standing pupils’ ceremony at the end of each school year.
Promoting Pluralistic and Values-based Society in Northern Israel
KKL-JNF supports outlying communities all over Israel, and a recent tour reviewed two projects slated for development: the Friendship House in Kiryat Bialik and the pre-military preparation program at Kibbutz Hannaton.
Israel’s northern region is one of the country’s greenest and most beautiful areas. KKL-JNF, with the help of its Friends worldwide, has for many years striven to develop it for the benefit of local residents and visitors alike, to boost it economically and socially and to enhance its tourist appeal. On August 9th KKL-JNF’s Fundraising Division embarked upon a tour of projects on the verge of implementation, each of which touches upon a different aspect of life in the region. Their common denominator is the promotion of a pluralistic, egalitarian and values-based society.
The Friendship House in Kiryat Bialik
In Kiryat Bialik’s Tzur Shalom neighborhood, construction of a new community center that will serve Ethiopian-Israeli residents, the city and its environs as a social hub and venue for cultural activities is almost complete. This shared initiative has been implemented jointly by a number of organizations including KKL-JNF, the United Jewish Israel Appeal in Britain, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Israel Lands Administration and the Kiryat Bialik Municipality.
Working in conjunction with the municipality, KKL-JNF will carry out landscaping and development work around this new community center, whose design is inspired by the traditional Ethiopian tukul. Landscaping will include tree planting, the provision of paths and seating areas and, at local residents’ request, infrastructure for a community garden. This environmental development will enable the city and its community to hold open-air events and extend local residents’ knowledge of Israeli and Ethiopian heritage and culture.
The new structure will provide space for the activities of the nearby absorption services bureau, which was established four years ago and is managed today by Ora Tessema, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia at the age of ten. For her, this is the closing of a circle: “Back then, when we arrived here, no one had immigrated before us, and it was very hard for us linguistically. Today the absorption services bureau is open to the public: people come along every day and receive all the services they need – the ministry of housing, the ministry of absorption, and interpreting services – and the social welfare ministry sends us people, too. We serve as a bridge to all the government institutions, and they turn to us for help on all kinds of subjects.”
Apart from bureaucratic services, the center is also involved in social activities that include classes for adults, a Hebrew ulpan, a theater troupe, a community garden, community gatherings over the Jewish holidays and family events. Kiryat Bialik’s Ethiopian community is growing constantly, and the current communal space is too small to cope with its increasing needs. Today the Ethiopian-Israeli community comprises two thousand people, of whom four hundred are children and half immigrated in recent years. The remainder arrived in Israel during the previous wave of immigration about a decade ago.
“We regard this new structure as providing an opportunity to bring Ethiopians into the local community and enable them to work together with it to create a shared society,” explained Kiryat Bialik Municipality’s head Ezra Hacham. “As it is situated in a public compound that includes a park, sports facilities and a community center, this new building, too, will serve all residents of the neighborhood and the area.”
The Kiryat Bialik Municipality regards the Ethiopian immigrant families’ integration into the community as an important issue, and, apart from the absorption bureau, it provides schools, parks and religious institutions. Integration of families who arrived in the first wave of aliyah is considered by the municipality to be especially successful. One example of this is the high percentage of schoolchildren of Ethiopian origin who regularly figure in the outstanding pupils’ ceremony at the end of each school year.