MJB’s first-ever Israel Mission in June featured 4 themes representative of our work in Israel: Aging and Holocaust survivors, Ethiopian immigrants, Arab-Israelis, and health care disparities and quality. Based in Jerusalem, the Mission participants travelled to sites in Modi’in, Bet Shemesh, and the Bedouin city of Houra in the Negev.
First-hand experience is the best teacher. From June 9 through June 12, I had the privilege of being a participant on the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute’s inaugural Israel Mission. Along with seventeen other travelers from the United States, the UK, and Israel, we saw facts and figures from our handbooks transformed into magnificent programs in the schools, community centers and clinics across Israel. We became students in the most persuasive of classrooms, listening to presentations by MJB researchers at breakfast meetings and witnessing the effect of the Institute’s applied social research in the field during the afternoons.
The mission was unique in its design, which added to the brilliance of the experience. Before we even left our homes, a detailed booklet arrived, providing reference material for each site visit and our itinerary. With great clarity, our travels illuminated the MJB link between governmental policy and JDC program implementation as we witnessed the on-going partnership between the government of Israel, JDC, and the Institute.
Digging deep to uncover best practices, MJB’s work focuses on Israel’s most vulnerable populations, searching for ways to bolster the country’s social infrastructure. The Institute’s conclusions are stated in a proactive way, changing weakness into strength—allowing improvement to take place in a timely fashion.
As a member of the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Committee for two years, a Federation donor for over thirty years, and a participant on many missions, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this mission was unique. Due to the extraordinary attention paid to detail by the Institute’s staff, I felt “bathed” in the brilliance of a culture that continually strives for excellence.
On the first day devoted to Holocaust survivors, we learned of the Institute's role as the major resource for efforts to address the pressing needs of Holocaust survivors. From the moment that we arrived in Modi’in to meet the participants of JDC-ESHEL’s “Witness Theater,” we became aware of the intimate relationships that had been built between the participating Holocaust survivors and high school students. In a year-long program aimed to reveal their stories, the elderly, previously reluctant to disclose the painful stories of their past, transformed their personal histories into dramatizations performed by their younger partners. One of the most poignant comments during our site visit came from a father who apologetically arrived early to pick up his son. Asked spontaneously, “Why did you want your child to participate in this exercise?” he answered, “My parents are Holocaust survivors, and they refuse to speak about their past. I need my son to know his heritage. ”The program provided this man with “hope”—the chance to break the intergenerational subliminal pain passed on from Holocaust victim to a second generation, then a third and even a fourth.
In Beit Shemesh on Monday, we watched an Ethiopian woman, dressed in traditional clothing, ceremonially pour coffee to welcome us into her child's kindergarten classroom. Mainstreaming Ethiopian customs into the Israeli kindergarten curriculum has helped to boost the Ethiopian-Israeli children and acquaint all the children with the Ethiopian heritage and traditions. breakfast, Miriam Cohen-Navot of the Engelberg Center for Research on Children and Youth had prepared us for our day with details about three important programs for the Ethiopian-Israeli community—the early childhood program PACT, the Ethiopian National Plan, and the Eshet Chayil employment program.
MJB’s interdisciplinary research on the Bedouin population became the focus of our attention on Tuesday, when we travelled to a Bedouin village in Hura to meet the women employed in the Bezeq Call Center. The need to respectfully blend the Arab-Israeli community’s norms with the demands of modern Israel became obvious as we listened to the history of the employment center and the joyful appreciation of its recipients and organizers.
On Wednesday, we heard Dr. Bruce Rosen, Director of MJB’s Smokler Center for Health Policy Research, explain how the Israeli government's National National Health Insurance offers its citizens a choice of four HMOs for their healthcare coverage. We visited the Lev Talpiot Clinic that serves a diverse population of Jews and Arabs and learned how the clinic uses data to improve health outcomes and dramatically reduce disparities. Intrigued by the morning’s activities, I found myself that afternoon, asking store owners for their personal opinions about their insurance carriers. As the MJB studies had found, almost all were satisfied with their decisions.
We also enjoyed fabulous meals and adventures arranged to complement our days.On our first night together, we were guests of Art and Annie Sandler at Hila Solomon’s “Spoons” restaurant. We heard former Minister of Social Affairs and current Knesset member Isaac (Bougie) Herzog talk about MJB's long-term role in major reforms of Israel's social services, including his effort to transform assistance to Holocaust survivors. On Monday, we ate a sumptuous lunch at “Osnat’s Home,” a Kurdish home-style restaurant opened by a woman who had emigrated from Kurdistan as a young child in the 1950s.On the patio of the Israel Museum on Tuesday night, we listened to the Museum Director James Snyder and JDC-Israel Director Arnon Mantver over an elegant meal after an intimate tour of the Herod exhibit. And during our last day, we travelled to Tur Sinai Organic Farm to tour the landscape and break for a buffet lunch. Our final dinner at the Darna Moroccan Restaurant was the perfect spot for conversation amongst friends, fabulous food, and grand decor.
Clearly, our minds, bodies, and spirits were nurtured and nourished during our four day visit to Israel hosted by the Institute. At the suggestion of the Mission co-chairs, Martin Paisner and Annie Sandler, Jack Habib and his staff put together the type of experience that only a research institute could offer.
As I leafed through the Mission Booklet on my flight back to the States and even today, several weeks later, I can still hear the voices of the people that we met. The statistics on the pages no longer appear as just numbers.In my mind’s eye, they have become the essential building blocks for an improved civil society that faces the challenges of integrating many different cultural identities. It is in the power of Myers-JDC-Brookdale’s research to strengthen the Israeli nation and help it to overcome these complex social challenges.
Photo: Ofir Ben-Natan