British Ambassador Matthew Gould declared his commitment to Israel and the principles of Zionism on Thursday, at an evening dedicated to his new pet project: raising awareness and support for Kibbutz Eshbal, a young community in the Lower Galilee dedicated to helping children at risk from all segments of the population.

“I hope that this is not controversial, and if anyone believes that it is then they need to take a good look at their values and ask why they would object to me supporting a project like this,” said Gould, who is the first Jewish ambassador to represent Britain here.

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“One of the wonderful things about Kibbutz Eshbal is that it genuinely wants to help young people regardless of race, religion or background, perfectly in keeping with the vision of the Declaration of Independence of Israel.”

Situated between Karmiel and the Misgav Regional Council, Eshbal was established in 1997 by the Dror Israel movement – graduates of the Hano’ar Ha’oved Vehalomed youth movement – on the principles of equality for all. It tries to address social gaps using formal and informal educational methods.

“I think there is a certain image of Israel overseas, which is inevitable given the conflict and the fact that bad news always sells, but there is a lot of good news here, there is a lot of wonderful stories here,” said Gould, who, together with his wife, Celia, “adopted” the project soon after his arrival here last September.

“Not just Eshbal and not just social projects but all over the country there are hi-tech and scientific developments and many other amazing things. I think it is important people see that side of Israel as well,” he said.

According to kibbutz secretary Tomer Abudi, the 88 kibbutz members aim to address the crisis of values in Israeli society through a wide variety of educational programs including a live-in boarding school on the kibbutz and a high school in Karmiel.

“We want to see equality in Israeli society,” said Abudi, describing how most of the boarding school children are from the Ethiopian immigrant community, which faces deeprooted social problems in Israel caused by the difficult absorption process.

The kibbutz also runs outreach programs for youths in several Arab and Beduin villages in the area and often brings Jews and Arabs together for dialogue.

“We want to unite Israel and help youths with difficulties that no one else wants to help,” he said.

“I took on this project because when we went to visit the kibbutz we were blown away by the young people running it and their determination to take on and look after children who had been abandoned by the system or been given up on,” Gould said about his decision to adopt Kibbutz Eshbal. “I was so impressed by the results they get and genuinely moved by the inclusive Zionist vision, something the founders of Israel would have immediately recognized and applauded.

They help everyone regardless of their background.”

He continued: “I don’t think it’s unheard of for an ambassador to take on such a social project, although I think often ambassadors take on overtly political projects or those with a political angle.

“As far as I am concerned there is nothing political at all about Eshbal, that is one of the joys of this project, it is about a group of young people creating a society for Israel they want to live in,” said Gould, who has also taken on a social project aimed at helping Holocaust survivors.

“There are a million projects in Israel doing amazing things – that is one of the amazing things about Israel that there is so much social entrepreneurialism.

But Celia and I realized that if we wanted to make any difference we needed to focus on a few things,” he said.

One of the aspects that most impressed the ambassador was that in contrast to other charities, where funds are spent on the administrative offices or where there is “a lot of marble and plaques,” at Eshbal “there is nothing to look at, the buildings are not smart and the members make a point of living in the same or similar conditions to the youths they take care of,” he said.

“What strikes you most is the passion that these people have for doing what they are doing,” Gould said. “They found an abandoned kibbutz; people told them they were mad but they set up a boarding school for youths that the rest of the system had abandoned and have managed to turn them into young adults with self-respect and ambition. It is incredible what they are doing we are proud we can support them.”

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