I fell in love with Afula-Gilboa

I'm back in Connecticut, sitting at my desk, trying to absorb the adventure of the past two weeks. I return enriched, energized and filled with a new-found love for this beautiful region in Israel and the inspirational people I met who are making an impact on the lives of so many. Before my trip, I would refer to Afula as a "resource-scarce" area. Now I know I was doing this region a terrible disservice. Yes, there is need in Afula, and yes, there are plenty of organizations that rely on the support of donors like ourselves to provide life-saving resources. But that just scratches the surface. Afula-Gilboa is filled with so much beauty - from the expansive views from Gilboa Mountain and Mt.

Creating a home in the valley

This morning, it all came together when we met with Shani Cabra Gerbak, the volunteer director of Makom B’Emek (Home in the Valley), which promotes LGBTQ awareness. And, the icing on the cake, Shani was the very first Israeli Young Emissary who served in the WWWN community in 1999. For Shani, her work with Home in the Valley is a natural outgrowth of the the skills she developed during her shlichut - her emissary year. ”My shlichut made me understand all the abilities I have,“ Shani explained. “It made me believe in myself.” This feeling of empowerment was so strong that even though Afula was not a “gay-friendly” city, she returned home after her shlichut with a strong desire to give back to

Music and love to heal

Each story we heard at Emunah Sarah Herzog Children’s Center was more heartbreaking than the one before.... A family of seven children from Ukraine, whose father forced them to sleep in a dilapidated minivan; siblings beaten regularly by a father while the mother turned a blind eye; a young child whose father refused to acknowledge his existence, even after the death of the mother. Yet, for each terrible tale was a heartening coda - because the staff at this residential center for at-risk children work around the clock to make each child feel that they are valued. In fact, Director Yair Daniel happily volunteers to have his hair cut by a young resident studying to be a barber, to help him de

Making connections through music

We made a quick stop to the local community center in Afula, where Daniel, a leader in the Bnei HaMoshavim Youth Movement, took us on a tour of the music studio in the basement. In Israel, youth movements play a large role in Israeli society, and the kids gather together by age groups, led by older teens, to plan activities that include leadership training, community service, hiking and just having some fun. At this particular community center, however, something a bit different is happening. Daniel leads a group of teenagers who are focused on creating music. They meet after school and on weekends to do everything from building stages and learning the sound system to composing and recording

We are all just girls....

“We are all just girls.” These words repeated in my head over and over when I left the Israeli Arab village of Mukeble, where, from a short distance, you can see the town of Jenin, which lies just over the Green Line. I was there to meet with a group of 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade girls who are pioneers building the first Arab girls basketball team in their village. ”These are Halutzik girls,” said Sivan, who works for the municipality of Afula, where basketball is a hugely popular sport in the Jewish community. “When we looked at the goals for the Gilboa basketball league and said, 'who doesn’t take part,' we realized that in all the Arab villages, only one kid plays, so that means that 40 per

Building trust through animal therapy

At Beit Singer, a hamster, a rabbit or even a chinchilla can make a world of difference for a child suffering from abuse. Here at this residential facility for children ages 8-18 who are unable to live with their families, the goal is to create a warm home in the heart of the valley where children are able to thrive amongst the supporting care of this incredible team. Almost 80 percent of the children living at Beit Singer have suffered from abuse, so the emphasis on animal therapy has been a key to their therapeutic success. Beit Singer manages an on-site zoo of sorts, and the children have the responsibility to take care of the animals, feeding them and cleaning their cages. For some child

A Very Special Connection...

The warm embrace we have felt from day one continued with our arrival at the Beit Alfa Absorption Center, which was marked with the Buna Coffee Ceremony, the traditional way Ethiopians welcome guests to their home. Back in Ethiopian Jewish villages, where there are no televisions or radios for entertainment, Buna plays a special role, encouraging villagers to gather and share gossip and news of the day. As we sipped our hot coffee, Yasharog, an Ethiopian Jew, shared the harrowing tale of her family’s journey from their small village in Ethiopia to the Beit Alfa Absorption Center in Afula. She was eleven years old in 1985 when her family left their village, traveling by foot at night through

The “Me Too” Movement Resonates in Israel

It was another inspirational morning, with a visit to the Afula branch of the Haifa Rape Crisis Center. After a Tu B’shevat snack of dates and nuts, we got down to business. From their small meetinghouse in Afula, our friends Shani and Sarai, along with their Year Course Volunteer Sara, shared how the organization works to support survivors of sexual violence. Together with their nine professionals and cadre of volunteers, they provide so many services, from operating a 24-hour hotline and running support groups to assisting survivors as they navigate the system, often accompanying them to meetings with the police, the courts and legal authorities. According to Shani, the Center’s Directo

A Kibbutz Tu B’Shevat

After decades of purchasing JNF Tree Certificates, I finally had the chance to truly celebrate the holiday with my own hands. Sharon and I planted a tree on the kibbutz, as part of a kibbutz tradition. Each Tu B’Shevat, the kibbutz families gather to plant trees and celebrate the holiday together, with crafts for the kids who were more than thrilled to dig in the mud and get their hands dirty. We painted a sign for our “American Tree” so next time you visit Kibbutz Yizre'el, look for our tree, that represents the strength of the Partnership between our community and Afula-Gilboa. May this partnership, along with our tree, grow deep roots that will sustain our connection for many years to com

Turning Darkness to Light

‘We put light in the darkness so the darkness goes away.” When I heard our friends from Tarbut in Afula utter that line, it all clicked. Tarbut, another organization our Federation supports, is an innovative social enterprise aimed at renewing arts and culture, particularly in resource-scarce areas. It’s an arts collective of sorts, a kind of arts “kibbutz” whose members opt to live communally and bring their talents to the communities where they settle. This network of culture activists, artists and educators lead programs ranging from theatre and dance to painting, drawing and more, in order to inspire local children and adults to express themselves through the arts and open their ho

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