By Dr. Haia Jamshy
The social gaps and inequality in Israel are among the highest in the world. One of the reasons for this is the neglect of towns and cities in the country’s periphery compared with those in the center, and Israeli young adults’ preference for settling in and around Tel Aviv. Most of the neighborhoods in the periphery remain with an older or weaker population, which is unable to push the neighborhood forward and to demand a satisfactory level of services.
On the other hand, young adults in Israeli society are searching for a track to fulfillment that will enable them, as in previous generations, to make a change and to improve Israeli society. Out of this desire, thousands of young, ideologically motivated young adults have already chosen to move precisely to towns and cities in the periphery, and to establish young mission-driven (MD) communities in them. These young adults combine community life and a communal lifestyle with social action in cooperation with, and on behalf of, the residents in the underprivileged neighborhoods in which they settle. The communities work in a range of spheres in which gaps exist, such as education, culture, employment, housing, the environment and more.
Established in 2010, the Shahaf Foundation comprises about 20 member foundations and private donors. It has set out to turn the young MD communities into a nation-wide social movement that will lead to reducing the social gaps between Israel’s geo-social periphery and its center, and to increased equality in the country. The Foundation supports existing communities and assists in the establishment of new ones, providing close support and training for the communities’ members and enlisting additional partners to become involved.
According to figures from Shahaf, the Foundation’s vision is becoming a reality: Currently, there are more than 220 young MD communities from across the social spectrum – members of the Ethiopian community, religious, secular, Druze, Arabs, Jews from the Caucasus and more. These communities have more than 11,000 members who have initiated about 860 educational and social projects on behalf of residents. About 140,000 children, teens and adults participate monthly in the communities’ various programs. The communities operate in towns and cities across Israel, including Jerusalem, Beersheba, Kiryat Shmona, Haifa, Rishon Letzion, Sderot, Ashkelon, Akko, Netanya and others.
So what can young adults do? It starts with a call to the municipal hotline and asking for a repair to a broken sidewalk or to remove the trash. It continues with running the local community center or opening a social business, and more. Today, members of MD communities are leading social projects on the national level, such as dispelling the loneliness experienced by elderly people and social aid in times of emergency.
One example of such a community network is Hineni, whose members include talented and successful young Ethiopian Jewish adults who have set themselves the goal of strengthening and empowering the Ethiopian community, through its inclusion in Israeli society. Among other things, the members of this community initiated a project called Shorashim, within the context of which adult members of the Ethiopian community engage in working agricultural land and in raising vegetables and herbs using traditional methods. The program provides them with a social activity framework, light physical activity in the outdoors, and an opportunity to engage in positive and meaningful work. An additional initiative that Hineni members began is Ve’Higadeta (“And you shall tell your child”), a program that connects young and old from the community to learn about Ethiopian Jewish heritage and the story of Ethiopian immigration to Israel.
What does the future hold? The State of Israel is beginning to realize that the young MD community phenomenon is, in fact, today’s embodiment of Zionism. These communities hold the key to the social change that is so needed in Israel, and therefore they are deserving of investment. Until the government decides to do this, we at the Shahaf Foundation will continue to work on behalf of establishing new communities and supporting existing ones, for the benefit of the residents of the country’s disadvantaged periphery.
Dr. Haia Jamshy is the CEO of The Shahaf Foundation.