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JDC and JAFI Empower Jews in Israel and Ukraine

The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.
(Maimonides’ 8th level of giving tzedakah)

[by Ben Goldenberg]

While working at the Jewish Community of Louisville for the past year, I have spent most of my time working on marketing for the JCC. In order to, quite literally, broaden my horizons at the organization, the JCL with the help of Rob Auerbach, who donated airline miles to get me overseas, sent me to Israel and Kiev for the 2012 Jewish Federations of North American Marketing Directors Mission Trip.

The official purpose of the trip was to find the stories to bring back to our donors during next year’s Annual Campaign. My purpose for the trip was to truly see where our dollars go and who they impact. The answer, I found, was quite simple. We are in the business of empowering Jews around the world to make their own lives better while connecting all of us to our shared homeland.

Along the way, I was introduced to many people and programs that help accomplish that mission. One of the most inspiring people we met was Osnat Moshe, an immigrant to Israel who made aliyah without any real job skills. Through the work of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Ethnic Cooks Program, she turned her cooking ability into a regionally recognized catering business. She and her family now open up their home to groups like ours to feed them ethnic food from Eastern Europe. Trust me when I say the food is well worth it.

Rachely Kassu is an Ethiopian immigrant now serving in the Army. She helped us tour the Shoshana Ethiopian Absorption Center, where they do more than just teach new immigrants Hebrew; they bring people into the modern era.

In order to get to Israel, these people have walked for three to four weeks from Ethiopia into Sudan before boarding “a giant tube” and landing in a country with a foreign language, electrical appliances and an entirely different system of currency.

Once in Israel, they also receive job training so they can support themselves when they leave the Absorption Center.

In addition, we spoke with people who run a social action café, bringing upscale dining to an economically depressed area. They only employ at-risk youths who are struggling to find work.

In addition, we were introduced to an elderly couple who were empowered to live in their own apartment with the help of a Jewish Agency “Community Father.” The Community Father was employed by the Jewish Agency to check on the couple and others who live around him and do simple tasks to help them around the house.

Where everything in Israel is modern, Kiev is not. Even 20 years removed from Soviet rule, Ukraine is still struggling to come into the modern era. The ORT schools in Israel have the newest smartboard technology; in Kiev, they were using traditional blackboards. But secular and educational standards are the same in both places.

While American and Israeli Jews have similar perspectives, Ukrainian Jews have a very different one, starting with the center of Jewish life. In America, most Jews are raised Jewish. They go to synagogue with their families and religious school on Sundays. When it is time to start preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah, children attend the Hebrew school through their synagogues or temples.

In Kiev, three synagogues serve an estimated 200,000 Jews – a huge difference compared to even Louisville, with five synagogues for 8,500 Jewish people.

Add to that 30 years of Soviet rule, where almost all religious practice was banned. The Baby Boom generation in Kiev has no relationship with Judaism. Instead, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel must create that relationship, starting with the youngest age groups. The children then take it home to their parents, where the embers of religion can be rekindled.

The other issues facing Kiev Jews are purely economic. Many, especially the elderly and those living outside the city, live on very small government pensions that hardly allow for any food after rent and utilities are paid. The JDC provides food and medications to those in need.

The dollars given to the Jewish Community of Louisville help at home by supporting great programs like the JCC, the Jewish Family and Career Services and the Louisville Jewish Day School. But they also go to empower other Jews around the world to better their own lives.
The Annual Campaign closes soon. Please help us make a difference together throughout the Jewish community around the world. Make your pledge today by calling 459-0660, or pledge online.

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