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Better Together Helps At-Risk Children Enjoy Chanukah

Your donations to Federation’s Annual Campaign help at-risk Israeli children and their families celebrate the Festival of Lights. Better Together, a program run by our overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), works to improve the quality of life of low-income families by collaborating with municipalities. The program leverages existing infrastructure and empowers community members to take an active role in shaping the future of their neighborhood. In Kiryat Shmona, where the program has nearly 4,000 participants involved in roughly 40 projects, residents gathered in apartment courtyards to light candles, sing festive songs and enjoy sufganiyot (donuts).

To celebrate Chanukah, community organizers purposefully lit menorahs near residential buildings. Their goal was to bring light to families who were either not invited to a Chanukah celebration or might not feel safe enough to venture outside at night. Their efforts encouraged residents across Israel to participate in the holiday with a renewed sense of commitment to bringing light back to their communities. Yehuda Zusman, Better Together’s Northern Region Manager, said Chanukah ties in well to the larger goals of the neighborhood initiative. “The core of the Chanukah narrative celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, and that is exactly what our Better Together neighborhoods are doing…” he said.

For Marcel, a resident of Kiryat Shmona for more than 30 years, Better Together has made a significant improvement in her life. Following the death of her husband and relocation of her children to a different city, she found it difficult to live alone. Unsurprisingly, this affected her health and quality of life. Last Chanukah, a few girls from her apartment block invited her downstairs to light the Chanukah candles together. At this small gathering, Marcel met the neighbors who would become her new family. Since that evening, she has been an active volunteer, organizing activities for women and girls in the neighborhood. She and a number of other women in the neighborhood heard from younger mothers about their difficulties raising teenage girls, and in turn began organizing mother-daughter activities at a neighborhood youth club. They also reached out to struggling single mothers from the former Soviet Union.

Through Better Together, JDC-Ashalim, in partnership with local municipalities, identifies specific neighborhoods and seeks to give residents a voice in the decision-making process, strengthen the community’s belief in its own ability to change the situation, and train residents to carry out the change effectively. Programs range from specialized parenting groups — for single mothers, parents of teenagers, and parents of children with special needs — and after-school enrichment, to inter-neighborhood father-son soccer leagues and women’s cooking clubs. The program also helps to establish a variety of action committees comprised of community members, municipal leaders, local service providers and NGO representatives, all of whom have the same goal in mind — improving families’ quality of life. Some committees include those dedicated to updating and caring for communal urban green spaces, arranging neighborhood security and implementing health-related programming.

Ashalim Director Dr. Rami Sulimani said that when visiting Better Together communities, residents have thanked him for all that JDC has brought into their neighborhood. “In a physical sense, they are honoring the mitzvah of candle-lighting, and illuminating their homes, courtyards and public spaces,” he said. “In a spiritual sense, the communities are taking the future of their neighborhoods into their own hands, in turn making their neighborhoods brighter places to live.”

To ensure the success and survival of programs like organizes by our overseas partners, please consider making a donation to the Annual Campaign here. To learn about other ways your donation helps Jews in Miami, in Israel and around the world, click here.