Israel’s English Speaking Residents Association (ESRA) is marking its 40th anniversary on Tuesday by holding an all-day celebration open to the public at Kibbutz Shefayim, which is between Herzliya and Netanya.The theme is “Celebrating 40 years of creating a better tomorrow.” The event begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.Among the highlights are a panel discussion between The Jerusalem Post’s editor Yaakov Katz and writer Melanie Phillips moderated by The Jerusalem Report’s Steve Linde; speeches by Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua and ESRA National Chairman Baruch Tanaman; performances by the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour Band and the Jazz Ensemble; and an arts and crafts fair.ESRA has played a key role in the development of the English-speaking community in Israel, estimated to be some 300,000 of the country’s population of more than 9 million. The organization was founded in 1979 by Merle Guttman, an immigrant from what is now Zimbabwe who serves as its life president and editor of the ESRA Magazine. She recognized the need for providing a forum for English speakers, and soon ESRA branches sprung up in communities across the country.“ESRA is Israel’s largest English-speaking volunteering organization, and its mission is two-fold,” according to its website. “We help each other by providing a rich array of social and cultural activities in English, and we help Israel’s needy by running education and welfare projects that change lives and transform whole communities.”“ESRA’s strength is that it remains primarily volunteer-based,” Guttman says. “We initially provided programs for English speakers, and this led to the desire to assist other newcomers. The first of these were immigrants from the former Soviet Union and then the aliyah from Ethiopia.”In an editorial in the magazine, Guttman recalls how “ESRA diversified and founded the ESRA Immigrant Fund” – originally as welfare aid, and then evolving within a year into creating community projects. Over the years, it has helped to furnish immigrant homes and establish computer centers and second-hand shops in absorption centers – from Ashdod and Ashkelon to Hadera and Herzliya, Karmiel and Kfar Saba, and Ra’anana and Rishon Lezion – hosted retraining courses and helped immigrants find jobs; sponsored computer courses, a chess club and a choir; and organized concerts in homes for Russian musicians and a social club for older immigrants.Today, ESRA has branched out into many other areas, according to its public relations chairwoman Brenda Katten, who made aliyah from England in 1998. Among these are the English Tutoring Project, recognized by the Education Ministry, which enables 300 ESRA volunteers to enter schools and help pupils with their spoken English. ESRA’s Right Track Centers for children at risk offers after-school individual and small-group help with school work. Following their army service, graduates become active in ESRA’s flagship project, “Students build a community,” launched 13 years ago in Netanya. Carefully chosen students are offered rent-free accommodation in areas of deprivation in exchange for mentoring children there three times a week.Another ESRA project, called “Journey to identity,” is an opportunity for youth aged 15-16 from an Ethiopian background to visit Ethiopia and begin to comprehend the challenges their parents and grandparents had to overcome. “The success of this project lies in the six-month obligatory intense course on Zionism and patriotism the youngsters undergo prior to their journey,” says Katten. “They return to Israel with a greater understanding of their heritage as well as strong pride in being Israeli.”ESRA’s “Program of Excellence” at the Ruppin Marine Science Institute helps children with potential and passion from difficult backgrounds to spend time once a week over a period of two years acquiring a love and knowledge of the sea and its creatures. The course also encourages self-awareness and leadership skills.ESRA’s “Skateboard Project” – again for children from difficult backgrounds – enables the youngsters to learn how to “get up when you fall down.” Today there are two groups in Netanya, one in Beersheba and another in Rishon Lezion. Today, Katten says, ESRA and its branches support some 40 philanthropic projects across Israel.A week after Israel celebrated its 71st Independence Day on May 9, how appropriate it is for English speakers (or “Anglos” as they are sometimes called) who have contributed so much to this country in so many areas, to gather together and enjoy a day of fun in the sun. Happy birthday, ESRA – and thanks for all you have done for Israel!