Shelters for Israel members at the Nitzana Youth Village in the Negev: (Left to right) Ronnie Abrams, Rosie Silverstein, current president of Shelters for Israel, Miriam Lax, Handa Stark, a Holocaust survivor and one of the founders of Shelters, and Ron Silverstein.
January 3, 2010 / 17 Tevet 5770
1948. A group of friends were meeting for their weekly card game in Los Angeles when they decided to put their winnings to good use. With so many immigrants streaming into Israel, living in tents until the fledgling state could build housing for them, the women decided to save up enough cash to help build homes for their fellow Jews. As Holocaust survivors who fled their native Hungary, they wanted to make sure all Jews had a place to live.
From these weekly winnings Shelters for Israel was born, and the organization soon swelled to more than 500 families. Originally a housing fund that advanced loans to new immigrants for down payments, as the needs of the country shifted, so did Shelters' focus. By eventually contributing directly to the Israel Education Fund, a joint partnership of United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Agency for Israel in Israel, Shelters was able to support kindergartens, day care centers and even senior centers for the same immigrants they originally helped in the 1950's.
Shelter's early achievements include building 50 homes with a playground in Kiryat Ono, 77 apartments in Holon, the public library in Kiryat Malachi, dormitories for 60 students on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and many nurseries, kindergartens and youth centers throughout Israel.
To date, Shelters for Israel has built over 35 projects through the Jewish Agency for Israel. The vast majority of Shelters for Israel projects are located in the more geographically and economically vulnerable periphery areas of the country, areas where the needs are the greatest.
Recently, five Shelters members led by current President Rosie Silverstein – including those from the founding group and those in the second generation now spearheading the organization - toured throughout Israel. They participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at one of their most recent projects, the water reclamation classroom and laboratory at the Nitzana Youth Village in the Negev that is working on innovative ways to conserve and reclaim water. Participants included MASA youth from the former Soviet Union, residents of the youth village and representatives from the region.
The group also visited the Hatzerim Israeli Air Force Base in the Negev, and Kiryat Ekron, where Shelters funded the renovations of the cultural center.