November 8, 2011

From Steve Schwager, JDC CEO

I spent all last week in Israel, visiting both new and old JDC programs. I also had numerous meetings with various Israeli government officials. So you can probably predict my next comment to you, which is that I wrote this column in "an old, familiar place" – 37,000 feet in the air while flying back to Newark Airport.

On the government side, I met with the Cabinet Secretary and Director General of the Prime Minister's office. We discussed JDC's upcoming 100th anniversary Board meeting in Israel and how the government would officially recognize JDC's work. These sessions were very meaningful; the government officials were very supportive and spoke glowingly of our mission in general, as well as our specific programs.

I then met with the new Commanding General of the IDF's Home Front Command, which is responsible for protecting the citizens of Israel during war or terrorist attacks. The General had come to be briefed on our work and asked JDC to partner with the IDF if Israel is once again faced with war. Specifically, he was impressed with our networks of volunteers, including our 200-plus Supportive Communities for the elderly and disabled, our 20-plus Young Adult Centers, and the local ESHELs that have been established for Israel's seniors. Formal coordination procedures are now in place and regularly tested. JDC is a full partner with the State of Israel's response system to ensure that the most vulnerable citizens will be helped in times of crisis.

The third official I met with was the Deputy Accountant General of the Finance Ministry who is responsible for reviewing programs in the social services. He told me how amazed and impressed he was with the scope and the number of cities in which JDC works. He also expressed his appreciation for our partnership and the unique contributions that we have made and continue to make to the State.

During all three visits, what was truly rewarding was being able to clearly see the esteem in which JDC is held by these senior officials.

On the program side, I visited various sites and enjoyed rewarding and interesting conversations.

In Jerusalem, I visited a prepatory program for young adults who are going into the army. Those of us who do not live in Israel typically believe that every Israeli young adult—whether male or female—goes into the army right after high school. But the 20 young people I met in this program changed my view forever. These were young adults coming from the kibbutz movement or small towns. They felt that they were not ready for the army and needed more time to mature before serving. So during this year after high school, they were taking part in this preparatory program in which they studied about Israel and Judaism and did volunteer work with the elderly or children. This was a meaningful approach that reflected both maturation and a dedication to the State of Israel; I saw these young adults as a new generation of pioneers who will continue to build Israel.

We also visited the Arab village of Sachnin in the north of Israel. The village is home to 27,000 Muslim and Christian Arabs who are among the most vulnerable citizens of Israel. Each division in JDC has established programs in Sachnin that address the needs of this population. We have separate programs for the elderly, the disabled, children at risk, the unemployed, etc. Until a few years ago, each program operated independently. JDC-Israel has now implemented a more holistic model by appointing a senior staffer to coordinate our efforts. Evaluations by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute show that this change has had a meaningful impact both on JDC and on the local municipalities. While I was there, I met the mayor, who was deeply grateful for all our work.

I always talk about how important it is to see our programs first-hand, but I must admit that it is also very rewarding to hear from our partners that what JDC is doing most certainly makes a difference. Irv and I are very grateful to the Israeli government for its partnership and support; and we are grateful both to the JDC professionals and to the volunteers who make it all happen.

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