Mentors for Israeli Families in Need
By: Lauren Driesse, ICEJ Head of Media and Publications Dept.
The ICEJ is coming alongside single mothers and new immigrants in Israel to advocate for them and ensure they receive essential help and a path toward a good future. Twenty years ago, an outreach program opened for Israeli families living below the poverty line that provided basic weekly aid. Soon, however, it became apparent that truly effective assistance would require more than a food basket but a new way of thinking and operating.
From that point, a new comprehensive plan was developed using professional mentors to help Israeli families make a new start. This plan brought a hopeful message: “The family budget not able to last through the month? Let’s see what can be done to increase your income. Struggling to know how to access the best care for a disabled child so you can work? There is a mentor waiting to advocate for you and help you understand what must be done.” The main thing this communicates is: “You are not alone—and poverty is not your destiny.”
Today, mentors operate in different cities, providing essential support. While practical assistance such as food vouchers, school supplies, furniture, and electrical appliances are still distributed, the goal is to help families achieve financial independence.
Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID & Aliyah, noted: “Much can be done by using available community resources, and we’re excited that today, more and more Israeli families are learning effective financial management and are paying down their debts. They are also locating better paying jobs and enjoying a host of other successes on their way to a better quality of life.”
Pondering the recently celebrated holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the new year for trees, Mentorship Program Director Yehuda Armshalem shared:
I have always wondered why we plant trees and celebrate Tu B’Shvat in January or February when we do not see any leaves or fruit yet. However, this is a picture of celebrating the potential of the tree. We do not see it right now, but the life inside comes to fruition when it gets warmer. In a nutshell, this is our philosophy: We see the potential in people from many different backgrounds, and with the right help from the community, this potential can materialize.
The generosity of our ICEJ donors currently enables 50 single-parent families in Israel to receive mentoring support. In Jerusalem and Beersheva, struggling single mothers are participating in a one-year program offering them guidance, a listening ear, emotional support, and practical help—like childcare—so they can find employment. By the end of 2023, we anticipate that most of these mothers (87 percent) will be employed and able to provide for their families’ needs.
Meanwhile, new Jewish immigrants to Israel often feel overwhelmed upon arrival. Lacking Hebrew skills and local knowledge makes it tough to access services, navigate employment options, and bridge cultural norms without family or friends to help. In many instances, educational qualifications are not recognized in Israel, requiring new immigrants to take additional courses or even redo entire degrees to be recertified. Otherwise, they will have to accept lower-paying jobs.
Mentors are ready to assist new immigrants in their first year in Israel, as well as immigrant families who have been in the Land for some time but have recently fallen on tough times. In addition to one-on-one sessions, mentors provide courses, training, and workshops in particular subjects as needed. Each family mentored is encouraged to dream about their future. Then they create a plan, set goals, and monitor progress toward those dreams. The focus is on employment, financial management, family/community, and quality of life. If these key areas are stable, their Aliyah can be considered a success!
David and Sofia* and their two children recently arrived in Israel from South America. Before coming to Israel, David worked in hi-tech, and Sofia taught Hebrew for 25 years. However, Sofia discovered that her certificate to teach Hebrew was not valid in Israel, and she needed to undergo retraining. Lital, a veteran mentor of eight years, immediately helped her with the recertification process. Today, Sofia is enrolled at the Open University and has started taking classes toward a new degree.
Meanwhile, David was determined to learn Hebrew and made the difficult choice to take a low-paying cleaning job to concentrate on learning Hebrew. Although his wife encouraged him to take a job working remotely for a hi-tech company overseas, he prefers to clean for now in hopes it will pay off in the long run.
Meanwhile, Esther,* a single Jewish mother from the Netherlands, arrived recently with her teenage daughter. Braving cancer treatments abroad, she arrived in Israel in remission. But neither Esther nor her daughter could speak Hebrew, causing much stress for her daughter when school began, which led to behavior issues.
Then Esther discovered her cancer had returned, and her health deteriorated. Fortunately, she was introduced to Lital, a mentor who worked with Esther and her daughter closely. Although Esther wanted to leave Beersheva for Jerusalem, Lital encouraged her to continue her medical treatments in Beersheva, knowing she would otherwise have to wait longer for treatment. This sound advice allowed Esther to undergo surgery and recover quickly. Only six weeks later, she began a job search.
Along the way, Lital also discovered that Esther had yet to receive her government child support grant. The right knowledge and some well-placed Israeli “chutzpah” (daring effort) resolved that right away, and now Esther is receiving her monthly stipend and full back-payments. She is also applying for a disability pension because of her health condition. During a recent mentoring seminar Lital gave at the Beersheva Aliyah Center, Esther walked in and went straight up front to hug her. Despite the challenging journey, Esther is grateful for the remarkable victories along the way, big and small, which left few dry eyes in the place.
The ICEJ is thrilled to support this professional mentorship program that helps needy Israeli families reach for a better future and regain hope. Thank you for helping ensure professional mentors are available for those in need.
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.
Help Israeli families in need.