A briefing from Arnon Mantver, Director of JDC-Israel
As we continue to develop programs for Israel's neediest, we find ourselves in the interesting but not unfamiliar environment of a type of intercession of the Israeli government. The new government is deep into planning, setting its agenda and priorities, and establishing and coordinating between the various Ministries – new and old. We continue to maintain contacts with the senior professionals we work with and have worked with in the past, many of whom are remaining or returning to top level positions. It's a challenging period of time in terms of our partnership with the government but a challenge which brings with it much opportunity.
The Children of the Holocaust…
I was very moved by the fascinating and poignant items which can be discovered in AJJDC's priceless archives. On Yom Hashoah, I had the honor of presenting Rabbi Lau, former chief Rabbi of Israel, with a personal gift from AJJDC's archives. During research carried out at the AJJDC Archives about the life of the venerable Joe Schwartz, documents were discovered which bear witness to JDC's heroic transfer of some 1,000 orphaned children, former inmates of Buchenwald, to Israel against the initial resistance of the U.N. Refugee organization. Found among the list of rescued children were Rabbi Lau and Nobel prize winner Eli Weisel.
Yesterday, as Rabbi Lau choked up upon seeing photos of himself as an 8 year old boy leaving Buchenwald, my pride in serving on behalf of the Joint was very personal. Rabbi Lau was my teacher in high school, officiated at my wedding and knows that I owe my existence to a righteous gentile who hid my mother and sister in an underground hole for three years. Decades later, we are here, serving the country and the people of Israel, as the result of and in the continuing tradition of JDC caring for Jews all around the globe.
…are the Survivors of Today
Today, we are still helping those 1,000 children – and hundreds of thousands like them – who are now part of Israel's growing aged population. Almost a quarter of a million elderly Holocaust survivors currently reside in Israel, many of whom require a variety of specialized services.
JDC-Eshel secures critically needed subsidies for survivors which enable them to live and thrive in Supportive Communities for the elderly; provides dental care, via dental clinics in the community and a mobile clinic which reaches homebound elderly survivors; and developed and supports Witness Theatre programs in 17 locations which enables survivors to impart their Holocaust experiences to youngsters in a therapeutic manner. Just recently, a Witness Theater presentation was held for the first time in the U.S. at the Boca Raton Federation, as the result of the efforts and support of our own JDC Board member, Rani Garfinkle.
Recently, the Ministry of Finance requested that we develop and carry out a plan to help survivors who have not managed to take full advantage of all their rights and grants from various pools of funding earmarked for survivors. JDC-Eshel will be using specially-trained staff to work one-on-one with survivors to gather data and documents, fill out forms, and get all which they are entitled to.
Unemployment and Under-Employment
Israel is being hit with massive waves of lay-offs. Everyday brings news of tens to hundreds of workers being fired from their jobs. From an unemployment rate of under 6% in November 2008, we have now jumped to over 6.8% in a very short period of time. This represents some 200,000 Israelis who are out of jobs. The government is struggling to address this alarming phenomenon, while JDC-Tevet continues to focus on those who are completely outside the world of work and on the working poor.
Two major pieces of data drive JDC-Tevet's programs:
1) 750,000 able-bodied Israeli adults don't work and have not regularly participated in the workforce in the past.
2) 950,000 Israelis are part of families which live in poverty despite the fact that at least one of the parents works.
Our response is twofold. First, we develop and disseminate employment programs geared toward the major populations which comprise the 750,000: Immigrants, Disabled, Haredim, Minorities and Young Adults with no family support. Second, we are developing programs to help unstable workers retain their jobs and assist low-level workers in advancing to higher positions. Putting people into the workforce in jobs where they earn a reasonable living wage is the single greatest weapon in the ongoing fight against poverty in Israel.
Regards from Jerusalem,