Gelmond Geo Tours – Alaska trip planning and travel services

Let the experts help you put together a once-in-a-lifetime trip and explore Alaska, one of the most special places in North America

Ofer Gelmond’s first visit to Alaska was on a backpacking trip, right after his military service. “I think it had something to do with a TV nature documentary…” says Ofer, who’s been coming back to Alaska ever since: once as a traveler, then as a dog handler for a professional dog musher, and finally, as a graduate student at the University of Anchorage, where he earned his master’s studying the impact of earthquakes on the evolution of fish in the Gulf of Alaska. Today, Ofer is the owner of Gelmond Geo Tours, a Tel-Aviv based travel business which specializes in customized private trips to Alaska and West Canada (Canadian Rockies and Vancouver). "We have a team of seven employees, all of them are well travelled in Alaska and very knowledgeable about the region.  We organize trips for the independent traveler and also offer guided small-group tours in Hebrew (up to 12 travelers). Our guided trips start in Seattle and end in Anchorage, or vise versa." read more

BreakInbox – Challenge your brain

My son is obsessed with escape rooms, a fun and trendy yet expensive pastime, where participants must solve a series of challenges to retrieve keys or secret codes and escape a locked room. The combination of riddles, puzzles and the actual opening of locks and doors is captivating for both children and adults. It’s very satisfying to hear the click of a lock that opens and reveals a solution, and this is exactly what happens in BreakInBox's escape boxes, only without leaving the comfort of your home and at a fraction of the cost.

A mystery box arrives

The package that arrived at our house contained a red and white square box, with mysterious symbols all around. I placed the box nonchalantly on the kitchen table and said nothing. Soon, the questions began. What is it? How do you open it? What's inside? The small three-digit lock was the main eye-catcher. Wait a moment, the sharp-eyed among us began to say, you must find out the secret code to unlock the lock! Although we felt like Einstein, it turned out that this was the easiest part of the challenge.

Try again and you shall succeed, maybe

To solve the puzzles, you can use any resource at your disposal. Junior did not waste a single second and was already on the phone and Internet in search of clues. Before I could say BreakInBox, he had already cracked the first digit and was on his way to the second and third. I was a bit skeptical when it came to the moment of truth. We started to enter the secret code into the little lock. As I suspected, it did not work. We were disappointed, but Junior did not despair and tried the numbers again. Suddenly, with a little click, the lock snapped open! Excitedly, we opened the box and discovered a new, even nicer box inside, with a new puzzle and a new lock on it. Thrilled and motivated, we continued our quest.

We are stuck – can we get a little hint please?

Like traditional escape rooms, the puzzles are minimalist and contain complex symbols or drawings. You must put on your thinking cap, tap into your creativity and imagination and think outside the box. If you get stuck, you can use the hint option. The hints get easier and easier, so you can progress at your own pace and find the solution by yourself. Admittedly, we also used the hints once or twice to avoid frustration, as Junior is 10 years old and his patience level, like many of his peers, is close to zero.

The BrekInBox challenges are a great gift for curious minds and recommended to ages 16 and up, younger kids will require parent’s assistance. An original team-building challenge for work or a game-night attraction for family or friends. Check out the reviews and praise from professional gaming websites. The boxes are proudly developed and built in Israel and are now available for purchase and delivery to your doorstep, here in the US.


President Roosevelt and the Holocaust


Original articles from Laurence's collection, photo by Hagit Galatzer

A lecture sponsored by the Seattle Holocaust Center of Humanity at the Big Picture Cinema

"I've always loved history," says Laurence Stern, a former professional photographer who decided to pursue his dream and devote his time to historical-political research. "It's important to have a patient wife, because you get consumed by this,” says 83 years old Laurence. During a study of the writings of Presidents Truman and Roosevelt, Laurence discovered interesting documents that painted a different light on President Roosevelt's attitude towards the Jews during World War II and the Holocaust. Some of his findings, found on microfilm, were received and accepted for documentation at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust center in Jerusalem.

Much criticism was voiced about Roosevelt and his policy on Jewish immigration to the United States before and during World War II. Was everything possible done to help the Jews in Europe?
Roosevelt, who spoke fluent French and German, read Mein Kampf in both German and English and recognized the Nazi threat early on. He predicted that a war with Germany would take place at some point. In 1933, he told the Jewish leaders in the States to warn the Jews of Germany and urge them to leave the country. On the other hand, immigration laws for many countries, including the United States, were strict and included immigration quotas. Various documents and letters from the president revealed that his attitudes towards the Jews were favorable. In fact, his initiatives to increase immigration quotas failed due to lack of support in the Congress and Senate.

Among the famous examples to the congress objection to help Jewish European immigrants during World War II, Laurence recalled the story of the ship St. Louis. The ship, carrying close to a 1000 Jewish refugees, fled Germany in 1939 for Cuba. After Cuba denied its entrance the ship sailed for Florida and was rejected by the US government. After Cuba and the U.S denied entry, Roosevelt asked Canada to allow the vessel to refuel so that it could return to Europe. He pressured four countries to hold a lottery to accept the refugees that nobody wanted. Finally, Holland, Belgium, France and England each accepted 25 percent. Miraculously, about 75% of the ship’s passengers survived the war. Another initiative to bring twenty thousand Jewish children from Europe to the United States failed as well.

Even though Roosevelt's closest advisors included a relatively large number of Jews, this did not help his pro-Jewish initiatives. Antisemitism was prevalent in the United States and around the world before and during World War II. Although no official laws existed, Jews were prevented from moving into certain neighborhoods, working in certain companies or belong to different organizations. There were even quotas in Universities.

Talking with the crowd, photo by Hagit Galatzer

Laurence concluded his lecture with the establishment of the State of Israel and recalled that Roosevelt met with three major Arab kings, the king of Saudi Arabia, the king of Egypt and the Ethiopian Emperor, towards the end of World War II and asked for their support in the idea of a Jewish state. Roosevelt, one of the most popular presidents in US history and the only one elected to four terms, passed away shortly after, but the State of Israel was established after all.

Laurence Stern’s lecture was both engaging and informative. The audience was quite impressed with the incredible variety and amount of historical memorabilia Laurence brought to illustrate his points and explain this period in our history. The lecture was part of a fund raiser for the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity, and the end of the successful event, Laurence presented the donation check to Dee Simon, the Center’s executive director.

Laurence Stern with Dee Simon, photo by Mark Stern


The Big Picture Cinema is a well-kept Seattle gem, hidden on the basement floor of an old building on First Avenue. The intimate cinema features up-to-date movies and hosts private events with a well-stocked bar and a saloon-vibe hospitality area. Mark Stern, co-founder and Laurence's nephew, says the cinema has been going strong for 20 years now.



Why I walked out by Aur Shalev Merin

Walking out of school

April 20th marked the 19th anniversary for the Columbine shooting, one of the most famous school shooting incidents in the US. All across the nation, teenagers organized walk-outs protests – leaving school at 10:00 am in an effort to call for gun control regulations. Aur Shalev Merin, an 8th grade student from Redmond wrote about his experience and the reasons for his walk out:


People talk a lot about how they want things to change, gun rights especially. But that is all that they do, they talk and talk. Carl Jung once said, “you are what you do, not what you say you do.” If you say that you do something, then do it, don’t just sit around saying things that you won’t do. I think that you can spend your time better by doing then by talking, but if you say that you are behind something, then be behind it 100% percent! read more

Trezoros – The Lost Jews of Kastoria

Kastoria, a picturesque small town in northern Greece, situated between mountains and lakes, was home to a vibrant Sephardic Jewish community who lived in peace and harmony with its Christian neighbors for hundreds of years, even during the occupation of the area by Italy in World War II.

Seattle local, Leah Watts, shared the fascinating story of her mother, Nina Elias, and her family who originated in Kastoria. Nina’s family fled back to Kastoria from Yugoslavia in hopes of surviving the war, but the Nazis' entrance in 1944 sealed their fate. Only a few months before the liberation of Kastoria by Greek guerrilla units and the end of the war, the entire Jewish community of about 1000 people, was transported to Auschwitz, along with Italian families who helped them. 14-year-old Nina, her mother Mila and the cousins Lena and Beni, were among the only survivors.

At the end of the war, Lena and Beni chose to emigrate to America, while Nina and her mother immigrated to Israel. Despite the geographical distance, the families maintained close ties. About 20 years ago, Larry, Lena's son, began to document the family story.

Like many Holocaust survivors, both Nina and Lena refused to talk about their experiences for many years. Grandmother Mila was a different story. She never stopped mourning her family members who died and even served as a witness in the Eichmann trial. "It was a very difficult time," says Leah, who remembers the trial as a child. Only in the 1970s, when the attitude toward Holocaust survivors in Israel changed and Nina was invited to Holocaust memorial ceremonies in the schools, she opened and began to share. Lena, on the other hand, refused to talk about the painful memories. Surprisingly, it was Lena who urged Larry to finish his film and publish the family story.

Leah and her aunt Lena

With the help of another cousin, also named Larry, the family project was finally completed as a private, independent production. In 2014, during a visit to Israel for a family wedding, Larry presented the film to the family. "Tzuk Eitan (Operation Strong Cliff) began, a war was going on, and we watched the film on a laptop, it was very emotional for everyone," says Leah.

Since then, the film took on a life of its own, it has been shown at various festivals around the world, including Cannes, New York, Los Angeles, Australia and more.
With each screening, the film changes slightly according to the requirements of the various festivals. A special PBS version will also be released soon. Lena, well into her 90’s, attended most of the screening and participated in the post movie discussion. Last summer, at the age of 95, Lena passed away and her elegant character will be greatly missed. Unfortunately, Beni did not live to see the completion of the movie. He past away in 2010 at the age 82.

Leah's mother, Nina, managed to see the film at the private laptop screening. She added her explanations to the places and events, just like when she explained everything to the Polish guide who accompanied the family, in their visit to Auschwitz. Other visitors were fascinated by her first-hand stories and she was also honored by the IDF delegation that was visiting the site.

"During the visit to Auschwitz, we held a private family memorial,” tells Leah,

To remember and to never forget – Nina and her family. Photos provided by Leah Watts

The film ‘Trezoros’ (treasures in Ladino) tells the story of the Elias family and the story of the lost treasures – the Jews of Kastoria. The Holocaust of the Kastorian Jewish community was also the fate of many other communities of Sephardic Jewry in the Balkans and North Africa, whose stories have been told only in recent years.

In Seattle, Leah Watts, hugs little granddaughter Mila, named after the resourceful grandmother, who secretly made cabbage soup at Auschwitz and stole boots to save her niece, and remembers.

Trezoros will be featured in the Seattle Jewish Film Festival on March 11th, 2018. Be sure to stay for the discussion after the screening.


Ronen Tverya doing Stand-up in Seattle

Up until Recently he was known as the Real-estate Master, selling properties in Tel-Aviv, but now he is here in Seattle, pursuing a career in Stand-up comedy. Let’s meet Ronen Tverya.

When did you start doing stand-up?

My love for the stage started a few years ago when I started doing improvisation. Going on stage without any ready material, working the crowd, it made me open up and discover myself. After that I went to Anat Barzilai acting school, where we held a comic show in the Tzavta theater. I also performed in bars and clubs and even in English stand-up nights in Tel-Aviv, hosted by Shahar Hason (coming to Seattle!) I decided this is what I love to do. read more

Give back to the world by Aur Shalev-Merin

Aur and friends, Photo by Steve Nelson

This summer, I went to the Dominican Republic for a service trip with eight other students from my school through the EF organization. I felt that as I’m turning thirteen and it is my bar mitzvah year, I should start giving back to the community. I realized that today’s connected world is simply one big community and we should help those who are struggling. The trip lasted for eight days and was one of the most eye-opening experiences that I have ever had.

We arrived at the Dominican Republic capitol of Santo Domingo where we learned about the country’s unique background and history as the first European colony in the Americas. It was heart-breaking to see the poverty on the streets. Half of the country doesn’t have access to clean water, or basic healthy living conditions and lives on less than a dollar a day.

We then visited the National Ecological school, a government funded college that accepts a hundred people each year and teaches them how to farm in a more ecological way. We helped them with the plants, which was similar to the farming and greenhouse lessons we had in school in Israel. I was surprised to discover that the school is mostly funded by international missions like ours.

On the second day we helped making compost. It was weird to remember that back home I got annoyed sometimes about throwing the compost into the compost bin, while here people work for hours to make compost. It made me rethink and appreciate everything that we have and to realize that most of the world doesn’t even have half of the things we have. We should use the opportunities that we have to the best of our ability and not take them for granted.

A typical store, Photo by Ayelet Shalev-Merin

A few days later, we got to experience a Dominican style farm, which for me looked like a jungle. The owner explained that a Dominican farm is a self-sustaining property that needs nothing from the outside world to survive. About six families live on the farm, and although the farm doesn't make any money or profit, it gives them what they need, water, chickens, ginger, fruits, vegetables and even coffee. This year, they barely even managed to get by, global warming had hit them hard, but they still shared with us and gave us some of their precious coffee, which was very touching.

We also visited a clay workshop that makes special cooking stoves. We learned that almost half the people in the Dominican Republic are still using an indoor open fire to cook and with no chimney, they end up inhaling a lot of smoke. This shop made a Dominican style cooking stove with a chimney. We helped build a few chimneys.

A typical kitchen with an open flame stove, Photo by Ayelet Shalev-Merin

The people in the workshop were among the artists that made the clay statue of the “Faceless Doll”, the Dominican’s national art of a doll with no facial features which represents the country’s varied history and culture. Dominican culture is unique, the people’s heritage is a mixture of Caucasian, African and native origins. This has created a unique combination that they are very proud of.

The country is truly amazing, the landscape is very rich with beautiful mountains, wild rainforests and white-sand beaches, like the famous resorts of the Punta Cana area. But behind all that beauty, in the neighborhood where the locals live, there is unimaginable poverty. We helped a local elementary school, a Montessori school for kids ages 4-8. For most of them, that would be the only education they will get before dropping out.

The school was tiny, about the size of one American classroom. It really got me thinking about my personal education, and how different it is. Some of the kids there couldn’t even afford the 2$ fee for the school. We helped them paint, add some color and create murals on the walls. More importantly, we gave them trash cans. They didn’t have any trash cans in the whole school and it was really needed, which got the kids very excited. It was fun to communicate with them, even though they didn’t know any English at all.

I learned a lot from this experience, it was wonderful to see how happy the kids were even with the little they had. They were running around, enjoying themselves, even though some of them barely had shoes. A question that came to mind, with the abundance of things and money we have here, in the northwest, does that make us happy?

Aur Shalev-Merin is 13 years old and lives in Redmond, WA

Aur and a friend in front of the new school mural, Photo by Ayelet Shalev-Merin

Chabad Hebrew School – Bellevue’s ETC

Tradition! Photo by Alyssa Braunstien

Going to school on a Sunday morning? Most kids would say no thanks. But how about baking challah? Or crafting your very own menorah? Or meeting friends and learning how to read Hebrew together through songs and games? Now this sounds like fun!

Chabad Hebrew School or CHS in Bellevue offers a full morning of Jewish and Hebrew learning with interactive activities that will boost your child’s sense of belonging to the tribe. The group classes are age appropriate and the lessons are fun-filled, with songs, games, arts and crafts and special holiday surprises. Parents can also join a class and learn too or enjoy some quiet time, grab a coffee or catch up on errands. read more

Eitanim Seattle – Connecting to the Israeli Start-up nation

Photo by Nicole Jevons

When was the last time you met a group of teenagers that were eager to learn? Who listen intently in lectures and get excited to work on complicated projects? In the IAC Eitanim program this happens every month with fascinating meetings where Israeli-American and Jewish-American teens connect to each other, strengthen their identity, bond with Israel and develop ideas and solutions to current issues.

The deep connection to Israel is done via hands-on project-based learning that is all about Israel, our cool and exciting start-up nation. There are IAC Eitanim programs all across the US, each group chooses 3 out of 5 suggested projects. Seattle Eitanim chose to concentrate on developing activism tools, that can be harnessed for any good cause but specifically to help students answer BDS activity in college campuses, improving the Israeli tourism website and the “Memory in the living room” project – connecting youth to the Holocaust memories.

The monthly meetings include learning and working on the selected projects, as well as hearing interesting professional speakers. Seattle Eitanim participants were fortunate to enjoy generous community cooperation that enabled visits in local Hi-tech companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and more. The final project demonstration was held at the Paul Allen institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle. The CEO and Computer Science professor, Oren Etzioni, engaged with the curious teenagers in a fascinating discussion. Oren encouraged the kids to start working on their ideas now, since it’s never too early to start…

After the lectures, each group gave a professional demo, including a sales pitch, slides, mock-ups and videos. Each group selected a different approach for example a designated You-Tube channel to feature survivor’s stories, a cellular app that can show a simulation of famous Holocaust hiding place like Ann’s Frank house using Google 360 technology. At the end of the demo, the presenters answer questions from the “investors” and receive feedback.

Professional presentation for the final project. Photo by Nicole Jevons

To fit the busy schedule of high schoolers, the program is built so that project work is done almost entirely during meetings. Gavin Farac, 9th grade says: “Usually we talked about ideas we had on Whatsapp and then worked on them during the meeting. I made some friends in the program and I plan to return next year”. This is the second year of Eitanim in Seattle, last year the program was run by the mentors Yuval Hamudot and Eyal Inbar.

This year the mentors are Natalie Wells and Zohar Raz, who have a surprisingly similar background. Both graduated from the same high school in Haifa, Israel, both studied in the Technion and both started their careers in Intel and later at Microsoft as project managers. Perhaps it’s the similar background, or the extensive knowledge and commitment they both share, but their chemistry was instant. “I salute Zohar that also has a full-time job” says Natalie when she speaks of the preparation before each session. Zohar says, “Natalie is a great partner, she completes me in many ways”. Nicole Jevons, a student-volunteer from “Mishelanu”, the IAC student program, also participated as a T.A, photographer and helper.

It’s interesting to hear what the young people had to say at the end of the program, like real hi-tech people they were most impressed by the benefits and freebies, but they also made friendships and learned a lot, especially from the different speakers:

Gavin Farac, 9th grade: “I mostly remember the speaker that talked about the elevator pitch and how to introduce your idea to potential investors (Asaf Ronen). I remember the story about Bill Gates that drank sewer water. It was cool and interesting. The coolest place we visited was Microsoft. They had an interesting tour.”

Yuval Raz, 9th grade: “I liked working with people and I enjoyed the visit to Amazon, they had a nice meeting room and an amazing view”.

Rotem Haba, 9th grade: “I mainly remember Tzahi Vaisfeld’s lecture about marketing to a target audience. The visit to Facebook was the best, we got really good vegan food.”

Gali Aloni, 9th grade: “I also remember Tzahi’s lecture and the visit to Go-daddy”.

Shira Fainberg, 10th grade: “I liked visiting the different companies and hear all the speakers talk, I mostly remember Sharon Raz’z talk about the psychology of groups”.

Eli Gunderman, 9th grade: “I really liked the speaker that talked about how to get to know your customers (Eyal Inbar) and the most fun was at Microsoft (played Xbox) or at T-mobile (got t-shirts)”.

Neomi Leites, 8th grade: “I liked the visit to Go-Daddy the most and to learn about presentations and working with people in groups”.

Adi Aloni, 11th grade: I loved the group challenges we had in the beginning of every session. Once we needed to decide which items to bring on a mission to the moon. I also liked the visit to Microsoft. We played games there and got free drinks.”

Eitanim – Learn, Play and Connect. Photo by Nicole Jevons

Sounds interesting, challenging and fun? No need to wait till next year, summer is a great opportunity to try Eitanim with a whole week of innovations and entrepreneurship in a Hackathon style summer camp. The hackathon will be held in L.A. at the end of July, for a special rate of only $350, register now.

A special thank you goes to the Seattle Eitanim 2017 mentors: Natalie Wells and Zohar Raz and to the wonderful guest speakers and generous hosts:

Yoram Yaacovi, Rob Jacobs, Assaf Ronen, Sharon Raz, Eyal Inbar, Tzahi Weisfeld, Oren Etzioni, Barak Cohen, Moti Shaked, Erez Haba, Eta Ghanooni, and Yossi Levanoni

The Eitanim program is a part of the memorial legacy honoring Major Eitan Belachsan, that was killed in action in an IDF activity in Lebanon in 1999. Major Eitan’s unit was ambushed and Eitan and 2 other officers, Liraz Tito and David Granit lost their lives. Shoham Nicolet, one of the founders of the IAC organization, initiated the Eitanim program in memory of his comrade in arms

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