Community building with Nefesh B'Nefesh

The IZI grants for 2019 were focused on projects that were dedicated to creating and facilitating community, by and for olim.

Paricipants in Thrivacious Spa Day  (photo credit: REBECCA SIGALA)
Paricipants in Thrivacious Spa Day
(photo credit: REBECCA SIGALA)
The message of Purim – that as the Jews of ancient Persia united to vanquish their ene-mies, so too Jewish unity and perseverance can overcome all obsta-cles – is evident in one of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s latest programs, the Initiative for Zionist Innovation (IZI). The grant program, funded by Marty and Pearl Herskovitz of Rehovot, provides finan-cial assistance to individuals and organi-zations who strive to improve and enhance their communities and neigh-borhoods.
Through mentorship, net-working assistance, seed funding and logistical support, the program gives olim (immigrants) an opportunity to help cultivate communities throughout the country and effect change within Israeli society.Marty Herskovitz explains that “part of the problem is that olim come here and don’t always feel at home. We have to develop and create dynamic commu-nities.” Nefesh B’Nefesh has chosen 12 final-ists for its 2019 IZI, together with the Steinmetz Herskovitz Family Fund.
The IZI grants for 2019 were focused on projects that were dedicated to creating and facilitating community, connectedness, and/or communication, by and for olim. Finalists for the IZI grants this year included among others, a tech hackathon for olim, an art therapy stu-dio in Haifa, and a community baseball program in Misgav, in northern Israel.Following are brief descriptions of some of the grant recipients, who embody the spirit of community devel-opment and assistance:KATHY POODIACK, a resident of Shiloh, was raised in Binghamton, NY, and lived in Atlanta, GA with her family, before making aliyah on the very first Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in 2002.
Poodiack, who, in the United States had been a physician’s assistant (PA) specializing in oncology, eventually trained as a medical massage therapist for cancer patients.Today, she serves as Israel Director of Thrivacious, a community of English-speaking women in Israel who have been touched by cancer (“Thrivers”), who inspire each other to heal and achieve their dreams. The organization, founded in 2007, provides support, workshops, and assistance for women survivors and their families. Poodiack who serves the organization on a volun-teer basis, says, “Any funding that we get is immensely appreciated, and every shekel that we have means a chance to reach out to one more person.
”Thrivacious, says Poodiack, has 140 members, and is growing. “Our goal is to reach every English-speaking woman in Israel touched by cancer,” she adds, “We want to help them not only survive but to truly thrive and reach their full potential and fulfill their dreams.”The organization’s Peer Connection Program connects women on a one-on-one level, and pairs patients, survivors and caregivers, as well as those with a genetic predisposition to cancer, to other English-speaking women in Israel who have experienced cancer. The IZI grant will allow the organization to broaden the scope of its efforts, ranging from its annual retreat, to the monthly workshops that it conducts, to outreach and marketing efforts that will enable them to reach a wider audience. IN 2015, Sylvie Schapira, a retired psychotherapist, made aliyah with her husband, a retired physician, to Zichron Yaakov, from the tiny village of Twineham, in West Sussex, England. “When I came on aliya, I was in love with Israel,” she says.
“Today, I still am in love with everything about it except for the trash.”Schapira was awarded an IZI grant for “Big Clean,” the all-volunteer group that she created in Zichron Yaakov that picks up trash around the city. Big Clean volunteers hold regular street clean-up events and addresses education in schools through talks and video presen-tations, as well as offering presentations to adult groups. Schapira admits that it’s not easy to change perceptions. “We’re trying to change cultural habits – not just pick up garbage.”Schapira is stubborn. “Once I get hold of something, I don’t let it go. I don’t like to hear people complaining and doing nothing. You just have to go MENUCHA SAITOWITZ, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, moved to Israel in 2011, and as a new immigrant, settled in Jerusalem, where she surrounded herself in an English-speaking environment. When she and her husband, a chemical engineer, moved to Beersheba in 2012, they found few young English-speaking families. Since then, she says, “over the past five years, the amount of young English-speaking families has grown tre-mendously, in large part due to Nefesh B’Nefesh. We’re very happy with the schools, jobs, and friends, and we think Beersheba is the best place for a young family to build their home.”Nevertheless, Saitowitz and her Beersheba friends felt that they were missing a more cohesive community framework.
 “In the United States,” she explains, “the synagogue is the center of the com-munity, where all types of social pro-gramming are arranged for young adults, parents, and children. In Israel, syna-gogues do not act as social networks.”Saitowitz and her neighbors wanted to build an American-style community, with a framework that would conduct different types of activities. Kochav Darom – the “Star of the South” was born. Kochav Darom runs community festivals, holiday parties, events for par-ents, and English-speaking Torah classes for women and men. The organization has been awarded an IZI grant, and it will use the funds to expand their monthly programming efforts for the 1,000-strong Anglo community in Beersheva that came via Nefesh B’Nefesh, and help subsidize programs for the large number of English-speaking olim in Beersheba.
 They hope to host a Shabbaton for the growing, young English-speaking community “to strengthen the community, and to bring other families from across Israel who are looking for a new home community.”MARTY HERSKOVITZ adds, “Aliyah from English-speaking, western countries brings a lot of talented and dynamic people. It should be encouraged. If we provide people the opportunity through Nefesh B’Nefesh, give them seed money and provide logistic support and skills, we can make this country even better on a community level.” The Initiative for Zionist Innovation grants will continue to bring out the talents and abilities of these new citizens of Israel, to help strengthen their com-munities, and ensure that Israel remains an attractive option for Jews everywhere.
 This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.Nefesh