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Jewish Agency launches ‘safety net’ for world Jewry

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The Jewish Agency for Israel this week launched a support system to help Jews around the world handle the continuing coronavirus crisis and other emergency situations.
by TALI FEINBERG | Nov 19, 2020

The aim of JReady – the Jewish Emergency Network is to ensure the long-term resilience of Jewish communities around the world, and for the Jewish Agency to assist wherever needed. It will connect us to other diaspora communities, and provide a basket of cutting edge courses, tools, and access to experts.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were approached to assist some communities, especially in Italy and Spain,” Yael Raz, the director of emergency response at the Jewish Agency, told the SA Jewish Report.

“As the crisis evolved, more communities reached out and more challenges were brought to our table – from financial losses to mental health to the continuity of Jewish education.”

While it offered immediate aid through a monetary fund, the Jewish Agency realised it also needed to provide long-term support. “This is the first time that all Jewish communities are facing the same challenges,” Raz says.

JReady falls in her department, and she is positive about the possibilities it presents in a Jewish world that has been turned on its head by COVID-19.

Raz said that the ripple effect of the pandemic had been a “game changer”. For example, the Italian Jewish community had always supported Israel, but is now reaching out to Israel for support. Even though so many communities are battling, on the positive side, they are able to connect and lean on each other like never before.

The Jewish Agency’s mission is to “ensure that every Jewish person feels an unbreakable bond to one another and to Israel no matter where they live in the world, so that they can continue to play their critical role in our ongoing Jewish story”. In launching JReady, the agency piloted some of its projects in select communities around the globe, including South Africa.

South African Jewish Board of Deputies National Director Wendy Kahn says, “It’s incredible as a diaspora community to know that the Jewish Agency is always there for us, especially at times of crisis. Knowing that we have such a supportive body is deeply reassuring.”

Jewish Agency for Israel Chairperson Isaac Herzog says, “Our sages taught us that all Jews are responsible for one another. The Jewish Agency is harnessing Israeli know-how and expertise to realise this important Jewish value, and to ensure the safety and well-being of Jewish communities around the world. JReady provides an additional layer to the Jewish Agency’s security network.”

The chairperson of JReady, former Knesset member Ayelet Nahmias Verbin, explains that, “JReady has been busy training emergency managers in South Africa, improving readiness for extreme fires in Australia, and bringing in experts who will help address economic problems in Italy and Costa Rica. The critical interfaces for building resilience exist, and JReady will work with Jewish communities to further strengthen their preparedness, including for future crises.”

JReady’s advisory committee includes prominent figures such as Haim Bibas, the mayor of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut, who also serves as head of the federation of local authorities in Israel; and Professor Eli Waxman of the Weizmann Institute of Science, who headed Israel’s National Security Council’s Committee on Combating the Pandemic.

Its first-of-its-kind digital toolbox includes dedicated courses for community emergency managers, webinars, and training with professionals, volunteer management, a chat forum, and access to advanced research and technologies.

Liat Amar Arran, the Jewish Agency representative and director of the Israel Centre South Africa, who has led JReady’s pilot projects in South Africa, said, “We were asked to look at what the South African Jewish community needs now and where we could add value. We feel that deepening knowledge and assisting professionals to manage crises is important.”

Said Raz, “In South Africa, your education system was one of the first to reopen – I think only Canada and Israel had reopened at that stage.” This provided an opportunity to test one of JReady’s services, which works with school principals around the world to reopen schools safely. The Jewish Agency hosted a meeting between professionals from Israel and about 40 principals from all Jewish schools in South Africa in which the Israelis shared their experience of reopening schools. “It’s not like South Africa and community leadership didn’t have protocol in place, it was about sharing information and experiences.”

Similarly, the Jewish Agency organised meetings between the directors of Jewish community aged homes in South Africa and aged homes in Israel to share knowledge and experience. “The Jewish Agency cares for about 7 000 elderly people, so engaging with aged home directors in South Africa was coming from this experience,” said Raz.

The Israeli “Haggai” app is another tool offered by JReady , and Amar Arran encouraged the South African Jewish community to use it to streamline food distribution to those in need. The Cape Town Jewish community has utilised it since the early days of the pandemic when demand for food parcels increased dramatically.

Arran said these initiatives weren’t a “once-off event”, so JReady approached a department of Tel Aviv University’s medical school that deals with the management of crises and stress. “We built a course which we are now piloting in South Africa and its partner community, Bet Shemesh Mateh Yehuda in Israel.

“The course offers intensive practical and theoretical training with Israel’s top experts on leadership and crisis management, and allows participants to discuss dilemmas and share knowledge,” Amar Arran said. “Fifteen people are participating from each community, and at the end of the course, participants will get funding to build their own projects.”

“Along with this digital offering, we are engaged in reaching out to communities, figuring out their core needs, and tailoring support,” said Raz. “For example, in France just before Shavuot, the community was debating whether to open its shuls. Local government said that it could, but community members saw what was happening with the virus and asked for further consultation with our experts. After speaking to them for two and a half hours, they decided not to open.”

JReady is there to facilitate the exchange of ideas and knowledge, even in crises unrelated to the pandemic. “For example, in Australia, one of their recent issues has been bushfires, and we realised that experts with experience in San Francisco and Los Angeles could share best practice with the community in Australia, which they are now doing. Israel doesn’t have to be in the middle, we can just be the connector,” Raz said.

Amar Arran said that anyone from the Jewish community was welcome to engage with JReady. The goal is for all communities to share what they have learned in times of distress, creating a global network of support, expertise, resilience, and continuity.

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