According to statistics provided by the JDC, one in every six of the country's 2 million children and adolescents are at risk of, or already face, abuse or neglect. The challenges they encounter, including physical, educational or emotional neglect, alienation from the educational system and behavioral and emotional problems, threaten their ability to live a secure and productive life.
To help overcome these problems, in 1998, JDC-Israel and the government entered into a partnership to create Ashalim, an organization that seeks to provide relief and opportunity to at-risk children and youth by expanding the range of services and programs, improving available services and supporting field professionals. The organization has built shelters and centers and developed programs not only for at-risk children, but for the entire family, and has restructured and improved upon the whole basket of services provided to at-risk children.
Another "at-risk" population is the elderly. In 2005, there were 682,000 people older than 65, almost 10% of the population, with this figure having increased dramatically from 1988 to 1998 as tens of thousands of elderly Jews from the former Soviet Union made aliya. Additionally, some 100,000 of these immigrants have more severe disabilities and health care needs than other elderly citizens. By the end of 2005, according to the JDC, 16% of the elderly were classified as disabled and 20% were dependent on welfare assistance.
The number of elderly will increase at twice the rate of the general population, highlighting the need for cost-effective programs that provide quality care. Therefore, JDC and the government have developed Eshel, whose goal is to enhance the quality of life for the elderly through social services that address their most pressing needs.
Since its inception, Eshel has built senior citizens' homes, day-care centers and sheltered housing units and assisted in the establishment of local associations for the elderly. It has assisted tens of thousands of the elderly to live out their lives with dignity and pride.
The 1990s also brought an influx of immigrants from Ethiopia, who have more difficultly adapting to life here than their fellow immigrants due to drastic cultural differences, resulting in long-term absorption problems. Many of the 105,000 Ethiopian-Israelis suffer from great financial hardships. In 2005, 55% of Ethiopian-Israeli men did not work. A majority of their children cannot keep up with their peers in school, while the youngest are often not enrolled in preschools, which results in their entering school already behind.
An initiative called Operation Promise, a partnership between the JDC, the Jewish Agency and the Ethiopian National Project, works to provide a safety net for newly arriving immigrants and those already here.
JDC is also working to expand its existing programs for Ethiopian-Israelis by targeting education, employment and social challenges and developing programs that work to ensure successful long-term integration.
Project Shaham is designed to provide support to Ethiopian families experiencing high levels of social distress by employing volunteers, many of them Ethiopian, who serve as a bridge to Israeli culture and society. They explain the school system to bewildered parents and help them navigate the bureaucracy and instill in the Israeli-born children a respect and appreciation for Ethiopian-Jewish traditions.