Saturday, June 29, 2013

This is the first generation

This is a period of massive change and turmoil in Bedouin Israeli society. So many are moving from traditional to modern life.

It’s not an easy transition. There are gaps between age-groups; there are massive cultural and tribal obstacles. Bedouin youth today is very different from their parents, with vastly different exposures to other cultures.

The question in Bedouin society has become, who is the ‘socialization agent,’ on what values do they raise their children.

One of the most fascinating visits I've ever had to an Arab-Israeli program was to Hesegim (‘achievements’) in the Bedouin town of Rahat. It’s a program that provides higher education counseling to young adults in the periphery (geographically or socially speaking).

When you live in the periphery, your access to higher education is going to be very difficult.  And that means your chances at getting a good job are limited too.

So we have Hesegim, which works in 44 locations (hopefully expanding to more) through government and local partnerships.  In each location a single dedicated Higher Education Counselor in the JDC Young Adult Center recruits and counsels young adults to enter higher education, helps them choose a career path, prepare for higher education and secure scholarships and financing to make it possible. 

What I find interesting is that the work impacts not only the young adults themselves, the ones that receive help. It also raises awareness to higher education among their peers, families and younger brothers and sisters. For example, it makes a college degree seem more attainable.

Each year the higher education coordinators from Hesegim reach out to some 20,000 young adults who either weren't planning or weren't preparing for higher education.

So I walked around Rahat … a city with 55,000 residents. 60% are aged under eighteen!
20% of the boys of Rahat go to university; almost 70% of them drop out!

There are 11 tribes and 60 chamulot (extended tribal families) but people have different feelings of belonging. Residents I spoke to said that there are different layers of identity, but very little sense of belonging to the city.

Hesegim, to achieve higher education in Arab society, began with the geographic periphery and then understood that peripheries were also social and demographic. So the coordinator works in various levels: with individuals to provide escort/support, within the community to raise awareness about higher education, and to connect to academic institutions, making sure that expectations are coordinated.

I sat with three volunteers in the program, who explained that the three main obstacles to Bedouin youth are the psychometric exam, financial resources and English. The young people here feel they fall on these issues; many therefore go to Jordan, the West Bank or the US and have a better chance of success there. There are 220 Rahat students studying in Hebron, for example. If you come from a wealthier family, you have means and that makes it easier to make choices.

Nidal, the coordinator, told me that Hesegim has been a success story; but the economic obstacles are still critical. We've been very successful in helping people find and obtain stipends and grants. Sometimes they need a small push from us, a letter, a phone call. Guidance is critical.

Nidal spends his day going into the schools to give guidance and counseling. He identifies and helps with finding loans – there aren't enough resources for these students. If you didn't do the army or national service it’s very difficult to get grants or stipends. He works to prepare students for psychometric courses and English courses. And he’s simultaneously trying to encourage deeper leadership and volunteerism in the community.

“Our society is undergoing a complex process,” he says. “Because this is the first [Bedouin] generation in higher education, and the effect will last for generations.”

Monday, June 24, 2013

Not Nice People

Mishmarot Street, in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem, is maybe one of the most important streets in Israel. I went for a walk there on Shabbat, and stood right on the edge of the neighborhood.

Musrara (sometimes called Morasha) is right in the middle of Jerusalem, between the Old City, Meah She’arim and the Municipal center. Today it’s importance lies – among other reasons – in how increasing gentrification and the influx of immigrants have changed the neighborhood dynamics. There’s amazing street art and beautiful architecture, alongside neglected areas and rundown buildings. Every stage of architecture, from the last 130 years, is there. And there’s some fascinating cultural buildings and installations.

But what made Musrara’s name was what happened in the 1960s and 70s there.

With the massive housing shortage after the establishment of the State, thousands of new olim (immigrants) were moved into Musrara, which was right on the border with Jordanian-held Jerusalem. They were subject to daily attacks from Jordanian snipers, the neighborhood was rundown and many streets were basically open sewers.

On Mishmarot Street, also an open sewer through the 1970s, a group of second-generation Mizrachi Jews founded the Israeli Black Panthers. They were a protest group against all the injustice and discrimination by the Government, the lack of respect, the alienation and more. There were demonstrations, riots, and significant community organizing.

After meeting with Prime Minister Golda Meir, she famously called them, “not nice people.”

The events in Musrara, and the exposure of discrimination and alienation in Israeli society among more vulnerable Israelis, were critical, I think, in helping us get to where we are today.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Druze excellence

Meeting Yifat was a rare treat.

She is the founder and Director of “IT-Works,” which partners with JDC to help Arabs in Israel find quality hi-tech jobs, especially in the Druze sector. The program is called "Excel HT" (as in: "excel in hi-tech")

Many Druze Israelis who get a university-level education don’t succeed in getting great jobs. 
There are several reasons for this:

(1)   They don’t have the connections to Israeli business networks (networking, etc) and they don’t have a real community leadership that can connect them to these business networks.

(2)   There aren’t enough role-models for them: there are lots of Arab-Israeli teachers, so people assume that this is what you’ll become.

(3)   There's still discrimination (I sat with Amran, who’s in charge of the Leadership Track of this program. She told me a story that I’d heard in various forms in other circumstances – she and a Jewish friend sent their resumes out to various hi-tech firms. Her friend got callbacks. She didn’t).

(4)   So … therefore there’s a vicious cycle. They're not trying, so there’s very little chance of success.

The Excel HT program is a JDC partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office and other generous supporters. We’re helping 150 young Druze and Circassians each year find employment with training. Their first year had 83% placement! 
The Leadership track – an amazing partnership with the Ruderman Foundation, takes ten students each year as role-models, with 100% placement, in leading hi-tech companies.

Five years ago there were only two Druze from the town of Julis in hi-tech careers. Now there are 12.
These new recruits are role models. Excel HT trains them, guides them, supports them. They are ambassadors for change in their own communities.

Israeli-Arabs are 20% of the population but only give us 0.5% of the hi-tech sector. And at a conservative count there must be at least 8,000 open hi-tech positions waiting to be filled.

It’s a missed opportunity for everyone. 

Especially because there are almost no Arab women in hi-tech. Nearly every Arab woman who is working in hi-tech has been placed there by Excel HT ...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Walking on the grass (when it wasn't there)

The thing she remembers most, Rachel says, is walking on the ‘grass’ in the center of the neighborhood, and her feet sinking into the sewer and open sewage. This shouldn’t be happening in modern Israel.

We’re walking in the Herzl neighborhood of Kiryat Malachi, perhaps one of the most difficult neighborhoods in the South of Israel, certainly it has the most challenging socioeconomics in the region. The neighborhood has a total of 21 large apartment buildings, with almost 3,000 households.

I’m walking with a colleague of mine, Rachel, who is the Better Together coordinator. Better Together is a platform, on which we can build stronger communities for youth at risk, especially Ethiopian-Israelis. And Kiryat Malachi was the pilot, some eight years ago, when Rachel came and did her first walking tour of the neighborhood.

Rachel went with spirit and determination from house to house and persuaded residents to join residential housing committees (ועדי בית), she brought them to meetings, introduced them to each other … because in a neighborhood filled with crime, despair and neglect, no one was talking to each other, there was hostility, vandalism, drugs and more. Kids were hanging out at night with nothing to do, taking drugs, drinking alcohol, in holes in the neighborhood [at first we thought she meant holes metaphorically, but then she explained – real holes, dug into buildings] smoking.

We’re walking in this lovely neighborhood now … where local activists, set up and empowered through Better Together, have beautified the gardens, worked together to lobby the municipality for services, and run programs and services that bring together immigrants, the poor, the different sectors of the community. Lots of enrichment programs, community building services, early-childhood projects.
From the apartment buildings, people used to throw their trash out from the windows. The main road sides of the building had trash reaching the second floor.

We brought all the departments together to one table, Rachel says. All the activists, everyone. In the past no one worked together. Now we sit together and listen to the needs of the community. The mayor is very interested and involved. It’s never happened before. They were surprised at first that the municipality got so involved – at first they said, why, there aren’t elections due right now. It’s established credibility for the municipality among the residents. Greater change; greater involvement.

Last week Rachel pulled ten building-residents together for cleaning and beautification of the neighborhood..

Rachel organized a clean-up campaign. Everyone helped, cleaned, painted, did gardening, planted seeds. They used to throw their trash out of the window into the road. Now there's neighborhood pride, organization, advocacy with the municipality.

There's a nice open grassy area between the buildings now, (in the photo at right). People picnic there.

Before Better Together started, it was a mound of trash. It took three massive dump trucks to clear out all the trash.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Moked ...

This is one of my favorite programs. It's such a simple, clear idea. But it has massive impact. And every time I visit, in any location, I always walk away amazed at how people's lives are enriched and ennobled by simple things.

Moked is an amazing, unique program in many Hesed buildings that gives services to our elderly / at-risk clients for repairs, equipment loans and more.

There’s nothing quite like the Moked program anywhere outside of Hesed in the former Soviet Union. In some places in Ukraine, the State comes to Hesed and asks for Moked support.

In Dnepropetrovsk, for example, 1400 clients use the Moked service; they get walkers, walking sticks, toilet seat frames and bedsore mattresses (these can get really expensive) for the chronic bedridden clients. They have a tailor and a barber.
In Hesed Yehoshua, in Tashkent, Uzebekistan, the Moked program has 24 different types of equipment for loans.

Some Moked programs can send repairs to your apartment for things like TV sets, fridges, radios, locks. And others can assist with bath and toilet rails. The idea isn’t only to provide our clients with basic necessary equipment, but also to raise their quality of living.

It raises them from more dependence to more independence. About 60,000 clients receive free Moked services. 

Every year.

Everything is run by volunteers. And everything is free.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Three Minute Primer on Jewish Elderly in the former Soviet Union

A colleague from a Jewish federation asked me the other day about the elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union, how we got to where we are, and what the needs are going to look like in the coming years. All in three minutes ...

So here's the basic idea (and I'll try to do some more down the line):

As the caseload has aged (thanks to the help the elderly get from Hesed), their needs have changed ... they are less mobile, more sickly, and more isolated.  

Given the fact that there is virtually no institutional care, these clients become home-bound, without the resources needed to care for them
-no one to cook
-no one to clean
-no one to shop
-no one to pick up their medicines, etc.

On the scale of need - these people really are at the top.  So, as we have done from the onset of our re-entry in to the FSU, we have made the program sensitive to the greatest needs of those who depend on us. 

To give it broader context, we started out in the early 90's with food distribution as the primary function of Hesed.

As medicines became harder to secure, we added them to the mix, recognizing that from a limited pension, food and medicine were the two most expensive and critical items. 

About six years ago we graduated into food cards, which allowed the elderly to choose their individual mix of food and medicine by using the equivalent of a debit card, based on arrangements with supermarket and pharmacy chains, where possible.  

And about three years ago we started putting more of an emphasis on homecare, because this was emerging as the primary need.  

There is still, of course, a food/medicine distribution program, and food cards where these are available.  But the growth area is in homecare so that we can respond to the needs of the most vulnerable, especially in the former Soviet Union. And it's the support of our Jewish federations and donors that allow us to reach out to these most vulnerable, in several thousand locations, on a daily basis, to bring them food, medicine and homecare.

We try to find as many opportunities as possible to say thank you. But if you're reading this, and you're one of those generous donors, or federation donors, then you should know how grateful we, and the clients whose lives you're saving, really are.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Handbook

This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Shoah (Holocaust) I’ve ever seen. 

In the Tkuma Center for Holocaust Studies, in Dnepropetrovsk, they have a Wehrmacht (German Infantry) officer’s handbook guide to the Nuremberg Laws.

The chart was called the Mischling Test - which the Nazi's used under the Nuremberg Laws to check if you were Jewish, Aryan, or a "Mischling," a hybrid.

It shows a pseudo-scientific basis for racial identification. Only people with four German grandparents (four white circles in middle of the page) were of "German blood". A Jew is someone who descends from three or four Jewish grandparents (black circles in middle of the page). Then there were people of "mixed blood" of the "first or second degree." A Jewish grandparent was defined as a person who is or was a member of a Jewish religious community. Also includes a list of allowed marriages ("Ehe gestattet") and forbidden marriages ("Ehe verboten").

What's fascinating, I think, is that this isn’t an SS or Gestapo guidebook. This was an army officer’s handbook. Everyone in the Wehrmacht carried it. 
This was the banality and evil of the Shoah.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jews Move ...

I gave a briefing the other day on the Jewish world and how it has changed in the last twenty years.

One of the most interesting aspects of this change has been the dynamic focus of Jewish migration.

Jews are a migratory people. In fact, for the last 150 years or so, you can see a clear trend of Jewish migration, every 20 or 30 years. But what we’ve seen in the last 20 years is a massive exponential growth in global Jewish migration.

So much so, in fact, that Jews are now the most migratory people in the world.
One quarter of Jews in the world today live in a country other than the one in which they were born.

Think about that for a moment and what it represents.
Change, diversity, opportunity. Risks, challenges, new horizons.
All of this is happening right now.

And this means that the vast majority of Jews today live in a very small number of places. Since the early 1990s, one of the most interesting trends of Jewish life has been consolidation.

Most of us live in a very small number of countries. The vast majority of us (some three-quarters) live in just the US and Israel.

And there's a positive side to this contraction, in that Jews have moved and are moving to wealthier, more stable, more accepting societies. They're moving away from dangerous and under-developed places to “better” homes.
There's also a negative side, because we’re going to lose a lot of history and culture.

But what really fascinates me is that when we talk about consolidation, we’re looking not only at what's happening between countries but also inside them.
Urbanization is a critical component of this contraction, of this consolidation.
We’re becoming an increasingly urbanized people. 80% of the world’s Jews live in only 24 cities. That’s the twenty-first century Jewish migration. And 52% of us live in only five cities … Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, New York and Los Angeles.

By the way, the equivalent percentage for the world’s population as a whole is something like 50%. In other words, whereas something like 90% of Jews live in cities of a million people or more, only 50% of the world’s population live in big cities.

And as we move to the big cities, to the stable countries, the nature of Jewish life is going to change dramatically …

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Elderly neglect in Israel

This is such a critical story ... it's awful that we even have to discuss it. I'm proud of my colleagues in JDC-Israel who are working daily to try to tackle these issues with our partners on the ground ...

JDC Israel: 20% of elderly suffer abuse, neglect

JERUSALEM POST by Danielle Ziri

While 510 cases of physical abuse against the elderly were reported in 2009, some 1070 were reported in 2012, a 110% increase.

KEN LAZAKEN founder Natan Lavon (left)

Twenty percent of the elderly in Israel experience abuse and/or neglect, according to data released by the Welfare Ministry and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) on Monday, ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, on June 15.

According to the report, revealing figures for 2012, there was a sharp increase in reported cases of elder abuse or neglect to social services in the country since 2009.

The most significant increase was recorded in complaints of physical abuse. While 510 cases were reported in 2009, some 1,070 were reported in 2012, an increase of 110 percent.

There was a 90% rise in the number of reports of neglect; a 72% increase in cases of sexual abuse and financial abuse rose by 78%.

As defined by the JDC, neglect is the deprivation of basic needs or essential services such as food, medicine or medical care, among others.

The organization stated that it considers abuse “a behavior that occurs frequently and affects the elder physically, sexually, psychologically or financially.”

“Tens of thousands of elderly people in Israel live in the unbearable reality of abuse or neglect,” CEO of JDC Israel Prof.

Yossi Tamir said. “The reasons are varied, but in the end it is important to remember that these are very complex cases where the source of the abuse is often a family member or a private caregiver.

“Personal, social, financial and emotional dependency are created between the elder and the source of the abuse, which forms a circle that appears unbreakable,” he added. “We have the means to change this reality, but no system can do anything about it without people reporting the cases.”

Dr. Sara Alon who manages the JDC’s program for the prevention of elder abuse and neglect, stressed that anyone who encounters cases of the “painful problem” can intervene to stop the abuse.

Ahead of next week’s awareness day, the JDC launched a radio campaign on the subject last week, in which the public can hear senior citizens reporting cases of abuse or neglect.

According to the JDC, a high number of inquiries from elderly people suffering from such treatment were received within hours following the first broadcast.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Budapest Jews Plan World's Largest Kosher Sandwich

I'm so pleased to read this ... not only because it's a great sign of pride, but also because I'm taking a CJP (Boston Jewish Federation) mission to Budapest in August. I hope the sandwich isn't still there by then ....

(Hat Tip to Nina Robinson for spotting the story ...)

Published Sunday, June 9, 2013, 1:55 pm


Organizers of a Jewish festival in Budapest said they will try to set a world record for the tallest kosher sandwich.
Many dozens of bread slices will be used to construct the tower on Sunday on Kazinczy Street in the Hungarian capital’s so-called Jewish Quarter during the sixth Judafest cultural street party, organizers said on Facebook. One of the organizers told JTA the plan is to have a 7-foot stack at least.
The Guinness World Records website shows no record for kosher sandwiches, but the tallest non-kosher sandwich was made in 2007 in India and measured 50 feet. It contained 100 pounds of cucumbers, 88 pounds of meat and 330 pounds of butter.
Judafest is expected to attract thousands and is among the largest Jewish events in Hungary. In addition to assembling the sandwich, participants will participate in a cookie-baking contest.
In addition to the culinary activities, visitors to the one-day festival will be invited to watch films about Jewish humor, notably by and featuring Woody Allen. There will also be walks and a rickshaw tour of the Jewish quarter.
The Budapest branch of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee launched Judafest.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Israel Prods Ultra-Orthodox to ‘Share Burden’

I took a mission last month to see JDC-Israel programs, including an inspiring visit to a Haredi program in the Israel Air Force. This is going to be one of the most important issues we face in Israel in the coming years...

Israel Prods Ultra-Orthodox to ‘Share Burden’

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
An ultra-Orthodox man waited to be interviewed at Mafteach, a Jerusalem employment agency whose name means “key.” More Photos »
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JERUSALEM — One ultra-Orthodox job-seeker listed on his résumé, under technical skills, his success in building a hut on his porch for the annual fall harvest holiday and preparing his kitchen for Passover. Another brought a curriculum vitae handwritten on fax paper, folded in his pocket.
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Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
Ultra-Orthodox men waiting to be sworn in as soldiers in Jerusalem.More Photos »

Readers’ Comments

"How difficult can it be to devise parallel national service for those who cannot serve in the army for a wide variety of reasons. "
S.L., Briarcliff Manor, NY
When Binyamin Yazdi, an employment counselor, asks ultra-Orthodox clients their e-mail addresses, many respond, “What’s that?”
Israel has been consumed in recent months with the challenge of integrating the insular, swelling ultra-Orthodox minority, known as Haredim, into society. The animating theme of the last election campaign was a call for Haredim — and Israeli Arabs — to “share the burden” of citizenship, particularly in military service, and last week a Parliament committee approved legislation to end widespread draft exemptions for yeshiva students.
But while the draft is the emotional issue that has drawn thousands to protests, the low number of ultra-Orthodox men with jobs is much more important, with a dire effect on the economy in terms of productivity, taxes and the drain caused by welfare payments.
Because of Orthodox men’s commitment to full-time Torah study and a fear of assimilation, only a little more than 4 in 10 of them work, less than half the rate of other Jewish men in Israel, and their average salaries are 57 percent of other Jewish men in the country. Nearly 60 percent of Haredi families live in poverty, and by 2050 they are expected to make up more than a quarter of Israel’s population.
“It’s clear this is a situation which cannot continue,” Stanley Fischer, the departing governor of the Bank of Israel, declared this spring, a warning underlined in a recent report to the cabinet from the National Economic Council.
Without a radical change, cautioned Yedidia Z. Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute, “the Israeli economy will collapse in two decades.”
The urgent new focus by the government, which recently allocated $132 million over five years for training and placement, comes after years of lower-key private efforts, most underwritten by the Israel branch of the Joint Distribution Committee, a nonprofit group that helps poor Jews worldwide. The committee spends $10 million a year on Haredi employment.
There are many barriers to scale. Haredi schools teach little math, science or English: one recent study said graduates had the equivalent of zero to four years of secular education. The community shuns the Internet. Many men want to work few hours, and some refuse to work in offices with women.
“I’m always sort of looking behind me and seeing what is the distance between me and the people I left behind — I try to keep it a small distance,” said Yisrael Shlomi, 23, who is enrolled in a special college preparatory course for Haredim and wants to work in computers. “I have a kosher telephone,” Mr. Shlomi added, referring to a cellphone with restricted or no Internet access. “I still wear the same clothes, I’m speaking the same way.”
Mr. Shlomi said the first time he saw a non-Haredi newspaper was in the campus cafeteria the first day of class. The second day, he opened it. “The borders are getting a little fuzzy,” he said.
Avner Shacham, chief executive of Beit Shemesh Engines Ltd., which has $75 million in annual sales of parts for jet engines, said the Haredi men he had hired at his factory the past few years had had a hard time. The workers cannot read the English manuals for machines. They reject overtime because they want to attend afternoon prayers. The factory’s kitchens are kosher, but some complain they are not the stricter glatt kosher.
“We have rules — the rules are the same for everybody,” Mr. Shacham said during a visit to his plant last week. “It’s a question of performance. Are you willing to reduce the performance of the airlines? Are you willing to decrease the security in flying?”
While Haredi culture everywhere prioritizes Torah study, it is only in Israel that so many pursue it full time. It was not always this way: in 1979, 84 percent of ultra-Orthodox men worked, close to the 92 percent of other Jewish men, according to the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. Employment rates plummeted largely because those who skirted army service by citing Torah study as their vocation were blocked from seeking jobs. The new draft law — which still needs to be approved by the cabinet and Parliament — would remove that obstacle. At the same time, the budget scheduled to be approved this summer would drastically cut the subsidies their large families rely on, adding another incentive to work.
Unlike in many religious communities, Haredi women work at higher rates than men — about 61 percent, according to the Taub Center — in part to support their husbands’ Torah study. But that remains below the 82 percent of other Jewish women, and the Haredi women tend to be in low-wage jobs.
Even before the new public focus, change had begun. The number of Haredim in military or civilian service jumped to 2,321 last year from 305 in 2007. The Joint Distribution Committee has helped place 12,463 ultra-Orthodox Jews in jobs since 2005 — a small fraction of the estimated 346,000 Haredim over 20 years old in Israel, but part of an uptick since 2002, when 35 percent of Haredi men worked, according to the Bank of Israel.
The number of ultra-Orthodox attending mainstream colleges has also more than doubled to 7,350 over the past six years, thanks in part to a committee-financed program of special preparatory classes.
“I felt I was isolated from what’s happening in the country, and if I was going to advance in life I had to know the society,” said Yehoshua Salant, a 25-year-old father who is in such a program, linked to Bar Ilan University .
“My parents are not proud of me,” Mr. Salant acknowledged. “The silence is thundering.”
Of nine young men in Mr. Salant’s English class one recent evening, two had fathers who worked — one as a rabbinical court judge, the other publishing religious books. The sons aspired to computer programming, social work, accounting, engineering, owning a business.
“I’ve been in the yeshiva eight years, and I see that I’m not really succeeding — it was hard for me to sit all those hours,” said a 24-year-old from Bnei Brak who spoke on the condition he be identified only by his first name, Haim. “I don’t plan to work in a grocery. I want a real salary.”
Many of those involved in the push to integrate Haredim said the recent public outcry had only stymied progress. Twice this month, ultra-Orthodox soldiers in uniform have been attacked in Haredi enclaves. Mafteach, the employment service whose name is Hebrew for “key,” has seen a slight drop in clients in 2013 after years of steady growth.
“The more you push people, the more they close inside,” said Naftali Flintenstein, who runs Mafteach in Jerusalem and, like his seven employees, is Haredi. “It has a feeling of imposition, or forcing.”
While many men are referred to Mafteach by banks where they have debts and arrive desperate for immediate work, the organization tries to steer them into career training programs. His own black hat and long coat on the bookshelf behind his desk, Mr. Yazdi, 26, makes clients comfortable by quoting Torah verses and sharing his own struggle to balance Torah study, secular courses, a job and child-care.
“For them, it’s like diving into a pool and not knowing whether it’s water or acid or rain,” he said.
Aharon, a 25-year-old father of three who asked that his last name not be published to protect his family’s privacy, came with the handwritten résumé on fax paper. He and Mr. Yazdi sat together at a computer to improve it. “If you were looking for a wife right now and I am your matchmaker, what would you say?” Mr. Yazdi asked.
They decided Aharon was punctual, orderly and had a strong work ethic. They emphasized his love of math and perhaps overstated his experience with calculations.
Aharon’s hands were on the keyboard, but Mr. Yazdi was dictating. Under personal skills, they put: “I have the will and ability to learn additional things.”
Rina Castelnuovo and Myra Noveck contributed reporting.

Friday, June 7, 2013

From JDC-Israel to the White House

I love this story ... JDC-Ashalim has a terrific recipe book, and their recipes (in English) came through JDC supporters to the White House.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cuban Jewish Vision

From my presentation today at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey to introduce my wonderful colleagues from Havana, Allie and Lulo, JDC-Cuba Representatives ....

My dear friends,

There I was, not five months ago, in the middle of Havana, Cuba, with an intrepid group of travelers from the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

People not so different from yourselves.
Several of whom are here with us today.

And, in addition to smoking some great cigars, drinking some fine rum, and visiting some amazing tourist sites … we saw a vision.
We saw a vision of what the Jewish World is going to look like.

So, let me explain.

I am the Director of Partnerships for the Joint – the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
For almost a hundred years we’ve worked all over the world, as a partner to your federation and to the American Jewish Community.

And we only do three things. Rescue, Relief and Renewal.

We work in 75 countries around the world, and Israel, to provide physical security for Jews in need;
to provide food, medicine and care for hundreds of thousands who depend on us every day;
and we work to rebuild Jewish life and community in places that were cut off from the world by Communism or neglect.
In Israel we partner with the Government and local leaders to strengthen and empower Israel’s most vulnerable – the elderly, the disabled, youth at risk, the difficult-to-employ, and the difficult-to-absorb.
And in some 35 countries we provide an American-Jewish and Israeli response to humanitarian crises and man-made disasters, with non-sectarian relief and rescue programs.

Rescue, Relief and Renewal.

And our real aim … is to work ourselves out of a job and go home.

Because at the end of the day, as those of you who have been on missions with us have seen, every single JDC program, in every country around the world, has a kill-switch.
A phase-down program, that allows us to pull out when the work is done. …

On our mission in Cuba, there was a fascinating conversation with a local Jewish leader.
Who said, you know, we don’t need the Joint’s help in getting out.
Which is true.
There are no exit restrictions on Jews anywhere in the world today.
They can all get out.

We don’t need your help in getting out, he said. We need your help in bringing in.
We need your help in building Jewish life here in Cuba.

And those of you who have been with us on missions know this.
We have lists. We have lists of all the dozens of programs and projects that the Joint runs, say, in Cuba.

And that list is growing smaller.

We don’t run the Sunday schools anymore.
We don’t run the Shabbat services and festivals anymore.
We don’t run the summer camps anymore.

They're all run by the community. We’ve phased out.
And we’ll continue to do this, restoring dignity and self-reliance to the Cuban Jewish community program by program. …
Like we do everywhere in the world, working ourselves out of a job.

And the reason we can do this – is you.

You who support our work through your Federation’s Annual Campaign, who share our values through your Federation, who believe in what we do and why we do it.

A commitment that we are all responsible one for another.

A commitment to repairing the world by aspiring to a higher standard of justice, of humanity, and of compassion.

And a commitment to providing dignity and hope for all who need us.

So, therefore:
Come with your Federation on missions
Introduce others to what we do
And support your Federation’s Annual Campaign today. With an increase.

Because we cannot do this work without you.
And more importantly, we should not do this work without you.

Because the work we do – together – is the articulation of the values that we share.

It is my great pleasure, therefore, to introduce to you my wonderful, dedicated colleagues, Luciano Jaimovich and Alejandra Kotliar, our JDC Representatives in Havana, and invite them to say a few words.

Thank you very much.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Szarvas 2013 ... hope you can make it

Hungarian horizons

I was in Boston yesterday with my colleague Zoya Shvartzman, JDC’s Director of Strategic Partnerships for Europe
Zoya is Moldovan-born, growing up in Tel Aviv and Vancouver, and has lived and worked in Montreal, Mexico, Budapest and Tel Aviv. Specifically, we came for a series of meetings with CJP, the Boston Jewish Federation, to discuss our work in Hungary and prepare a mission for the summer.
One of the aspects of that work that fascinates me about Hungary is how the horizons and challenges of the Jewish community intersect. Hungary has the fourth-largest Jewish community in Europe (after France, the UK and Germany), with some 120,000 … but the total number of Jews participating in any form of community engagement is probably no more than 20,000. Maybe less.
And one of the key questions we discussed with professionals at CJP yesterday was the difference between engagement and outreach in the Jewish community.
Here in the US, we sometimes use the terms interchangeably. But in fact they're very different.
In Hungary we can't engage the middle and older generation, because in so many cases, there’s no one with whom we can engage. 
There’s no Jewish memory, no Jewish collective education. They were cut off for so long, and much of what we take for granted in the West as aspects of Jewish life – synagogues, religious institutions, federations, community organizations – are treated with suspicion. So outreach is more of the flavor. 
And unlike in the US, where we reach out to parents, and through them we can reach the kids, in places like Hungary we have to reach out first to the kids, and hope that through them we can reach through to the parents.
That’s why Szarvas Camp, the Balint JCC programs and other young-family programs are so critical.

And that’s why what happens in Hungary will be the precursor, in many ways, to what we try to do in many other countries around the world.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Weight of History

I’m in Boston tomorrow preparing a group of dedicated and impressive philanthropists through CJP (the Boston Jewish Federation) to go with me to Hungary in August.

One of the key factors here is history, and the weight of history.

For nearly a thousand years, Jews in Hungary have faced rising and falling fortunes. They’ve seen shifting political powers and threats to Jewish life.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Jewish life in Hungary was thriving; pre-war Budapest had a Jewish population of 23% and there were more than 125 synagogues operating. But everything was threatened in the years between the Wars, with repressive anti-Jewish legislation, rampant anti-Semitism and brutal pogroms.

By the end of WWII, 50% of Budapest’s pre-war Jewish population had been massacred in Auschwitz and the labor camps. For those that survived, the rise of communism in Hungary in 1949 weakened any remaining Jewish affiliations, further unraveling the chain linking Jews to their tradition.

We’re still facing the after-effects of the 2008 economic crisis and its toll on Jewish community life in Hungary. Middle-class and struggling Jewish families have been plunged into serious financial distress. Many call it the rise of the “new poor.”
With European open borders (“Schengen rules”) there’s been a massive emigration of young Hungarians to western Europe … one of my colleagues told me the other day that many Hungarians think that their country is getting poorer and older.

So … there are new needs, new strains on resources, and in the midst of all this, a revitalizing Jewish community. How this will all shape out is going to be the subject of our discussions this week in Boston, and in August on the ground.