February 19, 2009

Update from Jerusalem

Briefing from Arnon Mantver, Director of JDC-Israel

Shalom all,

The Politics of Government
The elections are over – the people have had their say. The specific results of this election reinforce the question regarding Israel's electoral system and the power of smaller parties. On the one hand, the current system allows citizens to cast their votes for parties which represent a single issue of great importance to the voter. On the other hand, it provides non-proportionate leverage to smaller, less mainstream parties.

Yesterday the President began the traditional rounds of consultation and by Friday afternoon or Sunday the latest, he will ask one of the party leaders to accept the task of building the coalition. Hopefully, it will result in a broad, stable and long-lasting government for the State of Israel.

JDC's biggest and most important partner in Israel is far and away the Israeli government. Our ongoing, multi-year partnerships with the Government Of Israel (GOI) -- Eshel, Ashalim, Tevet, Masad Klita and Elka – are the cornerstone of our work in Israel. Most of the top officials we work with, including those who are represented on the Boards of these partnerships, are committed career civil servants, who have outlasted many a government. This ensures stability for our work on behalf of the elderly, children and youth at risk, immigrants, and those out of the circle of the workforce. At the same time, new Directors-General will be installed in virtually all of the various ministries and we must do our work to familiarize them with our work, the primary among them being Welfare, Education, Trade and Commerce, Health, National Insurance Institute and the all-powerful Treasury.

What is true for the national government is doubly true for local government: excellent working relationships with local leadership are a sine qua non to achieving JDC-Israel goals as it is in the cities, regional councils, and villages that our programs touch the vulnerable populations we serve. Municipal elections were held in November 2008 and we are spending much time getting to know some of the new Mayors, including those in Ashdod, Be'er Sheva, and the new Chair of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel.

We are also beginning a dialogue with the new Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, toward a strategic partnership in the area of education. In a few weeks we will open the third cycle of the Forum of Regional Councils, comprised of 35 mayors – newly elected and re-elected -- from Jewish, Arab and Druze regional councils. The Forum aims to upgrade the level of municipal leadership through skill building, peer interaction, and mentoring.

Striving for Jerusalem
The rising unemployment rates in the U.S. are frightening. Here in Israel we are dealing with the vast number – 750,000 -- of capable, work-age people who are not involved in the world of work in any way. Israel has a much higher incidence of non-participation in the workforce than similarly economically developed countries, particularly among Haredim, Arabs, immigrants, young adults lacking family support, and disabled individuals.

One model which has proven highly effective at combating this disturbing trend is STRIVE, an award-winning model which JDC has adapted in Israel with the assistance of the Weinberg Foundation. 90% of those who complete the STRIVE program in Israel remain employed at least one year after completion. STRIVE Jerusalem was recently opened, joining STRIVE Tel-Aviv and STRIVE Haifa, and will face many challenges in the country's largest, poorest and most ethnically diverse city.

Worth a Pound of Cure
In social services, prevention is cheaper and more efficient than treatment. Whenever possible, JDC will opt to invest in programs which prevent a negative phenomenon which will later require a much greater investment of resources. One of the ways to prevent non-participation in the workforce by able-bodied young adults is to ensure they serve in the IDF and have a positive experience. In Israel, where you served (or didn't serve) in the army is one of the first things a potential employer will look for on your resume. Each year, JDC's Springboard program helps over 1,500 of Ethiopian and Kavkazi young men and women – whose families do not have a tradition of IDF service – reach their highest potential within the Israeli army, opening the door for them to social integration and viable employment.

Regards from Jerusalem,

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