Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Transitions - stuff I'm taking (2)

Four more things I'm taking with me when I leave the Joint. Apart from the whole existential feeling of having helped save the world, etc. The third one,especially, seemed resonant today.

1. A coto (supermarket) card from Argentina. When I came to the Joint from the LA Federation all we talked about were food packages. The packages were critical and life-saving. But the maximum number of items we could give you in a package was 18. And it was really basic stuff, for the most part: oil, pasta, kasha, that kind of thing. Not luxuries. So the smart card system came into being ... in Argentina.

We were facing a situation in the winter of 2001-2002 in which tens of thousands of Argentinian Jews were suddenly thrust into poverty and dependent on the Joint for food. Many were the 'new poor' – men and women lining up for food packages at Jewish institutions. People who sometimes didn't "know" what it meant to be poor. 36,000 clients receiving food from the Joint. Because of our Jewish federations and donors.

We were receiving reports of anti-Semitic attacks, of Jews being beaten up and attacked for their packages. It turned out that these reports weren't true. But they taught us something very interesting. That the food packages carry a price - and not just a logistic price; a price for overhead and our shipping and handling. They taught us that there's a price for dignity and self-respect.

These "new Poor" Jews didn't like that price. To line up and ask for food can take away your self-respect. Which is why rumors – false rumors – were spread about anti-Semitic attacks, because so many people there hated the food package system. So the food card system - the 'coto' card - began. And as it spread, you could see amazing side effects .... people had more choice, more dignity
These cards aren't about food. They're about hope. 

2. An award from the Growing Hearts of Africa. Because three young woman can save lives and change the world .... and it's been a pleasure and privilege to partner with them.

3. A Chibuki - huggy puppy - trauma therapy doll. Ok, three. Because  you can't get a six-year old kid in Sderot to explain his or her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But you can give these kids a huggy puppy with awesome velcro arms, and the kids can talk to the dolls, and teach them a marching song to get to the bomb shelter fast ... and get stronger. And this is more necessary now than we should have hoped.

4. A copy of "Ayalet Metayelet" - which is a classic children's book I bought for my kids some years ago. But I keep it now because I see it all the time when I go to PACT (Parents and Children Together) kindergartens in Israel. The difference is ... my kids have hundreds of books. And for some of the Ethiopian-Israeli kids I've visited this is one of the only books they'll have at home. If you come from a family where your parents are illiterate, in Hebrew and Amharic, then you'll never have enough books at home. You'll have a harder time starting first grade than other kids. You'll stand a worse chance of getting through school reading and writing at a grade-appropriate level. So the book reminds me of what the challenge is, and how much we've achieved with this program.

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