In Israel’s desert, JNF UK working to restore dignity to underprivileged

The Jerusalem Post learns about special projects for Israel’s poorest populations.

Svetlana Grosha, who oversees the wellbeing of those who work at the "factory." "We have everyone here," she says. (photo credit: GABY MOATTY)
Svetlana Grosha, who oversees the wellbeing of those who work at the "factory." "We have everyone here," she says.
(photo credit: GABY MOATTY)
For Yonatan Galon, former chief executive officer at JNF UK and now director of JNF UK Israel, human dignity is foremost.
“Think about how some factors radiate across a person’s life, or a community,” he said recently during a tour of the South, where JNF UK has heavily invested. “Let us say a family lives in a run-down house. The children are ashamed to invite friends over. The walls are peeling, the plumbing is faulty, they do not want others to know. They begin to resent their parents, think they themselves will not amount to much. It’s a pain.”
What if someone fixes the house?
“It seems like a small thing,” Galon said, but he explained that something like this can change a person’s life.
“We’ve had a handicapped man who couldn’t afford to modify his apartment to fit his wheelchair. For 12 years, he had to drop to the floor, crawl to the toilet, and then crawl back. Imagine what a relief it is for him to not have to do that anymore,” he said.
Tenufa Bakehila is Israel’s largest nonprofit home repair organization. The NGO is run by Gabriel Nachmani, who himself grew up underprivileged, so he said he understands his clientele.
On a recent afternoon, he visited an elderly Kurdish-Israeli woman in her home. She looks after a tiny cat and dog in a small apartment that is cluttered with rubbish and whose walls are caped in mold.
She is afraid to have the organization help her. She asks Nachmani if they will throw out her stuff.
Nachmani explained to her that they will help her clean, repaint and restock her fridge.
He said this is not the first time they have been there, and she is starting to improve with help.
“She threw some things out,” he said.
She has a hoarding disorder, and the organization connected her with someone who can help.
The organization does not only operate in Sderot, but in 16 cities across the country. It helps repair around 5,500 apartments per year, and much of its support comes from JNF UK.
 

Yonatan Galon, former Chief Executive Officer at JNF UK CEO of JNF UK Israel (Mika Gorvitz)Yonatan Galon, former Chief Executive Officer at JNF UK CEO of JNF UK Israel (Mika Gorvitz)
 In Yeroham, Golan points to the town entrance, rebuilt with the help of the charity, which gave NIS 2 million toward the project. The local authority gave NIS 5m.
“It makes a person proud to come back home to a town that cares about such things,” he explained.
Golan said JNF UK sees its role as giving the initial investment in larger projects that would lift up the whole community. Often, other charities or even the city gets in on a project when JNF takes the lead.
There is a center for young children that JNF UK helped establish in 2016. Generally, there are no public daycares for children under the age of three, so parents must find their own solutions.
The center serves young, economically challenged families in which both parents need to go to work. It offers guidance to children on the autism spectrum and provides a nurturing place to children who might otherwise have been removed from their home by welfare services if not for the support.
JNF UK is involved with roughly 30 projects in Yeroham.
“The Factory” is another one, which according to head of welfare services Aharon Hemo offers work to elderly and people with emotional development issues.
“We have Russian speakers, and people who never learned to read or write,” Svetlana Grosha of The Factory said. “We have Indians, Farsi, you name it.”
JNF UK also helps fund the music conservatory.
“We have a conductor from Tel Aviv who comes here to teach despite being able to make more money closer to home,” the head of the local culture center, Yuval Levi, explained. “We have 300 families who send their kids here. That’s saying something. It keeps children off the street.
 
The center serves young, economically challenged families in which both parents need to go to work. It offers guidance to children on the autism spectrum and provides a nurturing place to children who might otherwise have been removed from their home by welfare services if not for the support.
JNF UK is involved with roughly 30 projects in Yeroham.
“The Factory” is another one, which according to head of welfare services Aharon Hemo offers work to elderly and people with emotional development issues.
“We have Russian speakers, and people who never learned to read or write,” Svetlana Grosha of The Factory said. “We have Indians, Farsi, you name it.”
JNF UK also helps fund the music conservatory.
“We have a conductor from Tel Aviv who comes here to teach despite being able to make more money closer to home,” the head of the local culture center, Yuval Levi, explained. “We have 300 families who send their kids here. That’s saying something. It keeps children off the street.
The Music Conservatory in Yeruham (Gaby Moatty)The Music Conservatory in Yeruham (Gaby Moatty)
 
“If a person is angry at his school and feels nobody cares, he will break things and do drugs,” he continued.
The conservatory is an alternative.
Finally, Golan showed off a public playground that JNF UK helped establish in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. Before the playground existed, children were playing under the hot sun with used tires, he said. A roughly NIS 1m. investment gave the kids proper toys and a canopy above their heads for shade.
Since then, JNF UK has invested in 20 such playgrounds in Yeroham.
“It’s one other way to restore dignity to the people,” said Golan.