(photo credit: Courtesy)
While the entire world was busy debating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of the US Congress, and how the US political leadership regards this sharp move, real life continued in Israel.
The Iranian question hovers over us all, but Israeli society is not holding its breath awaiting a decision on this issue. Israel society is building itself, in a passionate outpouring of volunteerism and with the force of philanthropy, in a joint, concerted effort by American Jews and Israelis, in communities that are developing and multiplying across the country.
Every day, thousands of young adults are choosing to devote their lives to improving the well-being of their fellow Israelis, and especially those on the periphery. These young people are electing to change their lives – to take up residence in cities on the country’s social and geographic periphery, forming young, social action communities, in order to strengthen the residents and reduce the socioeconomic gaps in Israel.
Social action communities are being formed in struggling towns and neighborhoods. They work together with local residents to create social change. Members of these communities live in a neighborhood and become part of it. They work alongside residents to create and to demand solutions in education, social services, infrastructure and more.
According to data gathered by our foundation, which supports these communities, there are currently about 200 young social action communities from across the social spectrum: members of the Ethiopian community, religious, secular, Druse, Circassian and others. These communities have about 10,000 members who have initiated and run approximately 750 educational and social projects on behalf of the residents.
Nearly 130,000 children, teens and adults participate in the communities’ various activities each month.
A study conducted by the Shahaf Foundation, in cooperation with the Henrietta Szold Institute, shows that members of the communities have influenced – and continue to influence – the environment in which they live in a significant manner, in the fields of education, welfare, housing, employment, beautification and more. For example, members of the communities help children and youth with their homework; establish sustainability centers where they teach the residents to live in a way that preserves the environment; maintain community gardens; and initiate cultural activities for residents.
In the education field, the study found that over 70 percent of respondents assess the communities’ success in education as being “great” to “very great.” Furthermore, the study showed that the communities have contributed to a decline in the number of those dropping out of the education system, to improving scholastic achievement and to increasing the percentage of those entitled to a matriculation certificate among the neighborhood’s residents.
These communities are not waiting for others to find solutions in the housing sphere; they are effecting the necessary change themselves. Thus, for example, members of communities report a significant change in the atmosphere in the neighborhood, and indeed in the entire town, thanks to the community’s work – a change that is leading to positive migration balances and to turning neighborhoods that were once considered to be less attractive into very desirable places to live.
We are seeing this happening in Beersheba, Haifa, Jerusalem and in many other focal points across the country. In Haifa’s Hadar neighborhood, for example, young communities joined together with neighborhood residents in order to fight local prostitution. Together, they approached the police and the municipality, filed complaints and organized protests against the phenomenon.
In the wake of all this, the police began stepping up enforcement efforts, which led to a significant decrease in illegal activity in the neighborhood.
Ahead of the upcoming elections, the Shahaf Foundation contacted the various political parties with a call to promote the young social action communities phenomenon, by transferring budgets that would assist them in carrying out their work. True, in Israel there are quite a number of organizations, authorities and associations working on behalf of the same objective as the communities.
However, in light of the study’s results, there is no doubt that, compared to them, the method of working through young communities is the most successful solution, and the one possessing the greatest potential for bringing about real social change and reducing the gaps between Israel’s center and its periphery.For further details: contact Jasmin Loy, Shahaf Foundation Media Consultant: (09) 777-6161, (050) 448- 8349.
The writer is CEO of the Shahaf Foundation, which seeks to develop social action communities into a new national phenomenon that will change the face of Israeli society. Shahaf brings together philanthropists and foundations from Israel and abroad who contribute their financial support, and partners with the public sector in Israel (government ministries and local authorities) to support the communities’ activity.