September 4, 2007 / 21 Elul 5767
Mesfen (not his real name) made aliyah from Ethiopia nine months ago. He is living in a Jewish Agency absorption center and has three children who all need school supplies. The least expensive school bags cost more than $20, and each child needs notebooks, pens, pencils, markers, scissors and erasers. Mesfen, who works for minimum wage as a security guard, couldn't afford to equip his children for the first day of school.
For most of us, purchasing new school supplies is just part of the annual back to school routine. But for new immigrant and Israeli parents like Mesfen, who are struggling financially, this extra expense can be overwhelming. The pressure of not being able to afford the supplies can also dampen their children's excitement of beginning a new school year.
This summer, the Jewish Agency's Making the Grade program provided nearly 7,000 Israeli children and youth in grades one through twelve with a back-to-school gift – a $60 gift certificate to buy new school supplies. During July and August the children visited their local Office Depot stores, a partner in the project, and like other kids in Israel, they bought new things. The Jewish Agency arranged group transportation from absorption centers and individual neighborhoods so that the kids and their parents could shop together with friends.
Participants in the program included new immigrant children living in Jewish Agency absorption centers, youth from Ramat Hadassah Szold and Ben Yakir Youth Aliyah Villages, Youth Futures participants from the North and the Gaza perimeter communities, and children entering first grade who live in Sderot and Kibbutz Nir Am.
This small gift went a long way in making the kids feel good. The Jewish Agency received hundreds of thank you letters. “My name is Tohar Hlonda and I made aliyah from Mezoram, India with my family and we are living in the Karmiel Absorption Center. I want to thank you for the beautiful backpack, notebooks and school supplies. I hope that this coming year I will learn in a class with other Israelis and that I will speak Hebrew fluently like them.”
Now in its third year, Making the Grade was made possible this year through the generous support of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties, Keren Hayesod, and Office Depot in Israel.