An update from Irv Smokler, President and Steve Schwager, Executive Vice President
DATE: JANUARY 9, 2009
We all know that JDC’s role in Israel is to help the society care for the needs of its most vulnerable citizens. That mission, while powerful, may at times sound vague until you meet any of the thousands of Ethiopian-Israeli kindergartners who, thanks to PACT, now read on the same level as their veteran-Israeli peers; or you meet an elderly resident of the more than 200 Supportive Communities – a system that enables seniors to live in their homes rather than in institutions.
But our greatest pleasure is to witness what we believe truly epitomizes our mission to improve and enrich Israeli society. People who are traditionally the most vulnerable populations clearly have been strengthened by JDC’s ongoing support and are now ”stepping up to the plate” to help ease the burden on their fellow citizens during Israel’s current crisis. We share with you one of the many stories of local heroes who make us very proud.
Yossi, a 27-year-old software engineering student and active participant of one of our Centers for Young Adults, was one of the many young adults recruited to help in Ashdod via a text message from Center staff at the start of the crisis.
Last week, Yossi spent over eight hours a day engaging children in activities in one of Ashdod's poorest neighborhoods. These children often come from large, poor families. Schools are closed. Without young adults like Yossi running programs in the local bomb shelter, these children would be on the streets—both in immediate physical danger and at risk of longer-term emotional peril.
At the end of the day, the children pull on Yossi’s sleeves, beg him to stay for just a few more minutes, and make him promise to come the next day. Center staff report how children immediately connect to Yossi; he radiates warmth and is able to motivate them to participate in activities while also allaying many of their fears.
An Ashdod native himself, this young adult sees his work in this neighborhood as a mission. Yossi is now the team leader of the volunteers working in four underprivileged neighborhoods. "I believe that at this time everyone must do their best to help,” he said.
In Be’er Sheva, where the Center’s regular activities are on standby, members of the staff have redefined their responsibilities. For example, Rostik, the New Immigrants Coordinator, joined the municipality's efforts to check the condition of the city's shelters and report problems accordingly.
Michal, the Center’s social worker, offered assistance in a more personal way. She knew that a small group of senior citizens who live in her neighborhood had not left their shelter in more than three days. Although most residents enter shelters only when they hear the sirens, these seniors were afraid that they lived too far away to reach safety in time, so they opted to remain in the shelter indefinitely, even through days when no siren was sounded.
When Michal entered the shelter, she found these “permanent” residents in a state of severe anxiety. Some of them were actually reliving their trauma from previous terrorist attacks. As a young professional more accustomed to working with immigrant young adults, 27-year-old Michal found herself applying her trauma training from university to give them therapeutic “first aid.” Additionally, she followed up by contacting the Be’er Sheva municipality to ensure that these residents would receive ongoing assistance.
Such efforts by Centers in Ashdod and Be’er Sheva are being mirrored in other cities in the region, including Kiryat Gat, Netivot, and Sderot. Whether it be clearing out unused bomb shelters, providing support for children with disabilities, calming elderly residents, or staffing municipal emergency telephone hotlines, these young adults are helping the most vulnerable residents and providing hope and inspiration to many people during this difficult time.
We will continue to update you on our work during Israel’s current crisis, always with the hope that the conflict will end as quickly as possible.