July 26, 2007 / 11 Av 5767
From welcoming new French immigrants at Ben Gurion Airport to touring Israel with young MASA participants, members of the Jewish Agency Assembly and Board of Governors enjoyed day-trips that took them around the country to see Jewish Agency programs in action and meet the people whose lives they are changing.
In Sderot and other Gaza perimeter communities, Assembly and Board members met with the brave people standing strong in the face of unrelenting terror. They saw in real-time how the Jewish Agency is utilizing funds raised through the Israel Emergency Campaign to support and strengthen residents of the war-torn Western Negev region.
Eduardo Hemsani, a 25-year-old new immigrant student at Sapir Regional College, located near Sderot, told the group how a special $1,000 scholarship from the Jewish Agency helped ease the difficult financial situation he faces. He is just one of nearly 1,200 students who were awarded scholarships in an effort to stem the tide of declining enrollment at educational institutions in the North and South. "People want to run from Sderot and the Negev because of the Kassams," Eduardo said. "I know it’s a terrible situation right now, but we can’t run from here. We have to stay and defend our country.”
At the Hadar School for children with special needs in Sderot, Board members met youngsters benefiting from formal and informal enrichment activities through the Jewish Agency’s A New Tomorrow initiative. Over 47,000 schoolchildren in 36 municipalities are participating in this exceptional program designed to help them return to normalcy, overcome their tensions and fears, and build their personal potential. They also talked with business owners receiving assistance through the Jewish Agency's Small Business Loan Fund.
Braving temperatures of over one hundred degrees, Assembly and Board members traveled to the Negev to experience how two unique Jewish Agency programs – Youth Futures and Young Communities – are creating a social revolution in the desert. In Yerucham, they saw how Young Communities is strengthening the southern development town by offering educational scholarships to young idealists who agree to live and volunteer there.
"We talk about the pioneers of the 40's and these people are doing the same thing," said Jane Sherman, co-chair of the Israel Committee of the Board of Governors, who has been instrumental in advancing Young Communities. "This is real dedication and it's going to change the map of the state of Israel and the nature of the Negev and the Galilee."
“Everyone here is initiating something that is needed but doesn’t exist,” said Young Communities member, Chaja Sanders, as she led the group around the senior home where she organizes volunteers to visit the elderly residents. "When you see something that’s wrong in society, you have to step in and do something about it," she said.
Bobbie Higer, whose hometown community of Miami is Yerucham's official partner under the Jewish Agency's Partnership 2000 (P2K) initiative, was brimming with enthusiasm after seeing some of the unique volunteer projects Young Communities members are undertaking. "We are incredibly inspired by the youth of Yerucham. There is so much passion from the people here that it is just contagious. It makes all of us in Miami want to be that much more involved.”
In the city of Dimona, Assembly and Board members made art projects with Youth Futures participants and were treated to a special dance performance by the children. Dimona is one of 22 localities throughout Israel where Youth Futures is providing youngsters at-risk with tailored educational and social intervention. Participants, ages 6-13, are matched with professionally trained Trustees who act as mentors, helping them to overcome the barriers life has thrown in their way.
"These Trustees are doing incredible work at such a young age, it is amazing. What I saw today gave me a very good feeling," said Menno Paktor of Amsterdam.
Jewish Agency Next Generation member Brain Satovsky of Detroit was also impressed by what he saw. "The Trustees we met today are so committed to helping and improving and growing the culture – it's exciting."
At the northern Negev archeological site of Beit Guvrin, P2K came to life as visitors enjoyed an array of performances and presentations from representatives of the different partnership regions. Teenagers from Kiryat Gat staged a mock auction like the one that recently raised more than $10,000 for the community which, along with the cities of Lachish and Safir, is partnered with Chicago. The Women’s Empowerment Group of the MetroWest/Ofakim-Merchavim partnership performed a Moroccan pre-wedding henna ceremony and students from the Rochester/Modiin partnership displayed photos from their joint mission to Poland and Israel. Later in the day, the group stopped at Kibbutz Bar-On to taste wines from the Zmora Winery in Beit Zayit, located in the Washington D.C./Beit Shemesh-Yehuda Plains partnership region.
“P2K is the best possible way for Jews from the Diaspora to be physically and emotionally involved in Israel,” said Larry Joseph, Chair of the Jewish Agency Budget and Finance Subcommittee on Israel. “In almost every other program, you’re an observer. Here, you have an opportunity to deal with the Israelis on a one-on-one level, to make decisions jointly, and to feel you’re had some effect on changes in Israel. P2K is one of the best programs I’ve ever been involved with.”
Representing global Jewish communities from Miami to London and Toronto to Amsterdam, members of the Jewish Agency Assembly and Board of Governors are not just committed to the future of Israel and the Jewish people – they are translating that commitment into tangible, concrete and effective action. The backbone of the Jewish Agency, their support is making a real difference in the lives of new immigrants, Israeli youth at-risk and people living in the peripheral regions of the Negev and the Galilee.