[by Phyllis Shaikun]
Many people have probably heard the acronym JAFI that refers to the Jewish Agency for Israel. The Jewish Agency is supported in its valuable work by the dollars you donate to the Annual Campaign. Donors who attended the $1,000 and over Campaign event at the Standard Country Club on Wednesday, February 24, received an up-close-and-personal lesson about all the agency does and many were in awe of its accomplishments.
Jewish Community of Louisville Board Member and Campaign Leader Susan Rudy introduced the evening’s guest speaker, Danielle Mor, vice president of the Israel Education Fund of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Mor was born in Connecticut and made aliyah to Israel with her family when she was four years old.
“Everything we do,” said Mor, “is made possible by your contributions to the Annual Campaign.” As with most social services agencies, JAFI too has been hard hit by the economy. Begun in 1929 as part of the Balfour Declaration to help build Israel, JAFI continues to carry out its mission to:
Encourage aliyah – the country can only be strong if there are people there;
Stress Jewish Zionist education – encouraged by JAFI leader Natan Shransky; and create partnerships with Israel.
“We are all one people,” Mor continued, “and we need to close the gaps.” Despite the current global economic crisis, JAFI still manages to touch the lives of two million people around the world each year. The devaluation of the currency and inflation do impact their work however. With a $340 million annual budget (much less than they have had previously), they lack the ability to supply the same services they were once able to provide.
Funding cuts have impacted aliyah and other programs as well. Although 3,000 Ethiopians are expected to arrive in Israel by June, six absorption centers have closed and funding have been cut from assimilation projects. Summer camps in the Former Soviet Union are now serving just 5,000 youth instead of the 13,000 they had helped in the past. Mor fears that with a $3.3 million budget cut for Judaic educators globally, the Jewish community will lose an entire generation of educated children.
There are many thousands of Jews around the world living in places where their future in a Jewish community is at risk. We must be prepared, Mor continued, to care for them in Yemen, Morocco, Venezuela, Turkey, Tunisia, Iran and other areas where the situation is exceptionally bleak. Care comes in many ways. Mor told stories about the 1,200 Ethiopian children who are educated from preschool to grade 12 through JAFI’s Yesodot program, and about the families that receive social and scholastic training during their time in absorption centers.
The fact is that more than 400,000 children in Israel, approximately 1 out of 3, live at or below the poverty level. JAFI’s “Youth Futures” initiative operates in some 50 localities in Jerusalem, the Negev and Galilee and gives 6,500 youth at-risk the chance to realize their potential. JAFI also runs four youth villages in Israel for children whose parents are unemployed and unable to care for them. They help break the cycle of poverty.
Through JAFI’s MASA Martial Arts program, participants from around the world come to Israel for a semester to follow an educational curriculum highlighting the connection between Jewish History, Zionism, self-defense and the survival of the Jewish people. JAFI invested $20 million in establishing MASA programs in 2009. The organization also funds Net@, a program that helps more than 3,200 disadvantaged Israeli youth get on the path to success by helping them earn international computer certifications. Participants also give back to the community during their training through performing volunteer work.
One of JAFI’s most important missions is caring for the last generation of Holocaust survivors. More than 200,000 live in Israel – 60,000 live below the poverty line. They have no pensions and live solely on state funds. There is no continuity of services, so the government asked JAFI to create a call center to be run by volunteers who can help survivors fill out witness papers.
Mor’s parting words to the audience: “Continue to educate everyone you know about JAFI’s work; come visit Israel and bring your friends and family with you; and remember what you can do to help others.”
Cantor David Lipp expanded upon Mor’s plea by sharing several ways for Louisvillians to assist Israeli communities through participation in Artist in Residence programs, by encouraging teens to take part in the Partnership with Israel’s 2nd Western Galilee Bicycle Marathon; by interesting 19-26-year-olds in the Kefiada volunteer program; and by promoting the Partnership with Israel Tri-Teen program for 15-18 year olds.
JAFI’s work is critical to the future wellbeing of Jews in Israel and in many other countries where the agency works to improve the lives of Jews and keep Judaism and hope alive for those far removed from the culture and its people.
For more information about Partnership with Israel opportunities, contact JCL Executive Director of Philanthropy Alan Engel, 451-8840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.