterday evening I did the coolest thing. I made a fly line to the Eretz Yisrael Museum in Tel Aviv to see the most spectacular fairy tale sand sculptures. Sculptors from the World Sand Sculpting Academy in The Hague – that's in Holland – came to Israel, took over the museum's courtyard and made gigantic sand sculptures from 700 tons of sand! Two represent Bible stories – like the Tower of Babel. The rest are interpretations of our favorite fairy tales – like The Little Mermaid. I took these two photos on the fly but I found a YouTube clip so that you can virtually enjoy our happy ending to our summer vacation.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

I Just Appeared at The Pittsburgh Folk Festival

Shalom Yeladim:

I was in Pittsburgh last week when they held their 54th International Folk Festival. This year the festival planners decided that every country should be represented by a children's book. guessed it. I was Israel's proud ambassador. All the pannels of the Israel pavillion had pictures from my book. You'll see me as well, because hey, I love being a fly on a wall. Hope you enjoy the photos and THANK YOU PITTSBURGH for making me feel so at home.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Zvuvi Wants to Test Fly An Electric Car at Better Place

Shalom Yeladim:
Finally I will be able to fly behind a car without getting exhausted. That's because the car will be electric and it will be part of an awesome Israeli environmental project created by a man named Shai Agassi. The project is called Better Place – which is exactly what it hopes to make the world.

If Better Place succeeds, almost everybody will be driving non-polluting electric cars that they can charge in their own homes. When the battery has to be exchanged, they'll go to a battery switch station that looks like a gas station but doesn't use a single drop of fuel! Watch Sophie and her Daddy drive to school and work, and you'll understand what Better Place is all about.

Here's a scoop hot off the press: Better Place just announced that the Renault Fluence ZE is going to be first electric car sold in Israel. That is sooo exciting. Right now Better Place has stations in Israel, California, Hawaii, Ontario, Denmark, Australia, Japan and China. Who knows where the next Better Place station will be located? It could be in your neighborhood!

Gotta go. I want to test fly the Renault Fluence ZE.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Right foot forward, left foot forward, right across back foot...

Shalom Yeladim:
Phew...learning how to dance an Israeli folk dance is not easy, but I'm determined. So what if I have four legs, which makes it more difficult. The thing is I'm an Israeli...O.K., an Israeli fly...and I'm proud of the fact that people around the world are dancing Israeli folk dances. It's unbelievable! Watch how these people in Japan dance Sha'avta Mayim...and women in Berlin, Germany dance an Israeli Debka.

Israeli folk dancing is our biggest cultural export – much more popular than our famous violinists, orchestras and artists who have made their mark around the world. It started decades ago with a simple Hora danced to Hava Nagila, just like these kids are dancing. Today it's that AND MUCH MORE. We do line dancing, choreographed numbers, you name it and everybody loves it. You know what? Israeli folk dancing is a great way to have fun and exercise at the same time. You simply can't go wrong, even if you're a klutz like me.

There's a reason that I'm telling you about Israeli folk dancing. Yom Ha'atzmaut – Israel Independence Day – is a little over a week away. Dancing is part of the celebration and I want you to be ready. So...

Right foot forward, left foot forward, right across back foot...

Zvuvi....(who's trying to get the steps right)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Penguins in Israel?

Shalom Yeladim:

I know that sounds funny. These cute aquatic birds are usually associated with ice, snow and freezing temperatures. So what are they doing in Israel – a desert country with a hot, tropical climate? They’re mating at Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo, that’s what. At least Black Footed penguins are. Also known as the African Penguin, they live in countries like Namibia and South Africa, so they are used to hot weather.

How did they get to Israel? The Amsterdam Zoo was worried about the future of its black footed penguins. To make sure they would be fruitful and multiply they shipped a few to Jerusalem because the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is famous for conserving endangered species. Animals and birds about to disappear – like Griffon Vultures, Fallow Deer and Asian Elephants – get a second chance at the Jerusalem Zoo. When the Black Footed penguins arrived, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo was so successful in helping them conceive that they outnumbered the numbers they were expecting. Get the pun? Expecting! In short, Black Footed Penguin multiplication worked so well that soon Israel will be exporting penguins to zoos all over the world.

Penguins Made in Israel. I love it.

Gotta spread the buzz…Zvuvi

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What's the Connection Between Macy’s and the Israeli City Holon?

Shalom Yeladim:
Here’s the answer: Macy’s holds an annual Thanksgiving Day Parade with people from all over the United States coming to see it, and every year Holon holds its Purim Adloyada Parade, with Israelis from north to south attending. Both of these parades are unbelievable pageants with huge floats, bands, dance troupes, balloons and more. Now, I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes of the Macy’s parade, but I do know that Holon has a special puppet center with a school that teaches how to make puppets. Even better, it has a two-year course in carnival art which trains people on how to build giant puppets like this Jungle Boy float. It is gigantic puppet floats like this that make Holon’s Adloyada parade so special.

The parade is about to begin. I’ve got to fly. I want to buzz around and meet the puppet makers. A giant Zvuvi float sounds good to me for next year’s parade.
Hey…you never know.
Purim Sameach…Zvuvi

Monday, March 7, 2011

What do Haman and the Pyramids Have in Common?

Shalom Yeladim:
The answer is really neat. Right we all eat Hamantashen on Purim? In Israel we call them Oznei Haman (which means “Haman’s ears”) and they go on sale in the makolet – local supermarket – around a month before Purim. Every year bakers all over the country try to outdo themselves by coming up with new ideas. This year one baker came up with such an unusual idea that it was covered on the news. Are you ready for this? Pyramid shaped Oznei Haman! He said he was inspired by the current events going on in our part of the world and he wanted to show the Egyptians that he agreed with their push for democracy. So instead of cutting his dough into triangles he cut it into rectangles. He filled each rectangle with a traditional poppy seed mix, lifted its the corners and pinched them into the shape of a pyramid. Pretty cool, and much closer to the real meaning of Hamentashen – which is German for “pockets of poppy seeds”.
Hey – I wonder if pyramid costumes will be a hit this Purim as well. You never know! I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Just Returned from the States. Now I’m Getting Ready for Purim.

Shalom Yeladim:

Long time no hear! I’m back from my trip to the United States. I had a great time meeting kids like you in New York, Providence and Miami. It was so much fun flying around, introducing boys and girls to Israel by playing “Pin Zvuvi on the Map” and of course, meeting loads of “relatives” wherever I went. We flies are some clan.

Now that I’m back in Israel I can see Purim fever is beginning to take hold. Last week the TV news already had a story on professional costume designers – and Purim is still a month away! But Purim in Israel is BIG TIME. It’s a combination of Mardi Gras and Halloween. There’s no school for 3 days and kids walk the streets in costume 2-3 days before the holiday sets in. On Purim day many cities hold Purim parades called 'ADLOYADA' that are complete with floats, bands and dancing.

So, right now everyone – children and adults – are busy sewing and buying costumes. Last year Bob the Builder was one of the big costume hits. I can’t wait to see this year’s costume winner.

What are you dressing up as? Hey, how about dressing up as me, Zvuvi??!! If Tami can have a puppet made up to look like me, then you can certainly make a Zvuvi costume. Look at this picture and see if it helps.

Keep me posted…Zvuvi

Sunday, January 16, 2011

This Coming Thursday is Tu B’Shvat

Shalom Yeladim:
This coming Thursday is Tu B’Shvat – the Jewish Arbor Day – and tree planting is what I want to talk about. Remember the Carmel Forest fire? Remember I asked for your help? There’s no better day than Tu B’Shvat to help restore and reforest. Please ask your teachers how you and your class can help plant a tree in the Carmel Forest. I would really appreciate it.

I have to pack my suitcase. Tami and I are flying off tonight for a one month’s author tour in the United States. I am going to be buzzing around and talking to kids in schools located in New York, Providence and Miami. Tami asked me to tell you that we’re going to be a little bit tight for time so there won’t be any blog posts (mine or her Jewish holiday customs) until after we return to Israel in mid-February.

Do you want to meet me in person? Write to Tami. She says that we’re flying back to the States in November. Between now and mid February you can write to her at: Once we’re back in Israel, drop her line at

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Israel is a Country that’s for the Birds

Shalom Yeladim:
I bet you didn’t know that over 300 different kinds of birds spend their winter in Israel. Not only that, every Spring 500 million birds pass through our skies! You’ve got it – Israel is a country that’s for the birds and our fine feathered friends are definitely getting a bird’s eye view of our country. And the 500 million birds? Our President – Shimon Peres – says that’s a world record!

Yup, you could say we’re a bird watching superpower. Bird watchers from all over the world come to our shores to look at our skies. More than one little birdie told me so. We’re so popular that we’ve just held our first International Bird Watching Festival in the Galilee and last year we held our fourth Bird Watching Festival in Eilat. Our bird watching season starts in October and lasts until the end of March. One of the best places to bird watch is the Hula Valley, an agricultural region in northern Israel. It’s a hot spot for birds migrating along the Syrian-African rift. They’re kinda like tourists traveling between Africa, Europe and Asia, making Israel their stopover. Hey, I wonder if they fly First Class? After all, they have to take care of themselves since a lot of them are endangered species – like Common Cranes, Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles, Pygmy Cormorant, Black Storks, and you wouldn’t believe it – 30 different kinds of birds of prey, as well as pelicans, ducks and geese.

With all these birds coming and going, I bet you’re wondering if any of them make Israel their home. The answer is “yes.” We even have a national bird – and it’s not the bald eagle. Ours is the cute Hoopoe Bird.

It’s a medium sized bird that stands out because of its color combination of orange, black and white, and its long, thin bill that it uses for poking at the ground. When it flies it looks like a giant butterfly.

What other birds live in Israel? I think finding out is a great project for you and your classmates.
Me? I gotta fly. After all, I’m as free as a bird – and a lot more fun!