The Strength of Our Strategy in Israel

On a very rainy third day of our Israel Consultation Trip, the San Francisco delegation traveled from Tel Aviv towards Caesarea. But instead of turning toward the Roman ruins or luxury homes of the town, we made our way under the highway on a small bypass road that led us to a town that seems completely hidden from Israeli society: Jisr az-Zarqa (“The Blue Bridge” in Arabic).

Before moving to the Bay Area nearly a decade ago, I lived in Israel for several years and have visited dozens of times over the course of my life. Yet somehow, I have never heard of Jisr az-Zarqa. Visiting the town was striking. 80% of the town’s 14,000 residents live below the poverty line. 30% of the town is unemployed. Even on a rainy day, the streets of the town are packed with children.

Although the challenges of the town are palpable to any visitor, the enormous potential is unavoidable. Jisr az-Zarqa is the only remaining Arab Israeli fishing village. The beach is pristine, with not one hotel lining its shores. Hollowed out concrete buildings filled with men drinking Turkish coffee are the only signs of life there.

We were there to visit Juha’s Guesthouse, a local hostel and social entrepreneurship initiative which promotes sustainable tourism and the empowerment of local women and youth that the Federation funds. We heard about the ways in which the Guesthouse was bringing more visitors to Jisr az-Zarqa and the ripple effect that was happening. We saw the training the Guesthouse was providing local women in crafts, and we listened to people on the ground who told us about the ways in which aspirations are changing for young people in the town.

On the bus ride back to Tel Aviv later that day, I was filled with pride in our community’s work on the ground in Israel. The investments we make at Juha’s Guesthouse are emblematic of three features that characterize the Federation’s work in Israel:

1. High impact

Everything the Federation funds in Israel has the capacity to make a tremendous impact. We choose communities like Jisr az-Zarqa that have nowhere to go but up. It doesn’t stop there. All of our work is high impact and has the potential to transform Israeli society, whether it is funding Haredi employment and vocational training, attempting to tackle infant mortality rates in unrecognized Bedouin villages, or bringing disparate parts of Israeli society together.

2. We Listen

We didn’t bring a dream to Jisr az-Zarqa – we listened to their dreams and helped make them a reality. Many groups go to Israel and impose their own agenda or their own programs onto grantees. Instead, we travel to marginalized communities and support the work they are already doing to reach their goals.

We also listen carefully to experts. On this trip, we met with experts like Dr. Eran Halperin, Psychology Professor at IDC, Herzliya, who helped us think strategically about how we can create a civil society, and Dr. Merav Sadi-Nakar, head of the informal education program at Beit Berl College, who gave us practical sociological tools for navigating diverse communities. We also spoke with Dr. Nasreen Hadad Haj-Yahya, Director of the Arab-Jewish Relations Program at the Israeli Democracy Institute, who helped us understand the real challenges of Arab families who are trying to integrate into the fabric of Israeli society, and spent time with journalist Zvika Klein who shared decades of experience tracking diaspora relations for the Israeli press.

As a group, we listened carefully and allowed ourselves to be inspired and to be changed. We did this because we know that our impact will be sacred and respected if it comes from a place of deep listening and understanding.

3. Working Within, Not Outside the System

A theme that presented itself not only in Jisr az-Zarqa but throughout our trip was that the Federation funds organizations and individuals who work inside the framework of their communities to make a change. In Jisr, we saw what it was like for a community to start a tourism industry according to its own cultural norms, not trying to replicate the shiny models of other Israeli cities.

On our second to last day, this idea was particularly salient. We learned about how Tebeka, an Israeli police watchdog, is addressing police brutality against the Ethiopian community not by exclusively seeking out justice for victims of police violence, but by sitting down at the same table as police chiefs and negotiating policies that help create change from within.

Some might look at the Federation’s funding in Israel and see that work as directly correlated to our values; equality, diversity, and pluralism. But it's so much more than that. Our work in Israel is reflective of our deep belief in a process. A process that is centered around listening, delivering significant returns on our investment, and our belief that communities need to be strengthened, not recreated.

Juha's Guesthouse

For more information on the Federation's work in Israel, contact Rachel Barton.

Categories: Israel, Overseas


February 01, 2019


Adam Eilath