Community in Action: Israel 2018

By Linda Kislowicz, President & CEO, Jewish Federations of Canada - UIA

March 6, 2018 - I have just returned from an especially interesting and inspiring three weeks in Israel.  The main purpose of this trip was to attend the 70th anniversary board meeting of the JDC, the annual February Board of Governors meeting of the Jewish Agency (held in Zichron Yaacov), and to meet new leadership at the Rashi foundation. And of course, to spend time in the office with our incredible Israel team.

Our partners at the Rashi Foundation have refocused their direction on thought development. This new focus will offer Canada a seat at the table where we can contribute and share our experience and expertise. I learned how the current Rashi leadership is engaged to fulfill this mandate.  

The JDC and Jewish Agency meetings dealt with many important issues and themes, including dealing with the challenges of:

  • Maintaining collective giving, particularly but not only with the younger generation who prefer to direct their donations, (e.g. JFNA/KH),
  • Finding new revenue sources and business models to compensate for decline in traditional donations (e.g. JDC, Materials Claims Conference)
  • Engaging small diminishing communities -  in Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and India - as well as new fledgling Jewish communities like Singapore. [It was particularly interesting to note how similar the challenge of maintaining Jewish life in small communities is in all cases, notwithstanding differences in geography, culture, security, rate of anti semitism and so on.]

We met with Israel’s most successful entrepreneurs, including Professor Amnon Shashua from Mobileye, Benny Levin from the Israel Venture Network and Marius Nacht from Checkpoint, who joined a very interesting networking meeting facilitated by an interactive innovative technology called “proxfinity”.

These 3 individuals are examples of the spirit of the startup nation. Today, they volunteer their time and expertise to work with those who have potential to excel but need support and guidance.

Finally, the Chief Rabbi of Poland shared his perspective on the impact of the new Polish legislation. While the situation remains extremely delicate, he was moderately optimistic about the ongoing discussions to modify the legislation. He felt strongly that programs like March of the Living should continue.

As compelling as the meetings and presentations were, there is no substitute for being out in the field to experience the hands-on work done by our international partners.

Site visits included:

  • Families First ( JDC)
  • Photo Holocaust Survivors (JDC)
  • Social Housing sites ( Jewish Agency)
  • Migdal Or (Rashi)

Families First

Families First is a program aimed at the most difficult family situations including low income, employment, child health and addiction.

This multi-layer program focuses on empowering families by helping them increase income levels and access entitlements. It pairs families with peer mentors who support, encourage, motivate and inspire them to take charge of their lives and move forward positively. And while the mentors we met greatly impressed us, it was the families that inspired us, by sharing their stories and demonstrating their courage and strength. The program is achieving its primary objective of raising family income

Holocaust Survivors

We had the privilege of spending time with a group of Holocaust survivors who are using a creative photography to document and share their personal history. Through photos, they can reach into their personal experiences to recall and share their stories, something they couldn’t do before.

The photos are exhibited so that others can learn and gain deeper insight into the Holocaust. This creative approach has the dual benefit of helping survivors recount what many have held inside for years while educating and inspiring the audience.

Social Housing

Affordable Housing is one of the most challenging social issues facing Israeli society as a whole, not only its senior population. We visited four social housing projects in various stages of renovation and construction, The Netanya site is one that JFC-UIA made available to the Jewish Agency for this purpose in 2016. JFC-UIA is acknowledged and appreciated as one of the key partners in this endeavour.

These new housing units, along with others being developed all over the country, will make a very significant difference in the living situation of several thousand residents. They will have the opportunity to live in dignity and comfort at an affordable price. Amigour, a subsidiary company of the Jewish Agency with a deep understanding of the needs of the residents, is overseeing the development and management of these facilities. It was a true pleasure to be entertained by a choral group of seniors who sang in 4 languages including Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. As a Canadian I think I felt an extra bit of naches!

Migdal Or

The final site visit was to Migdal Or, a facility devoted to empowering the visually impaired. We were joined by colleagues from the Rashi foundation, who managed both the renovation and rebuild of the facility and the program. The program was on the brink of closing when Rashi intervened and invested funds and human resources to restore the facilities and support the continuation of the program. There is no doubt that without Rashi’s involvement the program would have closed.

Most impressive about Migdal Or was the way that the programs make incredible use of the latest technology to allow people with visual impairments to be as independent as possible.

One such innovation was a tech help line, staffed by visually impaired people, that is designed to take calls from others who are visually impaired. Talk about peer to peer! Who better able to understand and help than another person with similar challenges?!

On a personal note, the spiritual highlight of the trip was spending the first Purim in Jerusalem with my four grandchildren. The entire community - young and old dressed in amazing costumes - came out to celebrate together. The spirit, although difficult to adequately describe in words, was infectious and unique to Israel. It was an exceptional celebration, one you have to experience to truly understand. I hope one day you have the opportunity!

L’shana habaa b’yerushalayim.



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