Monday, August 1, 2011

More Amazing Israelis who are Helping Israel Be and Do Better

In my last blog post, I introduced you to some of the wonderful work being done by individuals in Israel to address problems that are indeed part of the Israeli landscape, though not necessarily what so many (both visitors and residents) generally see when they are in Israel. Nonetheless, remember that this too IS ISRAEL being REAL! This blog post will introduce you to another wonderful effort, this by an urban kibbutz.

I want to introduce you to the work of the members of the Urban Kibbutz of Reishit in the Kiryat Menachem neighborhood of Jerusalem. The phenomenon of urban kibbutzim is a continually growing movement in Israel, a new generation of collectives in body and soul. There are seven such urban kibbutzim in the immediate Jerusalem area alone.

In this case as in others, the members of Reishit are involved in education and social action projects. These particular families came as a group from generations of their families that had lived together, tracing their beginnings all the way to the tent cities or Ma’abarot and separately identified neighborhoods or Shechunot that have been part of the history of Medinat Yisrael since its beginning stages. They are primarily self-identified as religious and practicing Jews. Some years ago, a group of these families moved to one of the poorer neighborhoods in Jerusalem, in this case, Kiryat Menahem, and opened a school, camp and youth center for all members of the community. This larger neighborhood does not have such an identified religious population. The members of Kibbutz Reishit have addressed challenges within their own community as well as the population of the larger host neighborhood in which they live. The school they have started and run has won national attention and is recognized as the Israeli version of a “school of excellence.” We actually saw the summer camp in action and it was organized, kids seemed happy and involved and it looked like what we would think a summer camp in an urban setting might look like. Kids of different heritages were playing together and hanging around in that relaxed summer camp way! It was not lost on us that what looked normal and unremarkable was actually quite amazing and remarkable, for many of the individual stories of the campers who live in the larger neighborhood involved poverty, prejudice, a history of crime and delinquency and many other such challenges. It was also not lost that those taking on the resolving and correcting of these problems are just fellow Israelis who care …. so much!

In this case a major goal of the Chaverim of Kibbutz Reishit is to use the school and camp as well as other programming they provide to integrate the residents of the larger neighborhood, many of whom are Ethiopian and virtually all of whom are poor, into the larger Israeli society. While we saw happy and laughing children there, we were told that there are many stories of pain and sadness that go with those faces.

If you want to know more about this program and the achievement of its goals, go to

In this work, the people who are the teachers and facilitators SEE and validate the children they are working with and their cultures, recognizing their celebrations and customs as well as those of the Israeli/Jewish collective. The members of Kibbutz Reishit are well educated and bring a wealth of skills and resources to this task. The chaver (member of the Kibbutz) with whom we were speaking talked about how their own sense of connectivity to Israel and their own roots have been tested by the chapters of their history and they are hopeful that their children and families will benefit as well by this involvement with others and sharing what they have – that is by giving, it is the hope of the adults that their own children will be enriched and better human beings.

Clearly there are so many lessons for all to learn here. This experience made me feel SO proud of Israelis and what these wonderful members of Kibbutz Reishit are doing for themselves, for their neighbors and others. This is another example of Israel and Israelis at their best, and I am so proud of all involved.

Please note that this is the second of four entries about amazing programs and efforts in Israel that are addressing daily challenges that are also part of ISRAEL. These entries are adapted from portions of lecture material I created for a Graduate Course I teach for Gratz College.

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