Our Partner communities are Kiryat Milachi and Hof Ashkelon. These are poor communities that are heavily dominated by immigrants primarily from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. The idea for the partnership came from the Jewish Agency seven to eight years ago with the idea being that twinning cities would not only help the local communities but it would also help strengthen the tie to Israel for Jews living abroad.
There are two components to the program- one is supporting local needs, the partnership's priorities being healthy youth activities and leadership development. The second aspect is helping to strengthen Jewish identity and continuity through reverse programming. This has resulted in school twinning, speakers and community visits.
We were taken on a whirlwind two days, meeting both individuals that are involved with the partnership as well as representatives from our grantees outside the partnership.
All of these programs were amazing, but the highlights of the day were having lunch with Ethiopian social worker, Zahava Baruch (for whom we have provided program support for many years) and meeting with the Acharai program soldiers.
Zahava has the magic touch, knowing how to work with families in a culturally sensitive way. Her work has made a dramatic difference in the lives of many families. It was wonderful being able to connect Dvora with Zehava, who had never previously met - at which point a wonderful discussion ensued about the need for additional training of other social workers serving the Ethiopian community there.
We were delighted to then be hosted by a local family at a nearby Moshav. Their home was lovely and we were spoiled terribly! Asher is retired from the army and working as a regional manager of their version of Target and Sari works assessing the needs of children with disabilities. Their children and Asher's sister lives right on the Moshav so they have frequent visits.
She has turned her passion into action by hosting conferences of those living in Israel and Gaza to try and find peaceful solutions and movement in their situation. Getting participants from Gaza is no easy feat as each individual hoping to cross into Israel needs two approvals from Gaza and one from Israel. She hopes to sponsor a conference this February on the impact of the stress of the living situation on the children on both sides of the wall.
We ended our time with our partners at the Netiv L'Shalom mosaic, a tribute to peace and understanding that all who visit can participate in by placing mosaic pieces on the wall. For all of you wonderful folks who have given me money to donate in Israel, this is where the funds went- to help support this project.
Rick and I were both so moved by the experience, by the efforts and challenges facing small immigrant communities in a rapidly changing country, by the passion that Israelis have for one another and their progress, by the warm generosity that we were shown by our host family and how very comfortable we felt, by how honored we were to hear of the wonderful work that is being done with Tucson support and mainly by the extraordinary spirit of hope that those we met have. These are not people who are giving up on their dreams for themselves, their country or for their neighbors.