October 23, 2007 / 11 Cheshvan 5768
All across Israel, the Jewish Agency is harnessing the power of idealistic and motivated young adults to bring about positive change in the Negev and the Galilee. Hen Ginat, 26, is one of these young people. Though she was raised in Rishon LeZion, a city near Tel Aviv, she has been living in the North since her last months in the army when she moved to Kibbutz Eshbal to fulfill a mandatory community service requirement. “I got to Eshbal through the army but even after I was discharged I chose to stay there. It’s a very important mission we have to live in this region and contribute to the population,” says Hen.
Eshbal was established 12 years ago by the national youth movement HaNoar HaOved v’HaLomed as an educational kibbutz. It is part of the Jewish Agency’s network of 30 Young Communities where Israel’s next generation of social activists and pioneers have settled with the raison d’etre of strengthening the country’s struggling priority regions from within. Kibbutz Eshbal is home to 60 graduates of HaNoar HaOved v’HaLomed. “We are all people who wanted to continue living according to the values of equality, Zionism and tolerance and we all do educational work in different ways,” says Hen.
As one of its Young Communities, the Jewish Agency has helped to transform Kibbutz Eshbal into a sustainable community that is, in turn, infusing Israel’s entire northern region with new life and spirit. The kibbutz receives financial assistance from the Jewish Agency to support educational programs and reinforce the physical environment. Additionally, the Jewish Agency provided scholarships for 50 members of the kibbutz to attend Beit Berl College, Israel’s largest academic college.
The area surrounding Eshbal is unique in its diversity, and the members of the Kibbutz are committed to working with the Arab, Bedouin, Druze, Christian and Muslim populations that live there. “We would see kids walking on the roads and after approaching them we learned that there was a large Bedouin village just a few minutes from us. We started doing programs with them and that’s how the whole relationship with non-Jews in the area began,” explains Hen.
Today, that relationship has grown to include a special program for Arab and Jewish children in grades 1-6. Each group is led by one Israeli counselor and one Arab counselor. “They celebrate the holidays together, both Jewish and Arab, and do all sorts of activities designed to build the connection and friendship between them,” says Hen. Kibbutz members also established a number of women’s leadership groups. “This is unusual in Arab society, for women to have their own place to go and learn and do things together,” she says.
Other special initiatives include a coexistence center located on the grounds of Eshbal, Hebrew lessons for Arab adults, and work inside Arab and Bedouin schools. Eshbal also has a boarding school for high school teenagers in grades 10-12, many of them Ethiopian youth at-risk who have dropped out of other educational frameworks.
For her part, Hen works as a Trustee and also serves as a Trustee Coordinator for the Jewish Agency’s Youth Futures program in Safed, a city where more than 40% of the population lives on welfare. Hen coordinates access to communal and social services, and serves as mentor and counselor to a small group of fifth graders that includes immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union as well as Arabs. Hen meets with the group a few times each week during school hours and after school in a clubhouse at one of the local elementary schools. “They come to talk, to be with their friends, learn new things, get help with homework and socialize in a positive way,” says Hen.
“Living in the Young Community of Kibbutz Eshbal and my work as a Trustee in the Youth Futures program in Safed are very much connected and complete one another,” says Hen. “We are working to build up the North, to help the youth there and to contribute to society.”
The Jewish Agency supports a diverse range of Young Communities including:
- Student Villages: Students studying at colleges in the Negev and the Galilee are building new communities. At the same time they receive tuition assistance and are involved in important social, cultural and educational activity in coordination with the local councils in the areas in which they are located.
- Youth Movements: A broad range of post-army youth movement activists are creating vibrant Young Communities and volunteering in local community activities as part of their commitment to social change.
- Local Communities: Local young people living in the Negev and the Galilee are establishing Young Communities, creating a cadre of dedicated activists who are committed to strengthening their home communities.
- Shachaf Communities: The Jewish Agency has partnered with the JDC, the Oran Foundation, the Gandyr Foundation, SACTA-Rashi Foundation and the Communities Fund to create the Shachaf Communities Initiatives which serves as a center for coordinating activities for Young Communities throughout the country.