Friday, May 30, 2014

President Peres

President Peres' moving and lovely speech, with tribute to JDC's Ralph Goldman, speaking to the JDC Centennial Board of Governors, May 2014.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

How we think about things

I escorted a JDC Board member recently to see a "Chen" (Career Alternatives) program. Chen teaches Ultra-Orthodox young women to gain skills and employable assets - as well as "soft" skills - that will help them get good paying jobs.

And if they get good-paying jobs, they lift their families out of poverty and out of the welfare system.
They go from being dependent to independent.

But my colleague Amos Levi, who escorted us in the visit, gave a brilliant example of how we sometimes think in stereotypes about the Ultra-Orthodox world, and women in particular. Go to google and type in "Ultra-Orthodox women" and click on "images." What you'll get, he said, will be some version of Taliban-looking women, anger and violence, and anti-democracy/anti-public-order imagery.

So I did ... and he was right.

It's not just what we do. It's also how we think.
And the barriers to communication are on a two-way street.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014


I went to a fascinating meeting the other day in Jerusalem. With several leaders I went to the Juvenile Probation Service (JPS) in the Ministry of Social Affairs. In most countries, probation services are run by the police or courts. But in Israel, the social side is the emphasis. Israel has 240 probation officers, and there are 16,000 new referrals every year ... for 23,000 offenses. JPS is actually one of the oldest social services in Israel - it was set up in 1934 during the British mandate.

My colleagues at the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute have been helping the JPS with empirical data. The Institute profiled the kids, the process, the programs. How do you know when the process is effective? When are the kids deemed 'rehabilitated?'

We met with A., a high-risk young offender. He agreed to join a 'wraparound' program - an intensive case-management process to get him back on track without removing him from the community. "He was lost," his father said. "He didn't know what to do with his life he's learned his risk factors, responsibility, sensibility."

The challenge is how do we help these kind of social services get the most impact with stretched-thin resources. There are complex family and personal backgrounds, dangerous behaviors. And it's not all drug- or violence-related. 40% of the offenses are violent, 20% are property crimes. Only 10% are drug crimes, and 2% are sex-related crimes. So you need facts, knowledge, impact-studies.

I'm proud of my colleagues in Myers-JDC-Brookdale. They are making a major change in how JPS measures outcomes, develops tools to track treatment and understands young offenders. And these kinds of applied research programs make a real impact in people's lives.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

People need people

My inspiring colleague Oksana and I spoke at the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County earlier this month. The New Jersey Jewish News did a nice piece about our briefing there.

JDC officials describe Ukraine relief effort
by Debra Rubin
NJJN Bureau Chief/Middlesex
May 20, 2014
Despite months of turmoil, Ukraine’s Jews have continued to receive lifesaving medicine, food, and other vital services through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
“During the last five months we have never interrupted our services,” said JDC Ukraine Government Affairs director Oksana Galkevich.
Galkevich and JDC colleague Dov Ben-Shimon appeared May 2 at a leadership briefing at the South River offices of Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County. At the meeting, it was announced that the federation had made an emergency $11,700 donation to JDC, a federation partner, for its Ukrainian efforts.
Federation executive director Gerrie Bamira said the donation was made to “ensure the uninterrupted delivery of vital services to poor and isolated elderly Jews as well as at-risk children and their families. This ongoing partnership and relief effort is possible because of the generous donors in Jewish Middlesex.” 
Galkevich said JDC representatives have braved sniper fire, crossed dangerous checkpoints, and devoted countless extra hours to ensure the health and safety of Ukraine’s 300,000-350,000 Jews, 17,000 of whom live in Crimea, the area taken over by Russia in March.
The Kharkov native, who came to the United States to update her organization’s community partners, said that support has been stepped up at its hesed welfare and community centers in affected areas of the country. Security and food and medicine deliveries had been increased, additional counseling services provided, and a round-the-clock emergency phone chain had been set up to monitor clients. Additionally, situation rooms throughout the nation have been established to provide constant updates on the local situation even as contingency plans have been prepared in case of emergency. 
JDC operates 32 hesed centers in Ukraine, including three in Crimea, and serves Jews in more than 1,000 locations. 
“People are scared, and when they need someone to talk to they call or come to our hesed centers,” said Galkevich. “We thought with all the disorder, people would not come to the centers, but we were wrong. People need people. Our social workers try to comfort them.” 
Particularly vulnerable are the elderly who live on meager monthly government pensions and are suffering because of Ukraine’s devalued currency and sharp spike in prices for goods and services. She said many are survivors of the Holocaust and the privations of the communist regime.
“People literally have to make a choice between heart medication and a carton of eggs,” said Galkevich. “The JDC has such deep infrastructure, we were able to help every single person” who approached the centers, said Galkevich.
The aid given to the Jewish community has produced a situation rife with irony. Ben-Shimon, JDC’s director of strategic partnerships, said Jews tend to live longer than non-Jewish Ukrainians because of the food, medical, and homecare services made possible through the JDC and its partners in the North American federation system, but “they live longer, lonelier lives” because in many cases, their children have left the country.
And while there is “no institutional anti-Semitism on the state level or government level,” said Galkevich, widespread violence has left the community frightened.
“So far the Jews have not been targeted,” she said, but downtown Kiev “is in ruins” with cobblestones ripped from the streets for use as weapons. In Odessa, with 40,000 Jews — and where JDC serves 7,000 clients — a flare-up of violence between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian factions has had a chilling effect on the population. 
Galkevich said JDC staff members are committed to continue serving their clients. She told the story of Irina, a homecare worker in Kiev who stayed at the home of one of her clients, a disabled Holocaust survivor terrified of spending the night alone.
Realizing she had another elderly client nearby who depended on her for meals, Irina cooked enough for both women. Between bursts of sniper gunfire from rooftops, Irina ran back and forth from one apartment to the other. 
In Sevastopol, a city with about 5,000 Jews on the Crimean peninsula, the hesed center remained the only “fully functioning” Jewish organization after the Russian invasion. Galkevich said its director gave every worker traveling to a client a signed letter explaining they were doing humanitarian work for the center. 
In a testament to its reputation, when the letters were shown to Russian soldiers turning away vehicles at roadblocks, many would say, “Ah, hesed — you can go through.”

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Poor Mermaids

We were in Bat-Yam* the other day learning about issues of poverty. My colleague Jack Habib from Myers-JDC-Brookdale gave a fascinating overview about poverty in Israel.

Bat-Yam has a massively disproportionate level of poverty. So it was an appropriate location to discuss poverty rates and what they mean.

Israel has the highest poverty rate in the West - 25% (1.8m). 36% of all children (860,000) live under the poverty level.

But here's the really fascinating bit: poverty rates differ among different population groups. So 54% of Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) and 54% of Arab-Israelis are poor. But 39% of Ethiopian-Israelis and 19% of the elderly are classed that way. Among non-Haredi Jews, only 12% are under the poverty line.

So .... the continued growth of Haredim and Arab-Israelis as a percentage of the population, by definition, is going to increase poverty rates in Israel unless we change their employment rates and earnings capacity. It's going to be a national priority. And a Zionist one.

*"Mermaid", or "Daughter of the Sea," or "Daughter of Jerusalem." Depends on which local you believe.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

For us, it was just help

Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein in a moving and lovely address to the JDC Centennial Board of Governors, May 2014, in the Knesset building.

"The Greatest Jewish Humanitarian Organization on the Planet"

Prime Minister Netanyahu's address to the JDC Centennial Board of Governors in the Knesset building, May 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Strive harder

I visited STRIVE the other day in Tel Aviv - one of my favorite programs here in Israel. STRIVE is a partnership with the Government of Israel based on a model from East Harlem, NY. The program works with disadvantaged young adults to take control of their lives and change them - so they can enter and succeed in the job market.

It's an amazing program and a great visit - we did a "skills" workshop, met with some of the clients and professionals.

And on the wall is a powerful and necessary statement ....

If you want to move a mountain, you need to move the smallest rocks.

Small, understandable, attainable steps move mountains. You can make the change. You can succeed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The voice

This is the impact, strength and charisma of Ethiopian aliyah and the success of the Atzmaut program ... this is Rudi, the amazing singer we heard at the JDC Board meetings in Jerusalem last night.

Rudi Bainesay was a finalist on the Israeli version of the reality television show “The Voice” earlier this year during her service in the Israeli army, and finished in third place. She performs in Israel and is currently developing original songs of her own.
Rudi was born in 1990 in Ethiopia and moved to Israel during Operation Solomon, a covert Israeli military operation in 1991 to take Ethiopian Jews to Israel. After a few years in an absorption center in Be’er Sheva, she moved to Netanya.
Upon finishing high school, Rudi volunteered for a year of national service as a youth counselor in formal and informal settings at Alon, a nonprofit organization for social engagement.
Afterwards, she was inducted into the army in Gar’in Nachal and volunteered as a soldier-teacher. Later she was stationed in intelligence, where she advanced to become an officer, and was discharged as a first lieutenant.  She is a graduate of JDC's Atzmaut program, which helps Ethiopian-Israelis acquire skills and capabilities that help them successfully integrate into Israeli society.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Life and Death

I’m spending the next few days in Israel for JDC’s 100-Year Board meetings, and to run some site visits and briefings. I’m also going to have a chance to see some of my favorite programs in JDC-Israel.

But first – a great lunch with old and new friends here in Jerusalem. And one of the fascinating topics that came up was the subject of graves and burials.

There were Jews in Eastern Europe (and many other places too) who instructed that they should be buried wrapped in the red flag to show their support for socialist ideals. Some of the stories are quite well-known.

But what always fascinated me, and what we discussed today – is that even those who were at the vanguard of the Revolution never gave up on their Jewish identity. Even founders of the Polish Socialists, like Felix Perl, buried in a red flag, grappled with their Jewish identity throughout their lives. And were buried in Jewish cemeteries. Sometimes in separate ‘socialist’ Jewish cemeteries!

It’s a fascinating reminder of how Jewish identity evolved and took on different shapes and formats around the world.
Even in the darkest days of the Soviet empire, of seventy years of religious oppression and the dearth of community life … sparks remained.

You can still see the sparks in the cemeteries. It's a good reminder of the amazing persistence, pluralism and vibrancy in Jewish life. And death.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Get involved

I spoke the other day at an event in Philadelphia and talked about what's happening in the Jewish world. There were some terrific questions, both during the event and afterwards. Someone came up to me at the end and asked me "how can I get more involved in what the Joint is doing?"

So ... good question. Here are some initial thoughts ....

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Three thoughts on the Jewish World

I gave a presentation the other night to a leadership group in Boston. We talked about the Jewish world and some of the mission-locations they’d visited and discussed. Cuba, Hungary, Argentina and Ukraine.

And yes, every situation is different. But still … there were three themes that looked “the same” for me.

First, everywhere you go, it’s always the vulnerable who suffer first and hardest. Doesn’t matter where. Whenever there’s trouble, or conflict, or crisis. Could be in Israel, or Ukraine or any number of places.

Second, exit strategies and phase downs aren’t linear processes. We talked about how the Joint is phasing down in certain programs and countries. But we also talked about a readiness to scale back up, if the need arises or the economics worsen.

And third, communities change not just in quantity but also in quality. When a community consolidates (say, into major cities) that may look like a “shrinkage.” But if the end result of that transition is where we can build leadership programs, JCCs, Sunday Schools and other immersive experiences … then it's not the same thing. When communities consolidate geographically we're looking at economies of scale. When it's easier to build these programs because we have more density and easier logistics.

And that's a positive.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Politics (and an old joke)

I spoke the other night at the Somerset JCC to community leaders. We did a session on storytelling and how we tell our stories as Jewish communal professionals to groups and supporters. At the end, a participant asked me about how we deal with the hot-button political issues facing the Jewish world. How do we answer on Russia-Ukraine? What's our response on the peace process? What's our policy on organizations being part or not part of other organizations?

I have two reactions to this.

First, what unites us is always more important than what divides us. And yes, the divisions are critically important. And yes, we need a culture of respect and dialogue.

And second ... I need to tell a joke. Not a particularly funny joke* but a relevant one nonetheless ...

Four Jews are sitting in shul one Shabbat morning.
"Oy," says the first.
"Oy Vey," says the second.
"Oy Gevalt," says the third.
"Listen," says the fourth. "If you fellas are just going to sit here talking politics then I'm going home."

*I thought it was funny. But, you know, no pressure. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014


My colleague Oksana and I spoke the other day at the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex about the situation in Ukraine.

One thing really struck me - she made a comment about how long it took her to get here. "I crossed seven time zones to get here from Ukraine," she said.

"But from one end of the former Soviet Union to the other, it's eleven time zones. And we're working in both ends ... and in all the space in the middle. Even in the farthest reaches - we've reached deeper. Even if there's one Jew, alone, the last in his or her town or village. No one gets left alone."

It's not the first time we've talked about time in our work in the Joint.
Just one example: the timezone in Crimea has switched from Ukraine-time to (Moscow's) Russia-time (an hour different). But cellphones keep reverting back to Ukrainian time.

In the meantime, no matter what the timezone may be, the work continues.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


My colleague Ofer Glanz reports ...

 " With increasing unrest and violence in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, I want to brief you on our continuing emergency efforts in those areas of the country. Rest assured that our remarkable colleagues — from JDC staff to Hesed employees to homecare workers — are tirelessly working around the clock to ensure the well-being of our clients and Jewish communities where they live and work.
      During this critical time, we have:
  • activated our emergency contact system, communicating with clients on a 24-hour basis to assess their needs and address them immediately;
  • established situation rooms around the country that are regularly reporting in on changes on the ground;
  • constantly adjusted our contingency plans to reflect these changes.

Above all, we are providing stepped-up support with extra food, medicine, homecare, and counseling, just as we have done since this crisis began.
In Odessa — which is the site of ongoing violence and 46 deaths last week — our Hesed social welfare center cares for approximately 7,000 Jews (out of the city’s 40,000 person Jewish population). Services for the elderly and poor have continued uninterrupted during this chaotic time. For other JDC-supported Jewish institutions and programs around the city — including the flagship Beit Grand JCC and our Metsudsa young leadership training program — some workshops and classes have been cancelled for security concerns.

In Eastern Ukraine — where continued unrest and fear have gripped the local population — JDC serves more than 6,000 Jews in the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk, Mariupol, Kramatorsk, and Sloviansk. Our staff in these cities continue to provide increased services and support, constantly adjusting to an ever-changing and concerning situation. " 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The souvenir

I didn't keep all that many souvenirs from my army service. A lot of it went very fast - tours in various places in the Gaza Strip, South Lebanon, lots of quick movements from one site to the next. But with Independence Day coming up, I found myself looking through the box of insignia, medals, combat badges and other memorabilia that someday my kids can divide up.

And I found my souvenir.

I got it just after I was promoted to Staff-Sergeant in an Air Force unit. We'd had a thick and heavy winter, full of heavy snow and torrential rains. It was spring, and I was responsible for running the Battalion Field Hospital. We were stationed alongside the Lebanon border and one day we - the combat medics - were assigned to a Combat Engineers' platoon. We watched as they peeled back a small section of the border fence between Israel and Lebanon and, wearing pillowpad shoes and using detectors and probes, they cleared a large minefield area near the road.

"Why are we doing this?" I asked.

"Because," said the 2nd Lieutenant from the Platoon, "the rains shifted the landmines here. And there are schoolkids from the Lebanese villages who pass by these areas. So - better to clear the area than, God forbid, having a kid blown up. Better to be good neighbors."

At the end of the operation, we watched as they closed up the fence. There was a small part left of the barbed wire left over. I clipped a piece of it to remind me of that day. And of what good borders should represent.

Here it is.

Friday, May 2, 2014


I was visiting a school recently in the south of Israel, where we're running a "Better Together" program.

Better Together is one of my favorite programs. It improves services for children and youth in disadvantaged communities. Places like development towns in Israel's periphery. And it works in poor inner-city neighborhoods to create partnerships. Improving the connections, the services, creating programs. Especially the programs that help kids at risk and their families.

There were wise words from various sources.

But I particularly liked this comment, written on the blackboard of the library. It's from Golda Meir, Israel's fourth Prime Minister ...

“It isn't really important to decide when you are very young just exactly what you want to become when you grow up. It's much more important to decide on the way you want to live. If you are going to be honest with yourself and honest with your friends, if you are going to get involved in causes ('struggles') which are good for others, not only for yourselves, then it seems to me that that is sufficient, and maybe 'what you will be' is less important.”

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