Wednesday, March 28th, 2012...11:16 am

From Experience to Action: Why we are raising money to fund the future

Ofek students in Kiryat Malachi

By Danielle Pomeraniec

We sat in a room with 20 Ethiopian teenagers. All, at one time, had been failing school. Each one had their own background and unique challenges.

They also had a story of hope.

They told us how, recently, they were given an opportunity. That one extra lesson. The one extra teacher. The one extra guidance counselor.

And now these same teenagers were excelling at the highest levels.

This is the Ofek L’bagrut program.

Ofek is an after-school program across Israel that provides immigrant teenagers with tutoring for their matriculation exams. We visited an Ofek program in Kiryat Malachi that specifically serviced Ethiopian-Israeli students.

We observed tutoring sessions and sat down with students who told us how Ofek helped them. It was inspiring to hear how teenagers, whose parents were not educated in Israel and many of who do not speak Hebrew fluently, consistently improved their exam scores once they entered Ofek. These scores are very important as they affect students’ abilities to qualify for higher education opportunities as well as their placement in the army.

In November 2011, I went with a group of young professionals seeking to get a deeper glimpse into Israel through the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

JDC’s role in Israel is to provide social services to vulnerable communities so that they can participate in and contribute to Israeli society. During our time in Israel, we visited various programs ran by, in part or entirely, by JDC.

Among those programs we visited were a job bank servicing the Haredi community (ultra-Orthodox), a once isolated community, so that they can contribute to the Israeli economy; an early childhood education and development center servicing Arab-Israelis; a groundbreaking elementary education program focused specifically on nutrition; a community garden which serves as a social outlet to the senior immigrant women who tend to it; and an organization that provides refugees and asylum seekers with humanitarian and psychosocial services.

All of the programs were powerful. We were particularly struck by Ofek.

What really moved me were the similarities between what many Jewish families went through not too long ago (including my own) and what Ethiopian immigrants in Israel are going through today.

Seeking a land where they can practice Judaism freely and openly, Ethiopians face daily challenges in seamlessly integrating into Israeli society. The teenagers who receive assistance from Ofek are the future of Israel. Without Ofek, these Ethiopian-Israelis will continue to stay on the fringes of society – straining resources.

By assisting Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers in studying for their matriculation exams, Ofek is empowering teenagers to obtain scholastic achievement, which will open doors for them economically.

On Tuesday, April 3rd, we will be hosting an open bar event at Pop Pub (41 East 11th Street) to raise funds for Ofek L’Bagrut. Our goal is to raise $25,000.

With a gift of $25,000 we will enable the Ofek program to provide crucial learning support and empowerment to 130 youth from different schools in the city. This assistance will include group activities and accompaniment by a counselor during the last three years of high school.

In addition, Ofek will maintain ongoing contact with participants’ parents and schools to further their progress and ensure their successful graduation.

As a Jew, I feel a responsibility to look after Israel’s future. This is just one small way that I can help.

Please join us next Tuesday at Pop Pub to show support for this great program. Tickets are only $36 for as many drinks as you can handle!

And, even if you can’t make it, donations are always welcome. Tickets can be purchased and donations can be made at http://jdc.org/fundthefuture.

Thank you for your time and support!

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