Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An update from Dr. Rick Hodes, JDC's Medical Director in Ethiopia

18 year old Ephrem, has very severe scoliosis, and has been my patient for over 5 years. At one point he was sent to the USA and discovered to have an undetected heart problem, in addition to his spinal deformity. In 2011, he traveled to India with his dad to undergo repair of his aortic valve. When complications developed after surgery, it was replaced with a bioprosthetic valve.

It's easy to assume that the worst curve a spine can have is 180 degrees - like a pancake folded on top of itself. I have many patients like that. Ephrem, however, had a 240 degree spine - his spine was shaped like a saxophone! Look at the model of his spine made by the CAT scan - Ephrem's T10 vertebra - 10 bones down from the back of his neck - is higher than the first bone (T1)!
Earlier this year, we sent Ephrem to Ghana for treatment of his spine, one of the worst we have attempted. In Ghana, he had 6 holes drilled in his skull, screws inserted, a metal halo attached, and he was put into ambulatory/walking traction to slowly uncurl his spine for several months. Then he underwent a long surgery by the FOCOS team, which included 14-level spinal fusion, thoracoplasty, and multiple osteotomies.

Ephrem returned last week and looks fantastic. He's healing well, and told me he can't wait to start school - to become an engineer.

We greatly admire Ephrem's positive attitude.

Ephrem - welcome to your new life!

Funding for Ephrem provided by Mending Kids International, and the Ethiopian Family Fund.
Ephrem's story shared with permission. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Home visit with elderly client in Moscow

Frida was born 89 years ago in Moscow. Her father was an economist and her mother was the daughter of a cantor.

She graduated from Moscow University of Printing Arts. During the war she was evacuated to Kazakhstan, where she spent 2 years. She met her future husband, a journalist, on May 9, 1945, Victory Day.

Frida faced rejection when applying for jobs at newspaper companies, because she's Jewish. She finally found work at a magazine company, Young Bolshevik, for a year before being fired. She then worked for a medical magazine and went on to edit medical books.

Her husband died in 1978. they had no children. Frida retired in 1996 and has two nieces who help take care of her. Since 2000 she's been helped by JDC's Hesed program.

Frida suffers from asthma. She also has problems with her hips and must use a cane when moving about. She tries to leave the house when weather permits.

Frida lives in a clean, compact two-room apartment.

Her monthly income is $455

Hesed services provided:
Homecare: 27 hours per month
Food cards

She can't cook and clean for herself anymore. 
It’s a nice clean apartment. Dark. Lots of books on the walls.

She lives on the 8th floor but there’s an elevator. She walks slowly with her cane. She has a lovely smile, she had her hair done because she heard a group was coming to visit.

"Hesed helps me so much. I’m 89 years old and it’s difficult living here on my own. My case worker is so helpful, that’s so important. She's so nice. Her name is Valyntina, she cleans the house, and cooks. She's been with me for 7 years, she knows the house. I am so grateful for that."

"My father comes from a traditional family in Belarus, grandpa was Orthodox, a yeshiva student, his wife worked in a bakery. Two of his brothers were killed in the war." One of her brothers, his wife and their two children were killed in the Minsk Ghetto. She cries a little when she tells us this story about the war. For her the Germans are “Nazis”.

"My mother was born in Central Asia. My father was a 'Cantanist' (drafted into the army for 30 years as a small boy), his wife went with him from Poland and her mother was born there in Kakanda, with a small Jewish population. They divorced and she worked in a bakery making cakes. She met my grandfather – he was 20 years older than her, they had 6 kids (Frida’s mom is the youngest), with a 20-year gap between them."

Many cantanists converted to Christianity, but hers didn't - the family kept Jewish traditions and rituals. In mother’s family they spoke Russian, in father’s they spoke Yiddish.

Her mother’s older brother was a successful trader, and was graded (there were three grades of traders) as successful so he was allowed to move to Moscow. Her mother came with him.
Her father studied in Belarus then moved to St. Petersburg then to Moscow.
They were married in 1919 by the Chief Rabbi of Moscow in the Choral Synagogue. There was a big celebration. They had 3 children, they lived together 50 years, then mother lived on for another 20 years after his death.
Her eldest brother is 92 next month, he was a biologist, was Director of a Zoology Museum, expert on horses, still writes academic papers, lives in Moscow. In the war he served in the Army, knows German.

"I worked in printing houses, mostly on scientific papers, I worked hard. I have an 80-year old younger sister, she lives in Warsaw, she married a Pole in 1956, every summer she comes to visit. Well, she's young, she can still travel.
My mother lived to age 94, she was ill for an hour and a half, we all came into her apartment, she said, I’m 94 and I’m going. We live long lives in our family.
I met my husband on Victory Day in May 1945, he was a radio journalist. He died aged 61. We lived in this apartment – the building was built for journalists so we were moved to here.
It was difficult to be a Jew in our professions. As a student I wanted to be a journalist. In university they sent me to an internship to write about literature, but in the newspaper they said that they wouldn’t hire me afterwards because I’m a Jew. I lost my job under Stalin, because they got rid of all the Jews. I had some experience in medical literature, so I became an editor in two periodicals – not part of the team, but on a contract, I wasn’t registered as a permanent employee (because she is Jewish).
In the radio it was even worse but my husband was promoted because – they told him – they needed a “decoration” to show that they're not firing all the Jews.
After a few years I got a permanent job in printing and editing."

"In this time the Jewish intelligentsia thrived. We would go to the theater, we went to concerts and listened to music, to lectures about literature. It wasn’t easy, and there was harassment  but that’s the way we lived. I was fired twice, but each time they gave me a warm recommendation – they didn’t want to fire me, but they had to (because she was Jewish)."

"I was evacuated to Kazakhstan for a year with my university. Then they moved us back. In 1943 all the girls from the university were sent to the forests to cut down trees. We were gentle and light, we were starving. They gave us very little food and lots of cigarettes."

"I'm old," she says. I’ve met old 60-year olds. She’s strong and attractive. What’s her secret? "Thanks for the compliment," she says, "you’re a liar. This actually isn’t a good time for me, the weather affects my asthma. But, ok, my brother the biologist says that I’m the proof of the importance of good genes. And I have a lust for life. My brother has a great-grandson, 3.5 months old, already trying to sit up, which is normally something you do at 6 months, we’re very proud." (Her eyes light up when she talks about him). "His name is Gregory, I’m his “aunt”, that’s what they call me, rather than Great-Great-Aunt. He lives here in Central Moscow. I’m meeting him for the first time in two days. I’m so excited. I have some contact with the family. It’s a shame I was born so many years ago and I couldn’t have the opportunities that you have now. But I have great memories.
My life story is the story of the Jews of Moscow and Russia in the last century. We received education and culture, we were evacuated and dispersed."

That's what her story is ... it's the story of the Jews of Moscow and Russia in the last century.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Home visit in Moscow (JFS)

Home visit to Yulia

Yulia lives with her mother, Svetlana. Her parents divorced many years ago and her father has a second family.

Yulia has Downs Syndrome ... but Svetlana refuses to acknowledge the diagnosis because she’s afraid of the consequences. Instead, JFS and Svetlana refer to Yulia’s condition as "an undiagnosed genetic developmental disability." Due to Svetlana’s fear of stigmatizing her daughter, Svetlana hasn’t applied for government assistance and Yulia isn’t classified as an invalid. Svetlana is a cancer survivor, received disability during treatment and recovery.

Svetlana and Yulia live in a 3-room apartment. Yulia’s adult brother, his wife, and their baby, also live in the apartment.

Svetlana is an English teacher at Moscow School 57 and receives a monthly income of approx $800. Yulia’s father occasionally contributes to the family. Because Yulia doesn’t have an official diagnosis, she doesn’t receive disability payments from the state.

Jewish Family Service assistance:
Yulia attends a local school for children with special needs – the Kovcheg school. The JDC-JAFI Integration Program provides services at this school for Jewish children who can’t keep up in regular schools. It's a great cooperation. The Integration Program provides Jewish curriculum, including Hebrew, Jewish cultural and historical classes, and after-school activities. JFS, through the Children’s Home Care Program, which is outside of the Integration Program, provides a classroom aide for Yulia (a requirement of the school). As a result of this help, Yulia has made significant progress. She's moved into the core curriculum at her school and is able to meet its requirements. Through these supportive programs, Yulia developed an interest in photography and is better able to interact with other students and teachers.
Yulia has been a participant in the Integration program since its beginning (2007). Along with her mother, Yulia participates in the Integration Program Summer Camp every year.
Last year, JDC’s Children’s SOS program paid $1400 to repair a special computer that Yulia uses.
She receives: tutor, Jewish content, food assistance, SOS assistance.

We take off our shoes. It’s a nice warm apartment.
They have a cat and a (big) dog called Kara. It’s a good neighborhood. If Svetlana would accept and acknowledge Yulia’s situation, they'd receive several hundred extra dollars a month as a disability payment … so why not? (That’s the question you have in your head as you walk in).

When the JDC local staff start to explain, they frame it in terms that in the West we’d understand: we try to explain the importance of the disability payment, but Svetlana keeps finding excuses not to send Yulia for diagnosis. She's scared. She doesn’t have time.

The program aims to give conditions for SN kids to grow. So this is a 16 year old girl and how could she be helped if she gets the diagnosis? A diagnosis of disability is a life sentence – you won’t get to university, you won’t succeed in life.


German is the older brother. He got married this year and they have a baby boy.

Svetlana shows us the school journal, it’s Yulia’s progress report from her teachers. Svetlana’s very proud of Yulia’s high scores. She got a “satisfactory” in geometry, and “good” in math. It’s quite impressive. She's really succeeding. She got 5/5 in algebra.
5/5 in English
5/5 in literature

At the beginning she would sit alone with her tutor and not communicate. But she wanted to prove she could succeed.
She has vision problems, they diagnosed some muscle weakness in her eyes last month. There's a problem with how her brain interprets the signals from the eyes. The magnifying glass helps her focus on what she's reading.

(Yulia is very shy – she won’t come sit with us, we go to her room after a while to say hello and I give her a Snow White book in Russian as a gift).
Two years ago we started medical treatment and tests. She was writing only in block letters, not fluent. We didn’t even know if she was left-handed or right-handed. She used both hands incorrectly.
Right now she just finished her first ever essay, a short piece about Gogol’s work.

Svetlana is an English teacher (she has a lovely almost-British accent).
Yulia was in an integrated kindergarten at age 4, but then her condition deteriorated, there were no integrated schools for SN kids. SN schools wouldn’t have helped her, and regular schools would have been worse. We sent her to an inclusive primary school, German was a student there. They have 1 SN kid for every 9 regular kids. He’s now 28. This was the Kovcheg school (it’s now an integrated school).
In 2004 I had cancer surgery, I couldn’t make do on my own. Her father is a specialist, actually on SN, but we got divorced that same year. It was a tough year. We didn’t even have a school for her that year, we were looking for something.
[their cat is playing with Yulia; they have a lot of books in the apartment, 3 bedrooms, it’s clean but a little messy and disorganized, dark]
I was working in a private school as a teacher, we lost a year, but I sent her to a regular school with private tutors. I wanted her to get stimuli in school environment.

Now … oy, such difficulties I have (smiling) … I have to learn algebra to keep up with her! I forgot everything!
They asked us to leave the school but the program found us! Since kindergarten we’ve been using CCD experts, they knew we didn’t have a recognized disability because there's no formal diagnosis. We want the diagnosis but the certification will prevent Yulia from ever becoming ‘normal’ in society, going to university etc. CCD said she probably has light Downs Syndrome. We didn’t know about her birth-trauma. They didn’t tell me at the hospital when she was born about the birth trauma – they wanted me to leave her there, they gave me anesthetic that kept me asleep for five days.
CCD made the referral, first we went to the summer camp, five years ago, integrative, in Zvinigorod. It was amazing. Svetlana and Yulia went, with the tutor, a week long camp with special groups, madrichim, some kids with parents and some without.
We have lots of contact with the program. She's at School #57, lots of Jewish kids. It’s the second best school in Moscow for math. Traditionally it was 90% Jewish.
Yulia doesn’t know her parents are divorced. They won’t tell her, it would be too difficult. He comes to visit every Sunday, she adores him and he adores her. We haven’t lost contact.
The tutors come from Hesed and JDC; social worker comes from JDC.

Yulia is in her room, she tells us about Roger Rabbit, shows us her artwork (it’s very good).
Svetlana says we owe everything to this program. It’s opened up a world of possibilities.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In Europe, A Trend Outside Jewish Walls

Posted on October 18, 2012

by Diego Ornique
A rollicking Jewish street festival – with Jewish cultural and educational fare, Jewish books and ritual objects for sale, and music – bringing out unprecedented Jewish crowds in Budapest. In Krakow, Jewish buildings, synagogues and the JCC opened one night to offer text study with local Jewish intellectuals, arts activities and performances to the city’s Jews. A caravan of Jewish performers and artists traveling from city to city in the Balkans to celebrate Chanukah with café lectures, musical acts and Jewish study. This is a new face of Jewish Europe and it is taking place, curiously enough, outside the walls of local Jewish institutions.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. A recent Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring/IPSOS study found that 1 million American Jews are now seeking Jewish expression outside of synagogues.

So how did this movement – embracing a new creativity and public pride in Jewish identity – unfold, and what does it mean for European Jewish life today?

Situated beyond the confines of Jewish buildings, in public or alternative venues such as parks, museums and coffeehouses, the JCC without Walls phenomenon is based on two assumptions:

First, Jews who feel disconnected from Jewish institutions can be attracted to alternative events, conducted outside organizational frameworks, that speak to their broader cultural interests.

Second, attractive and innovative venues, both private and public, in combination with the introduction of new technologies, can help revitalize Jewish programs.

Pioneered by JDC in Buenos Aires – where the local Rosh Hashanah street festival, Rosh Hashana Urbano, today brings out tens of thousands of participants – the JCC Without Walls concept in Europe has played out most effectively in Hungary where an estimated 15 percent of the country’s 120,000 Jews are affiliated with a Jewish organization or entity.

Decades of Communist-era repression and the legacy of the Shoah account for much of that disengagement, while concern about the increasing anti-Semitism in Hungary today creates an even more complex reality. With nationalism on the rise in the country, and increasing intolerance toward certain minorities, becoming closer to the Jewish community or any other Jewish institution is unlikely to suggest a sense of safety to a Jew who has chosen to remain anonymous.

In this environment, outreach to nonaffiliated Jews remains a great opportunity, as well as a challenge. That was the main reason behind our decision to pilot a series of community building programs, called Judafest, in 2008.

The first Jewish street festival took place in May, 2008 in a public space, albeit a street that used to be inside the city’s Jewish ghetto. It was clearly labeled as a Jewish event, including the name, advertising and content. It was open to everyone and people could stay as long as they wanted and remain anonymous, if they preferred.

The event featured a variety of mainstream Jewish attractions and activities, such as local and Israeli bands, a Klezmer band made up of teenagers from one of the Jewish schools, Jewish-themed arts and crafts for kids and Jewish foods. More than 3,000 people took part, exceeding expectations.

Subsequent events replicated the original model and explored new formats. In partnership with Marom, a local grass-roots organization, we sponsored a “Quarter 6 Quarter 7” Chanukah festival. With offerings at more than 15 venues in Budapest’s historic Jewish quarter, it brought holiday-related Jewish programming to local neighborhoods. Mixing non-profit initiatives with for-profit locations, the festival offered an assortment of music and theater, philosophical discussions, performances, art exhibitions, Chanukah Cafés and even an all-day treasure hunt – all aimed at reaching out to people in innovative ways.

While these events produced a feeling of accomplishment (and one that was well deserved), it became clear that further thought was needed. We found that measuring impact only in terms of the number of participants was not enough since our main goal was to attract to non-affiliated Jews. Our intent was to take this pilot experience as an opportunity to learn from non-affiliated Jews on issues related to their individual identity, what they like, and how they connect Jewishly.

In this light it is clear that Judafest differs from for-profit festivals organized by business people (both Jewish and non-Jewish) and usually designed to appeal more to tourists. The real objective was a community-based festival with a clear focus on community building.

So we asked participants about their Jewish identity and their level of involvement with the community. A sample group at each festival was asked to respond on the spot, while the event was still in progress. A more detailed questionnaire was developed for those who indicated they had no connection with the Jewish community, to learn about their patterns of behavior and belonging.

Sixty seven percent of respondents who considered themselves unaffiliated discovered that the project had in fact increased their desire to participate in community-based activities. For example, a small street festival organized by Balint JCC and sponsored by JDC led 63 participants to become first-time members of the community center.

And while that is encouraging, it’s critical to understand that outreach is social change and, in this case, the objective is to influence patterns of belonging and to foster a different attitude toward Jewish organizations and Jewish participation. And that aim cannot be achieved by a single project or by the efforts of a single organization. Therefore, diverse groups and organizations need a common strategy and articulated actions to address challenges and opportunities collectively.

To that end, one of the unexpected outcomes of the JCC without Walls project was the discovery that at each event, one could observe people from different religious streams and walks of life who normally do not share the same community spaces happily interacting. The festivals were perceived as a neutral space for participants who were already affiliated. This also held true for community leaders with opposing views on community issues, whose organizations brought programs to the festivals as partners. Inter-group tensions can be eased or suspended, at least for the duration of a project.

What we also saw was that this interaction was especially appealing to unaffiliated intermarried couples seeking to immerse a non-Jewish spouse into Jewish culture and traditions in a non-threatening and open environment – critically valuable given the prevalence of inter-marriage in these communities.

There are important lessons here for all of our work reaching out to the broadest number of potential participants in Jewish life. Rather then instinctively creating programs for each separate segment of the community, one of the most effective strategies is simply to create a place where everyone can find ways of interacting on their own terms.

A second outcome was the need to include and partner with more grass-roots organizations. Hungary is fertile territory, with more than a dozen grass-roots organizations and synagogues offering creative Jewish programs. Inclusion of more partners fosters a process of mutual dialogue and offers non-affiliated participants the chance to see just how broad and colorful Jewish organizational life in Budapest really is. Eventually, these participants might join one of those organizations.

Pursuing such goals is harder than merely running a festival. It requires a change from top down leadership to a more adaptive leadership model. It also demands a deeper level of communication and coordination between us and our partners.

Today, JCC without Walls programs are complementing traditional and meaningful outlets like JCC activities or synagogue engagement to enrich Jewish life in Europe. This is a telling trend and an important reminder that we need to continue to meet Jews wherever they are and invite them to experience the full scope of our community.

Diego Ornique is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) Country Director for Hungary and Area Director for Central Europe/the Balkans.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Teach First Israel - Holon

The Ministry of Education, noted Israeli businessman and philanthropist, Dov Lautman, and JDC are partnering to create a cadre of excellent teachers within the Israeli education system. The plan is to create a number of initiatives which will attract Israel's best and brightest, primarily from among its young adult population, to train as teachers and to devote themselves to teaching students in the periphery of the country and in cities in the center of the country which suffer from very low socio-economic levels.
Location: Ayalon School, 8 Hakneset St., Holon

RONIT CHAIMOV is the school principal , it’s a 50-year old school with a variety of populations including special needs (autistic), learning-challenged, gifted, science track, theater track. From 7th to 12th grade, middle-class, most parents are employed and with 12 years schooling or more. It’s a diverse neighborhood (Rasko-Bet), 1508 pupils, not many olim.
She's been here 13 years. They’ve increasingly emphasized volunteerism as a community value here, it’s a big emphasis for the school and pupils. They had the highest rate of blood donations from any school at MDA, over 60% donated. There are lots of certificates on the walls (“that’s only a small amount – the rest are in storage”)

Ronit: I came to Chotam, I wanted them here, two years ago. I believe in it.
First year we had 4 Hotamists, 1 didn’t adapt well – she's now in informal education, 3 are still here.
Second year we received 5 – they're wonderful, magical, highly motivated.
What's important here:
(1)   Teaching – as professionals, developing their skills
(2)   Educating – their ability to serve as role models for the pupils, in speaking, behavior, in how they communicate, show respect.
(3)   Enjoyment
(4)   Strengthening what we can offer
The Hotamists bring in a young spirit, they create a vision of the future for the Israeli educational system. We were in a crisis and the message that young people come in and believe in education is a breakthrough. There's a future. It’s huge. That’s why the teachers here are so enthusiastic. They were depressed before this, now they're winners.

We sit in KARIN’s class on citizenship, 45 minute class for 11th graders. She is superb, absolutely amazing. This class is on the elements of democratic elections. They're talking about Yair Lapid’s entry into the political world, proportional representation, building coalitions, how you influence, what are democratic and undemocratic elections.

She is full of energy, asks them questions so they move to the next topic, encourages them with their names, “good  Einat,” “excellent,” “explain why,” “thank you Itai.” The students are engaged, they follow along and ask.
I have a photo of her standing beside her laptop about to forward the next slide – it’s a rare photo because for the most part, she's standing in the middle of the class or in front, moving, not referring to her notes, maintaining eye contact, using names. She explains patiently, making sure everyone is following. Uses good examples – why was Amir Peretz chosen as Defense Minister, what were Tzipi Livni’s criticisms of the Gilad Shalit deal?
At the end she sums up what they learned today, what they’re going to learn next week, what the homework will be. Very impressive.

We’re sitting with several in Ronit’s office: from left:
KARIN – 2nd year Hotamist
RONIT - principal
ELA – 1st year
YOGEV – 1st year
ROTEM – Mentor
RACHELI - Mentor
AVI – 2nd year Hotamist

ELA grew up in a moshav near Gadera, studied with Karin BA and heard about Chotam. Sounded fascinating, the opportunity intrigued me, to come to education from a different angle. It seemed like a strong group, idealistic, new, refreshing. I teach citizenship and mentor the 8th graders. I saw the spark in Karin but I was nervous because education is so low-status in Israel, it’s at the bottom – it’s like you have to apologize for becoming a teacher. But I knew this was my destiny.
Today I taught a good class, on social democracy and liberalism. But sometimes the kids don’t understand what I want from them. I'm not looking for ‘the right answer’ but rather to learn, to speak, to widen horizons.

YOGEV comes from Moshav Eshkol near the Gaza Strip near Tze’elim. I didn’t think about becoming a teacher, maybe at most going to informal education. But I felt it was important to be part of influencing, helping, seeing the process at work. At first I was turned off by the educational system, it’s awful. But Chotam really attracted me. I wouldn’t be a teacher without it; they escort you along the way, significant support. Today a teacher comes alone and can't always take the burden by him/her self. We have individual and group support, you’re part of something, a vision.
What surprised me here? It’s not a zoo. I learned to accept problems, not to get upset or to be frustrated, not to take it personally. First time you enter the classroom you’re shaking.
[Especially with the gifted kids, they're never satisfied]
The tools I got in the July course – a full month of dilemmas, situations, how do we do, approaches in education, how to understand learning difficulties, what the student is thinking and undergoing. You get feedback, what worked and what didn’t.

KARIN was an El Al selector abroad, mostly in Bangkok (the usual joke among the Hotamists when they see her, is “arazt levad?”). I was looking for a reason to stay in Israel and not leave. I got an email, and I said to my partner, ok, now I have a reason. I filled out the Chotam forms – I deleted my answers and started again five times.
I understood that this is a high level, I was so impressed right from the start, from the interviews. And then I understood that this isn’t just a reason to stay – this is an existential reason. When I arrived here at the school I was scheduled to teach in the afternoon, four hours after everyone. So everyone was coming in with positive experiences … my first year wasn’t simple, I had amazing support, it built me up. It takes time to connect to the pupils, but now I have the connection, they give feedback, I enjoy being in the classroom with them. I didn’t realize until now “what a clueless I was” a year and a half ago.

RACHELI we’re supporting their sense of security, helping things flow, tips, emphases.

AVI teaches math and computer science, was a high-tech programmer, wanted to change professions, it wasn’t what I wanted. I decided to be a teacher, was searching the internet and found that the Chotam registration had already been closed. But I signed up anyway. The summer course wasn’t just about didactics, it was also about creating your personality as a teacher and a person. It’s also a quality group

You need a lot of patience, explain what your expectations are, listening skills.

RACHELI is beaming with her smile. 34 years I've been working in the education system, now I see these Hotamists refreshing and renewing the teachers’ room. When I first saw them I was surprised, why are they here? You came from Teva, you came from a good company, why would you leave? It was weird. Now I take that back. This is the future, modern. It’s a blessing. We’ve thrown them into the ocean, to show bravery, responsibility.

Friday, October 12, 2012


I'm in Havana with a leadership group from the ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, a really great group, eager to learn about the Jewish community and what JDC is doing here. We’re escorted by our amazing JDC professional team on the ground Allie and Lulo.

One element came out in a lunch meeting with volunteers from the Jewish community: a theme that was repeated by several younger and older members of the community in their discussions. We are all Cubans, they said. We’re proud, we love our community, we love our country. They can all leave, and all of them have visited Israel, have been to other places. But first and foremost we’re Cubans. And because we’re Jewish we’re uniquely privileged. Not just because of the material support that JDC and our federations bring – although that’s critical. And not just because of the sense of partnership and community – although that’s critical too. But also because we are thirsty for this sense of belonging and identity. Our parents couldn’t have it. It was forbidden. But now we have a chance to enjoy it. And we want it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

In Eastern Europe, homegrown giving and volunteerism is taking root

JTA October 4, 2012

ODESSA, Ukraine (JTA) -- Wearing an elegant dress and a name tag, Dasha Fedoseeva flitted among the tables during a recent Jewish community dinner in Moscow just after Rosh Hashanah.
Fedoseeva wasn’t just a guest. She was part of a team of young Jewish volunteers whose goal was to mingle and charm older guests into increasing their donations to local Jewish charities.
Organized by the Russian Jewish Congress, the gala dinner and auction raised $85,000. In 2011, the Congress allocated $385,000  to a Jewish orphanage in Moscow -- all the money was raised locally in fundraising drives.
The raising of substantial funds locally is a sign of something that was almost unthinkable just a few years ago in former Soviet bloc countries. For years, the Jewish communities there subsisted on Western help for welfare and community building. But as these communities grow up, they are becoming increasingly self-reliant -- something that’s evident both in the growing culture of local volunteerism and homegrown philanthropy.
“Over the past few years, we see more volunteering by young Jews and more donations, which are aspects of the same trend of giving,” said Matvey Chlenov, deputy director of the Russian Jewish Congress.
“In the 1990s there was a feeling we were struggling to survive in the post-communist upheaval,” he said. “Now in Russia we have more time and money, and some people are looking for a way to do positive things for the community.”
Chlenov says this applies not only to Jews but to Russian society in general.
In Ukraine, a $70 million Jewish community center in Dnepropetrovsk due to be dedicated this month was funded entirely by local philanthropists. Elsewhere in Ukraine, JCCs are encouraging activism and philanthropy among young Jews while accustoming older members to paying fees.
In Poland, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee recently received its first significant donation from a local philanthropist.
Promoters of Jewish life in Eastern Europe say that getting people to donate time and money is difficult in the former Soviet bloc, where bitter memories of “forced volunteering” remain, and there is deep-rooted skepticism in the idea of sacrificing for the common good.
“Former Soviet countries have little culture of giving or volunteering, and I know exactly why,” said Karina Sokolowska, director of the Poland office of the JDC. “Growing up in communist Poland, I remember attending ‘compulsory-voluntary action’ every month. We would go somewhere and do what they told us. It profoundly affects your attitude to community work.”
Mariya Zarud, 22, of Odessa, encountered this barrier to community work at home.
Zarud, the regional coordinator for the JDC-funded Metzuda program for developing Jewish leadership, said she had to plead with her parents to convince them that her unpaid role in the Jewish community was a good thing.
“Initially it was pretty tough. I had to make them see I wasn’t wasting my time,” Zarud said of her teen years, when she first became involved with JDC programs. Like many people who grew up under communism, her parents were wary of organizational activism, she said.
While her parents’ generation looks askance at volunteering, young Jews recognize that it is up to them -- not just international Jewish aid groups -- to build their communities, she says.
In Odessa, the Beit Grand Jewish Community Center, which was dedicated in 2010 thanks to American Jewish donations, collects fees for all cultural activities, according to Ira Zborovskaya of the local JDC office.
“Even if it’s only symbolic, everyone has to chip in and pay something for services,” Zborovskaya said.
In Soviet times, “charging fees for cultural activities was unthinkable -- it was all free,” said Kira Verkhovskaya, director of Odessa’s other JCC, Migdal. Fees are also collected as a matter of policy there, but most of the budget comes from subsidies from Jews in the West.
“Some older people are not happy when they are asked to pay,” she said.
Both Migdal and Beit Grand have programs that encourage young Jews to contribute time and effort to the community.
Beit Grand also operates a luxury Jewish kindergarten for 40 children whose well-off parents pay a monthly fee of $500 -- approximately double the average national monthly salary. The kindergarten is so popular that it has a long waiting list. The annual income of $240,000 from fees helps cover other programs, including charitable activities.
Nevertheless, the culture of giving is still far less widespread than it is in the West, experts say.
Russia has a Jewish population of 265,000, according to a 2010 official census, and the World Jewish Congress says it estimates the number is at least 330,000. Despite the community's size, local philanthropy comes mostly from a thin layer of “oligarchs or super-rich Jews,” Chlenov said.
“What we are missing is a trusted brand for small donations from middle-class donors, like what the Jewish federation system does in the U.S.,” he said.
Attempts to raise donations from that sector yielded some results, according to Chlenov, but never beyond a total of $150,000 per fundraising campaign.
In Ukraine, Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, says the Jewish middle class still isn't opening its wallet.
“Since the mid-'90s, we are seeing the same 10 to 15 very rich Jews funding charity,” he said. The donor pool is “sadly not expanding.”
This means that with a Jewish population of 360,000 to 400,000 and many thousands of welfare cases, Ukrainian Jewry would “face a humanitarian disaster” if it weren’t for American money, Dolinsky added.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Better Together Afula

Better Together improves services for children and youth in disadvantaged communities such as development towns on Israel's periphery and poor inner city neighborhoods, by maximizing local resources and forging partnerships between residents and service providers.  It improves existing services and creates new programs, accompanying children from birth to 18, morning till night, school to home. The program focuses include early childhood development and academic assistance and enrichment activities, while engaging parents, teachers and community leaders in strengthening communities.
Location: Gvanim School, corner of Negba St. and Wolfson St., Afula

Wolfson neighborhood is the closest to Jenin, but there's no neighborhood identity, they don’t even use the name – most aren’t aware of the fact that it’s called that; they're planning a competition to rename and own the name.
14,000 households with children
1/3 olim from Ethiopia
1/3 FSU olim
1/3 veteran Israelis

PACT was here, very successful, now in phaseout – i.e. we have a strong infrastructure
BT is based on three concepts:  (1) organizational, cooperation with professionals and residents
                                                   (2) professional training
                                                   (3) answering needs

IRIS is the school principal, came to the school two years ago. This is an elementary school. The South East of Afula is in a serious condition, difficult population, violence, drugs, verbal violence, alcoholism, poor socioeconom ics. Therefore the main aim of the program in the school was to ensure that the kids would be ‘free’ to learn and to empower the teachers.

"I found a school ripped apart, parents and teachers would fight each other – literally. There were petitions left and right against each other, it was awful here. I wa s in shock. Parents would come in to the school in the morning, open a classroom door and scream at a teacher, I was threatened. It was a violent and difficult culture. The BT was an SOS for us, first to improve the teachers’ communications and functioning, working together for the students. Now it’s been two years. I met Yehuda, we thought together what tools do we need here, courses, workshops. We wanted to start with the teachers so they could start modeling the right behavior, with parents, working together. There was a lot of opposition at first,  significant change – some of the courses and extras are on the teachers’ free time, they know how important this is."

"After six months we understood that there has to be a social response as well. The long school day finishes at 2:30pm, so kids go home and then they have all kinds of problems. We have to provide an alternative, but we didn’t have funds. There's no Matnas here, there are no social activities. So the school became a center, including alight dinner – because there are kids here who otherwise wouldn’t eat anything in the evenings. We also got recognition as a healthy eating school."

DARI is the community coordinator. The place is vibrant and full of kids and parents this evening. This used to be a violent and unpleasant place. Now most evenings there are activities. Twice a week run by BT, twice by others.
50% of the families in this neighborhood are classed as ‘non-normativ e’ (charig), without proper functioning family structure.
MORAN is the artists’ group coordinator. BT emphasizes the voice of the residents.
Yehuda: we did a survey of 150 families – saw the need for community leaders course.
Moran’s group: 30 artists aged 24-27, based on a Nahal garin, integrating into the community as artists in education, community, arts, neigh borhood projects. But we’re residents here. There wasn’t even a Va’ad Bayit when we came to our building, no one cleaned the front garden and stairs. Everything was dirty and messy. Today it’s much better.

The model is tightly restricted to the Wolfson-Kinamon-Jerusalem streets, with all the population: community events, presentations, kabalat Shabbat, event s, cleaning up. We set up a community shelter with cultural events, open moadon, social games, Hebrew for adults

There are 180 kids in the classes. 300 in the school (from first to sixth grade)
We walk around the school and visit the activities:

(1)   “Penguins” – toddlers, 20 kids, run by Meital and Sapir. Sport, singing, dancing, two hours, every 30 minutes something new. Right now having a snack. Then singing.
(2)   “MasterChef” for 1st to 3rd graders, right now having soup, which they learned about as part of the activity. Einav is the madricha, English major at Oranim.
(3)   There's a busload of older kids and their parents going to the Festigal in Haifa. Each person pays 5 NIS for the subsidized ticket; we provided snacks and the bus. Local businessman subsidized the ti ckets. I said hello, they were thrilled to chat (but thrilled to leave on time, too)
(4)   Theater group with Adi and Ortal from the artists’ garin. 5 girls, they see Moran all the time in the neighborhood, all grew up here. Naomi: what do we do here: relaxation exercises, drama, presentations, movement. Rivka: we learn so much here, we did a show for the younger kids, but we also get the chance to talk here about other things, about politics, life, culture. There's such a warm feeling for us here, they care about us and what we feel and think. It helps me in school as well. My horizons have opened wider here. Adi and Ortal aren’t just teachers, they’ve done so much in the community, everyone loves them, they’ve put on a show for the community, “Servant of Two Masters” (by Goldoni). Tzviah (in pink) – we’re talking today about our relations with Arabs and the price tag concept, we’re trying to understand what we feel and why  [amazing openness to discussion and grappling with difficult concepts], we’re discussing it through the concept of the stranger and the other, someone different from me, we’re preparing a show about it. [this was really impressive – I was expectin g a political discussion but they're doing this through theater and moral concepts]. Adi explains that the girls are increasingly volunteering, getting involved in the community, helping in other roles.
(5)   Sujud is leading a Zumba class. She's from Yafiya (near Natzrat)