January 5, 2010

Update from Jerusalem: Israel's Children

Update from Arnon Mantver, Director of JDC-Israel

Shalom all,

Young Adults for themselves and their Communities
I know you are aware that we are extremely concerned about the deep budget cuts at JDC and the effect these cuts are having on JDC's unique position as an R&D organization for social issues in Israel. This week an event occurred that was so uplifting as to temporarily wipe these concerns from my mind. The second annual Conference of Young Adults in Israel was attended by thousands of Israeli young men and women – the vast majority of them from among the 250,000 who are immigrants or children of immigrant parents. A major portion of these young adults are members of the network of 30 Centers which were established and supported by JDC as a means to helping immigrants access higher education, get jobs and integrate into Israeli society. These young people are truly the next generation of leadership in Israel and seeing them advocating for themselves and seeking ways to help others is truly inspirational.

All Children Deserve a Good Start
The newspapers in Israel are full of stories and exposes regarding the situation of foreign workers in the country. The situation is complex, political and hits an emotional nerve. JDC, which zealously guards its non-political status in Israel, is not involved in lobbying or advocacy for this population be we are attempting to assist the children who are innocent victims of their own situation. With assistance from the European Union and the Bader Foundation, we are upgrading the early childhood frameworks located in Tel Aviv which serve the children of foreign workers and asylum seekers. We have also replicated the JDC-developed Gamla program on behalf of this population, using adult volunteers to provide social activities for these children. Meeting the needs of children-at-risk is a top priority for JDC, no matter who their parents may be.

Israel's Children: the Future Nobel Laureates
This week brought news and footage that put Israel front and center in a positive light: Professor Ada Yonath was awarded the Nobel Prize for her breakthrough research in Chemistry and represented Israel at the awards ceremony with grace and good humor. It's important to remember that Yonath's achievements are the result of schooling and academic experience of more than 30 years ago. If Israel's educational achievements continue to slip as they have over the past decade, we will not be celebrating any more winners 20 or 30 years down the line. This is one of the reasons that JDC-Israel, at the behest of the Strategic Visioning Committee, is deepening its partnership with Israel's Education Ministry, specifically around "Teach for Excellence" and on expanded programming for Ethiopian pupils.

Israel Leads in Chess
Just this week, Boris Gelfand, an Israeli man who emigrated from Minsk in 1991, won the 2009 World Chess Cup. He joins Marcel Efronski, a 13 year old Israeli girl, who won the World Youth Chess Championship in November. At JDC, we have leveraged the immigrants love of chess and Israel's leading position in the world in this sport to further our mission on behalf of vulnerable populations. Together with the Israel Chess Federation, JDC has trained immigrants from the FSU and France to become chess instructors for children and adults. The instructors earn a salary and are gainfully employed, the children and adults enjoy the benefits of playing chess. Included among the adults are some elderly for whom playing chess is a bulwark against dementia and Alzheimer's. To date 30 instructors are teaching over 3,000 Israeli children and adults. Who knows, maybe the next world youth champion is among them.

Regards from Jerusalem,

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