The vision to rebuild

8 years since the disengagement from Gaza, and the JobKatif organization has been busy finding employment for nearly 2,400 former Gush Katif residents.

Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon of Gush Etzion521  (photo credit: Laura Kelly)
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon of Gush Etzion521
(photo credit: Laura Kelly)
While various reputable sources indicate that Israel is home to around 30,000 amutot, or nonprofit organizations, one would be hard-pressed to find many whose objective includes carrying out its mission as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then completely shutting down its operation.
But one such diamond in the rough is the JobKatif organization, which according to its executive director Judy Lowy was established after the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, with the mission of “rebuilding the lives of the former residents of Gush Katif and northern Samaria by finding them employment.” Once that goal is accomplished, Lowy explains, “our plan is to close our doors, and that’s it.”
Eight years have gone by since that painful chapter in Israel’s history, and according to Lowy, JobKatif has been successful in aiding in the employment of nearly 2,400 former Gush Katif residents, including assisting in the launch of 240 new small businesses throughout the country.
While “this is no doubt a success,” says Lowy, JobKatif is determined to continue to plug away “until the final 600 people who do not yet have steady income” are back on their feet.
In order to achieve this goal, on the Shabbat before Tisha Be’av, JobKatif held a campaign in communities in Israel and around the world, in which nearly 100 synagogues committed themselves to raising awareness and donations for those still in need.
JobKatif utilizes the funds it collects to provide various employment services, including extensive retraining courses, business counseling and assistance with obtaining loans and grants, to enable small business owners to launch new ventures.
According to Lowy, the timing for the recent campaign was appropriate, since not only was the Disengagement carried out just after Tisha Be’av, but the Shabbat before, known as Shabbat Hazon, whose themes focus on reflection and redemption, “also represents the vision of JobKatif, which is to rebuild after destruction.”
Another reason a massive campaign was held at this juncture is because JobKatif appears to be working against time.
In 2010, the government, recognizing the success of the organization, began matching all donations to JobKatif shekel for shekel. In 2011, the government increased its matching commitment to three to one.
However, since the matching window is slated to expire at the end of 2013, Lowy says, the organization is “racing against the clock,” working overtime to secure as much aid as possible both in Israel and abroad before the end of the year.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, the rabbi of Alon Shvut South, in Gush Etzion, founded the organization after visiting the former Gush Katif residents in the hotels where they were temporarily relocated.
He attributes his organization’s impressive track record to “out-of-the-box thinking.”
He says, “Our success stories can be attributed to our ability to find special solutions in order to get this population back on its feet.”
Despite being a longtime rabbi and educator with no experience in the field of job placement, Rimon realized that a creative and effective mechanism was necessary to help secure new jobs for these people – not just for the purpose of income, but as a necessary means of rehabilitation and healing following their traumatic ordeal.
“Rav Rimon came to the hotels simply to help his fellow Jews in need,” says Lowy. “What he saw there was a population which consisted of many farmers, small business owners and educators,” who according to Lowy, “went from 3 percent to 85% unemployment overnight.”
Lowy explains that JobKatif isn’t in the business of providing handouts or as she puts it, in line with the famous saying, “We’re not about handing out fish, but what we do is help by providing the fishing rods – or in other words, our mission is helping people help themselves.”
She elaborates, “It is more than Gush Katif people just saying, ‘I’d like to work’, but it’s them saying, ‘I can’t farm anymore, that’s no longer relevant.’ So that’s where we come in with counseling and retraining in a new profession, in order to help find them jobs.”
Rimon adds: “What some people don’t realize is that, even after all these years, we are hearing about the various hardships those who lived in Gush Katif are still experiencing.”
While preparations were being made for the crucial Shabbat Hazon campaign, Rimon decided not to hop a flight abroad to fund-raise, but rather accepted invitations to serve as a guest speaker at five supportive communities throughout Ra’anana over the course of a weekend.
Lowy says the reason the rabbi stayed local is that despite a perception that Israeli organizations can only successfully raise funds abroad, in 2012 over 60% of donations to JobKatif came from within Israel, while the remaining 40% arrived from communities abroad.
One of Rimon’s Ra’anana’s talks was held at Congregation Shivtei Yisrael, home to 320 families. The synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Daniel Beller, says his community has been involved in supporting JobKatif from the very beginning.
“When the idea for the disengagement took place,” says Beller, “we were confident that the government would do what was necessary to help the people of Gush Katif reestablish themselves. But then when it happened, I sensed there was no realistic plan [in place] and it was rushed through.”
He explains, “When it came to light that not as much was prepared, I had a feeling on a personal level that I didn’t do enough, and that we didn’t do enough to help. With JobKatif, we jumped at the chance to help those who were suffering.”
Beller says that “irrelevant to where one is on the political map, they [Gush Katif residents] left their work and their homes for the sake of Israel, and therefore all of Israel has an obligation towards helping these people,” whom the rabbi describes as being “the salt of the earth.”
Beller also sees the relevance of the recent campaign being held on Shabbat Hazon. “What happened to the Second Temple was a result of fissures in society,” he says. “Maybe we can make a tikun [spiritual repair]by finding a commonality with those whom we don’t necessarily know personality, and realize that irregardless of where you live, our fate and destiny are bound up with one another. While that message is true all year round, it is particularly relevant now [on this Shabbat], and therefore we need to do things to help those in need.”
Baltimore resident and recent retiree Mike Lowenstein took the reins in organizing the JobKatif Shabbat Hazon campaign in his city, serving as the point person for the nine synagogues which committed their involvement.
Lowenstein, who has been a volunteer on behalf of JobKatif for years, says that fell in love with Gush Katif – its people and the community – about a year and a half before the Disengagement. “I was most impressed with their contributions towards the Israeli economy, he says.
Lowenstein has organized several successful concert fund-raisers for JobKatif, and says he hopes the campaign will help “replace baseless hatred with gratuitous love.”
Ma’ayan Yadaiy, who before the disengagement lived in the Gush Katif community of Netzer Hazani with her husband, Eyal, and two children (she now has seven), is grateful for the services provided by JobKatif, which have allowed her family to become financially stable.
Relocating to Avnei Eitan in the Golan, Yadaiy, who was involved in the field of hasbara or advocacy for her community, says that thanks to JobKatif she was able to start her own business, owning and managing guest suites on her property.
She says she enrolled in a JobKatif course in business management, and through their support was able to start anew in a completely different profesprofessional field. “We couldn’t live off the bank loans anymore,” she says.
In addition, Eyal, who provides a specialized service working as an animal hoof trimmer, was able to secure stable work in his field through help from JobKatif.
“They [JobKatif] didn’t give us any presents,” Yadaiy says. “They helped us help ourselves by providing a push – with the know-how and the ability to start again.
Thank God, we’re now making a living.”
For more information on the JobKatif campaign, or to assist those in need, visit