Saturday, July 14, 2007

Projects our Seattle Jewish Federation is Supporting

The past few days, I have gotten to see some of the projects that the Seattle Jewish federation together with the Federations of Tucson and Phoenix are supporting in Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon, Israel though our TIPS Partnership. Some of these projects are just in the planning stages, but I was impressed by the discussions. (If you want to skip the projects, at the end of this blog are a few pictures and notes on a fun town activity.)

On Sunday night, July 8th, I went to a pool party organized by a group of Hof Ashkelon university students for the youth of the 19 regional moshavim and kibbutzim. It was a pleasant occasion because it marked one of the first time that high school youth from so many different, spread out places in the region (from just north of the Gaza strip almost to Ashdod) were together at a social gathering.

One goal of our TIPS partnership is to empower youth, so we have set up several projects that youth will be very involved in.

On the 10th I saw two moshavim where garden/outdoor renovations may take place. First I saw one possible garden renovation project at Moshav Beit Shikma which is a bit east of Ashkelon. About 88 member families are still involved with agriculture, and about 50 "new" families have built homes to there for the rural environment but commute to local cities to work.

The garden site is next to where the youth will have their own "caravan" club. The caravan (small trailer) should arrive in several weeks. The youth in this settlement will then have a place of their own to gather and will develop the yard surrounding it to enjoy and for picnicing.

The youth director for Hof Ashkelon took me to Moshav Heletz later in the day, a moshav a bit north of Sderot but (so far) not a target for qassam rockets from Gaza. There we met with their youth director (Tikva) and 4 of the youth. Two of the boys had just returned from a ten day leadership seminar. Another had been a youth leader in the moshav for 2 years already. The guys did an amazing job of brainstorming, and came up with a great idea which they named "Park Noar" (Youth Park). At this moshav, the youth do not have a room of their own. This plan would give them an outdoor area with cement or stone benches surrounded by a "fence" of shrubs. Since this is a fairly dry area with no rain for at least 7 months a year, such a meeting place is very doable.

It was very good to see how they came together. In both instances, the participants started out somewhat skeptical, but after working together, became positive, and especially the youth at Heletz with the encouragement of Tikva really were good to watch. Both moshavim do not have as many facilities for youth that most in the area have, and if their projects come to fruition, it would be very good for both of them.

We are also supporting the refurbishing of a place for the youth in the region to have their own gathering place so that they can feel more a part of the region and not just their own widely separated moshavim and kibbutzin. I saw the future site of the region youth club in a bomb shelter at the Hof Ashkelon office matrix. The handyman hopes to have the basic remodeling done in the next 3 weeks. Then the youth can start to add their personal touches, painting murals inside and out, etc.

Wednesday I sat in on two meetings in Kiryat Malachi. The town hired a new youth director two onths ago, and he really has vision. We are supporting a new concept called ART CITY which hopes to brings arts on both a macro and micro level to the youth in town. I went to a meeting of the staff in town dealing with the Arts and also to a meeting of the different advisors of the youth groups in town: Scouts, B;nai Akiva, etc. Since Shai, the KM Youth Director, came to town 2 months ago, he has created this umbrella group for youth group leaders, and it is a very positive move. They will meet in August for 2 days to set plans for the coming year. Since plans are often decided on a month-by-month basis here, both planning a year in advance and coordinating between the groups is a new step. THe new youth director is very impressive. He really has vision and quite a professional way of approaching tasks.

On Wednesday, July 11, from 5 to 7 in front of the Matnas (the town cultural center) , a young woman doing her National Service here together with support of the Youth Council organized a Meshumashuk, a flea market with fun booths for the town youth to do many crafts and games for just a shekel (24 US cents).
Used clothing and newly donated toys, baby shoes, and gadgets were sold for one to 3 shekels each. Kids also played games (and got small prizes at almost all of them), jumped on inflatable toys, made crafts, etc. with youth from the Youth Council and other groups as coordinators.
At the above table, children through coins at the candy on the table above. If the coin landed on the table, they got a piece of candy. (If it didn't they got another piece as a consolation prize, so it was a win-win situation!)
Dan, a 2006 high school graduate who also was a counselor in Seattle the summer of 2005, staffed one of the booths and got a good workout. Howard enjoyed talking to him for a bit. He is completing a special preparatory year called Mechina to help him reach a higher level in the army and has done quite well. He's a special guy (as are most of the youth we have met here) and we wish him the best.
Hundreds of people were present, and it was a great activity for the town. Over 9,000 shekels (more than $2000 US) were raised to help an organziation that helps peoplein town.

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