MAKOM and JNF find creative ways to help communities fight COVID

“There has been great cooperation... It connects us to our roots. The older members of the community are the roots, we are just the branches, but they are the roots.”

 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In these days of the novel coronavirus pandemic when so many find themselves in urgent need of basic services, a joint initiative of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the US and MAKOM, a network of 250 Israeli communities focused on empowering and revitalizing their towns and villages in the Negev and Galilee, is working to help these regions cope with the crisis.
In the process, MAKOM communities are creating a model of community-based support and services that the rest of the country can emulate, not only to help people survive the coronavirus disease, but to enable them to thrive once it is over.
During the first wave, these community groups helped out with basic needs, such as delivering food and medicine to the elderly. But they soon realized that much more was needed.
They also understood that they were in a unique position: Given their deep ties to the communities they serve, they could help them weather the crisis in all kinds of ways.
“We understood early on we couldn’t stand idly on the side while this crisis unfolded, so we pivoted and shifted in other areas that are impacted by coronavirus,” said Eric Michaelson, JNF-USA chief Israel officer. “JNF was there way before COVID, creating a demographic revolution and bringing one million people to Israel’s frontiers, making sure they have viable, strong communities.
We were able to take the platform and utilize those tools... to apply them to everything related to COVID.”
The JNF-MAKOM initiative was not trying to replace or do the job of the government, he said. Rather, it was using its connections to local municipalities and residents to complement government services and fulfill the communities’ needs during the pandemic.
MAKOM chairman Adam Lattarulo said: “In the first wave, we helped with social welfare... but we realized that this isn’t going away anytime soon, and we understood we have to take a more long-term approach.”
They are now using a multifaceted approach to deal with all issues facing their communities during the pandemic, he said. This includes more than 10,000 volunteers who help with contact tracing. The volunteers collaborate with Home Front Command and the coronavirus cabinet to cut down the time it takes to complete the contact-tracing process, which study after study shows is critical to slowing the spread of the virus.
The group sends its representatives to help communities educate people about the virus and foster compliance with government regulations.
Another front is helping children with remote learning and giving them individual tutoring when necessary.
They have also created daycare programs for the children of first responders and medical personnel, often setting them up in hospitals.
“It’s lightened the load on them,” said Mirit Sulema, director of the educators MAKOM community in Acre, who helped set up the program there. “We don’t just babysit the children; we have real activities for them.”
Israel Dahan, director of the Modern Orthodox MAKOM community in Yeruham, said the urgent needs that arose during the pandemic and lockdowns have strengthened connections in the community.
“There has been great cooperation between religious and secular people, young and old, students and the rest of the community during the crisis... It’s one of the good things to come out of this,” he said. “It connects us to our roots. The older members of the community are the roots. We are just the branches, but they are the roots.”
During the first lockdown, the group distributed in a single day 1,000 meals that were meant to last for several days, Dahan said. But that was just part of their role.
Acknowledging that many people have been reluctant to obey the government’s restrictions, such as social distancing and wearing masks, he said MAKOM community workers explain the rules in ways that local residents understand.
“We’re part of the community,” he said. “We’re not coming in and saying, ‘We’re here to save you.’ We approach people with modesty.”
Dahan told the story of an elderly man, a lifelong Yeruham resident who was cynical about MAKOM’s mission.
“This guy was a little ‘anti,’” he said. The man accused MAKOM members of just taking care of their own. “He didn’t like the idea of outsiders coming and telling him what to do.”
After he watched MAKOM’s workers for a couple of months, “He came back to us and said, ‘I’m so sorry I talked to you like that. I see you working day and night so that people can have food and get their needs met. I’m so sorry,’” Dahan said.
Michaelson emphasized that while the MAKOM communities were helping people get through the crisis, “We are prepared for the day after COVID.”
To that end, he said, they are working on “amplifying job placement, trying to promote gainful employment on Israel’s frontiers” and creating a small-business association that will give business owners the support to get back on their feet after the crisis is over.
“We’re empowering these communities,” Michaelson said.
For more information about MAKOM, visit their Facebook page at