JDC Assesses Role in Meeting Social Service Needs in Israel

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has begun to assess how effectively the organization’s Israel-based programs are meeting the country’s needs.

Aware that social and financial priorities within Israel and in the Diaspora have changed significantly in recent years, the JDC’s Israel Committee convened earlier this month in Israel to review the organization’s programs in the Jewish state.

It was the first time in nearly a decade that the committee’s members met in Israel as a group.

During their visits to JDC-funded organizations that aid vulnerable segments of Israeli society, the delegates took into account the shift in how United Jewish Appeal funds are allocated as well as changes in the delivery of social services in Israel.

Between 55 percent and 70 percent of money raised by UJA campaigns is now being kept at home — a departure from the days when Israeli programs received approximately half of all money raised in the United States.

Part of the reason for that shift, said Richard Spiegel, co-chairman of the JDC Israel Committee, is heightened concern about funding continuity efforts.

But among Diaspora Jews, he added, “There has been a growing sense that Israel’s economy is booming and that the country is more self-sufficient.

“Yet, while things are much better than they used to be, Israel still has many, many social problems to deal with.”

Although the JDC’s goal of helping needy Israelis has not changed over the years, said committee member Barbara Hochberg, “the way we address these problems has changed.”

According to Arnon Mantver, director of JDC’s Israel office, the turning point came in 1991 and 1992 with the large influx of Russian immigrants.

Until the early 1990s, the JDC served as an umbrella group for the non-profit sector in Israel, Mantver said.

In recent years, the government “began to perform many of the functions, particularly in health and education, we once performed.”

The JDC’s current role, said Mantver, “is to help existing agencies become more effective and efficient.”

An example is the Supportive Neighborhood project in Jerusalem, one of 13 programs nationwide that enable elderly men and women to remain in their own homes with community support.

The JDC provided $30,000 in start-up money and much of the expertise needed to run the project.

Supported by the Jerusalem Municipality, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the local neighborhood council, the project provides a 24-hour emergency beeper service, home visits and special activities to dozens of elderly members of the community.

Many are homebound or semi-homebound and would need to move into nursing homes were it not for the service.

“We have been able to come up with six or seven interventions, like the beeper, which help the elderly stay out of institutions,” Mantver said. “By creating a way for people to stay at home, everyone saves money — money that can be invested in the neighborhood.”

The project has been so successful, says Mantver, that Florida elder-care experts are interested in “importing” it.

Although Israel will continue to need overseas allocations for some years to come, Mantver adds, “We believe that the country has reached the point where we can serve as a partner, exporting the social projects we have developed here.

“This is where Israel can be a light unto the nations.”

One area in which JDC plans to take a more active role is the development of Israel-based volunteerism and philanthropy, according to committee co-chairman Gene Ribakoff.

“The field of volunteerism and philanthropy is relatively new to Israel,” says Ribakoff, a Florida-based philanthropist who is active in the United Way.

“There is an emerging number of people in the position to help others, and we see a need for Israelis to help other Israelis,” he adds.

“We’d like to encourage giving through payroll-deducted contributions and other incentives.”

One Israel-based philanthropy project developed by the JDC is already making headway, Ribakoff says.

“There’s the `Computer for Every Child’ program, and it’s helping children with special needs, such as Ethiopian kids, whose families can’t afford to purchase a computer. Our goal is to get 30,000 home computers to 100,000 kids.

“Let’s face it, if a kid doesn’t know how to use a computer by the time he’s 15, he’s educationally disadvantaged.

“No one,” Ribakoff adds, “should be denied a chance to grow.”

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