UK benefactors descend on TA to mark city's centenary

The mission involved visits to key tourist sites but also showcased impressive TAF-funded projects aimed at under-privileged communities.

TA fund 248.88 (photo credit: Mel Bezalel)
TA fund 248.88
(photo credit: Mel Bezalel)
Fifty donors from the UK branch of the Tel Aviv Foundation have been touring Israel's cultural capital this week, to celebrate the city's centenary. The 100-hour mission that ends on Thursday has involved visits to key tourist sites such as the Palmah Museum and Jaffa market, but also showcased impressive TAF-funded projects aimed at under-privileged communities that span the foundation's 31-year history. To date, it has raised $300 million globally. A partner with the Tel Aviv Municipality, which match-funds every UK donation, the mission took participants to a select few of the foundation's 400 projects, including the Gan Ha'apala park, the Arab-Jewish Community Center, the Sherman Family Health Center, the Hemda Center for Science Education and Beit Venezuela, an educational, therapeutic and rehabilitation center for pupils with developmental disabilities. Gan Ha'apala, donated by Sir Ronald Cohen, memorializes Aliya Bet, the illegal immigration of Jews to Israel between 1934-1944, and holds special significance for the group. The director-general of TAF, Abraham Ben-Shoshan, and the director of TAF in Europe, UK and Canada, Rachel Manelson, were both personally affected by Aliya Bet. Ben-Shoshan told the group how he and his mother set sail to Israel separately from his father and sister. The other ship sank, and six-year-old Ben-Shoshan never saw his father or sister again. A postcard sent by his sister is on display at the park, alongside other letters and photographs that chronicle this turbulent chapter of history. Manelson's parents met on one of the ships, her father hailing from Czechoslovakia and her mother from Poland. The memorial, fashioned in the shape of a ship, records the journeys of the 120,000 Jews comprising Aliya Bet. Another project highlight was the Arab-Jewish Community Center located in Jaffa and run by Ibrahim Abu Shindi. Abu Shindi identifies himself as an Israeli-Arab, a product of the Israeli education system, and his family's presence in Jaffa dates to the 17th century. The center, one of two in the country (the other is Haifa's Beit Hagefen), is 15 years old, and was provided as a coexistence hub for Christian, Muslim and Jewish children, as well as local adults. Some 2,500 children have passed through its doors. Schools from all around frequently use it for lessons in music, art, sport and science. There is also a day care center for deprived families, and vocational training for unemployed women. The center hosts Israel's only Arab-Jewish choir, which recently performed for the pope. Abu Shindi told the mission his aim was to dispel prejudice in children from a young age: "When they are four or five, we can change prejudices. People say I'm crazy, but I want to be crazy and accept everyone as human beings. When we bring schools to the center, some of them don't believe in coexistence, but we believe we can convince them." Many of the mission participants have made notable contributions to the city. Harold and Valerie Joels, for example, have been active within TAF for four years and recently funded three projects at the Bialik Rogozin Educational Campus - an early childhood library, a library for the junior high and high school, and the dining room and cafeteria. The school, which borders Jaffa, has 900 pupils, many of whom come from deprived backgrounds. Most are from the former Soviet Union, but others fled Darfur to Israel. The bus journeys between tourist sites and projects were indication alone of the massive financial and social contribution made by TAF over the years - with Ben-Shoshan and Manelson frequently directing eyes out of windows to catch foundation-funded projects - The Benny and Lottie Reich senior citizen center and a soccer school, just to name a few. During the visit, participants were addressed by Mayor Ron Huldai, Deputy Mayor Yael Dayan, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, investigative journalist Ronen Bergman and President Shimon Peres - the latter at a reception hosted by the European Commission on Tuesday night. David Lewis, a participant from London, has a strong attachment to Tel Aviv and has owned an apartment there, with his wife, for 20 years. "We do all kinds of different projects. Everyone wants to do kindergartens because people like beautiful children, but we choose projects that are high up on the wish list. My family and I continue to be involved in TAF because promises turn into reality. Other places in Israel should follow that example in terms of partnership [with the municipality]," Lewis said. Anke Adler-Slottke, chairwoman of TAF UK, said: "We've existed for over 30 years, and this mission is a wonderful way of celebrating the centennial and raising awareness of our projects. The trip offers insight into the achievements and needs of the city that is the commercial capital that appeals to all the senses. We are so lucky to have donors from the UK, but the changing economic climate and the many immigrants being absorbed into the Tel Aviv and Jaffa area mean that there are lots of challenges and one wants to help meet them."