January 23, 2009

Update from Jerusalem

From Arnon Mantver, Director of JDC-Israel

Shalom all,

While you are celebrating the inauguration of your 44th President, we are (cautiously) celebrating a ceasefire. News photos of soldiers leaving Gaza, many of them for the first time in 15 days, are encouraging. Yet the arrangement is fragile. We hope the missile fire is over for good but must be prepared for any eventuality.

Back to School
Perhaps the strongest sign of normalization is the re-opening of schools in the South. As children return to the classrooms, school staff will likely discover a range of fears, emotional issues and trauma which need to be addressed.

Last year JDC introduced a program in Ashdod which trained the city's educational leadership to do just that. Two clinical psychologists have trained teachers and guidance counselors to identify stress and have given them a toolbox of programs to reduce the stress. Now, schoolchildren in 20 elementary schools throughout Ashdod will have the help they need from day one back at their desks. A similar program in Ashkelon certified 18 senior educational professionals as specialists in dealing with children-at-risk and trauma issues. The "Havens of Calm" and "Chibuki" programs will also be continued and expanded.

Moving at the Speed of Crisis
In a previous email I detailed two new JDC-Israel programs which were designed for the current crisis: "To 120" and Virtual Marketing for Sderot small businesses. I'm pleased to provide the following update:

"To 120": In the two weeks since the war began-- in conjunction with the Ministry of Welfare-- we have hired and trained 125 community workers in the cities within missile range. Each of these workers has already been in touch with 120 elderly and/or disabled individuals, ensuring that they get adequate food and appropriate medicines, home repairs if required, and any other type of assistance they may need. This means that 15,000 vulnerable people have a personal helpline during this ongoing crisis.

Businesses: 50 small business owners from Sderot are already receiving mentorship to help them establish an online presence for their businesses which will enable them to reach out to customers outside the region. The first websites should be operational within a month.

Give and Take
JDC-Israel is in the business of helping vulnerable populations. But some of these populations are capable of giving back as well. When JDC-Israel became a partner in establishing a network of over 30 centers to help young adults -- primarily immigrants -- we demanded that the young adults being helped also volunteer in their neighborhoods and assume leadership roles in their communities.

These young adults, who receive assistance in accessing higher education, finding jobs and integrating into Israeli society, exceeded all our expectations during the recent crisis. Young adults from Centers in Ashdod, Beer Sheva, Kiryat Gat, Netivot and Sderot have been making shelters usable, helping parents of disabled children, staffing municipal hotlines, running activities for children in shelters, bringing food and medicines to elderly in shelters and much more.

Yesterday, the senior staff of JDC-Israel went to Ashdod for a day of meetings and site visits to a large city which faced a new and difficult reality of missile fire during this war. I'm very pleased that Charles Ribakoff, newly appointed Chair of Ashalim sub-committee, joined us. Watch for my next update for details and photos.

Hoping for a real, lasting cease-fire,

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