A Proud History of Creating Opportunity-for All Israelis

September 19, 2023

A JDC volunteer helps an elderly Jew board an evacuation bus in eastern Ukraine.


JDC prioritizes optimal aging for Israelis of all backgrounds.

Eight years ago, Nofar Elkabets was guarded and unsure of her own place in the world. A wheelchair user who was born with cerebral palsy, the 30-year-old spent many years in institutional housing, where her daily routine was largely directed by others.

All that changed when Elkabets joined Supported Housing, the program developed by JDC’s Israel Unlimited initiative that helped Elkabets secure her own apartment, obtain a job, and develop the skills she needed for independent living.

“Moving to my own apartment in the wider community changed everything,” said Elkabets, who now lives in a 4-bedroom apartment in Haifa with her husband.

JDC’s Supported Housing program — seen here in Sfaram — promotes independent living for Israelis with disabilities.

“I could’ve let my disability run my life — but I chose otherwise.”

For Sigal Shelach, JDC’s executive director of Israel programs, it’s a story that shines a light on the organization’s robust impact on Israeli society.

“Independent living is a critical right for people with disabilities, and that’s why it’s one of five areas of life JDC focuses on today in Israel,” she said. “We also address social mobility for at-risk children and youth; optimal aging for the elderly; quality employment and increased workforce productivity; and increasing the efficiency of public systems in Israel.”

Seventy-five years after the founding of the State of Israel, JDC’s mission there is as strong as ever. Leveraging trusted partnerships with the government, the business sector, local municipalities, other NGOs, philanthropic foundations, and at-risk Israelis and communities on the margins themselves, JDC develops transformative programs that harness innovation to uplift Israel’s most vulnerable.

For people like Simi Baruch, who lives in Kiryat Gat, these programs have been life-saving.

Homebound and alone, Baruch, 85, used to feel isolated from her friends and community — that is, until she joined JDC’s Digital Literacy Initiative, which gives Israeli seniors free tablets and teaches them how to use them. Now she’s able to use her tablet to call friends, use platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, exercise, listen to music, read the news, and more.

“I used to sit around like a stone,” Baruch said. “But now I open my tablet, and it’s a whole new world, truly. I don’t feel forgotten.”

Her story is just one example of how JDC programs help elderly Israelis of all backgrounds age with dignity and grace — and the organization’s efforts extend to the Israeli workforce, too.

Israel has one of the largest socioeconomic gaps among developed countries — and that’s one reason why JDC seeks to provide professional development and skills training for people entering the job market and boost economic productivity overall.

Born to a family of 10, Aviv Tarkay (opposite) always wanted a successful career but didn’t know how to pursue it. He found his calling at Code-In, an intensive specialized training program JDC runs in partnership with the Israeli government that helps people find work in the tech sector.

Elderly Israelis find community through JDC-supported programs, like this outdoor library at a Jerusalem senior center.

After graduating from Code-In, Tarkay now works as a front-end developer for AT&T — a career he could have only dreamed of before.

“When I arrived for my first day on the job, I already knew how to work and add value,” Tarkay said. “None of this would have happened if I hadn’t had such thoughtful preparation.”

JDC also works to advance social and economic mobility for communities on the margins — children and youth in the Arab sector, Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews), and those who live outside developed urban areas.

To mitigate the opportunity and achievement gaps these groups often face, JDC programming emphasizes education and community engagement, as well as outreach to at-risk youth, providing them with the tools and support needed to thrive in Israeli society.

Shalev Ben Ari, 20, had always dreamed of becoming an engineer, but he feared his local high school wasn’t setting him up for success.

“School was a place that made me feel terrible,” he said. “They looked at me as if I were a very troubled child.”

JDC helped Aviv Tarkay launch a career in Israel’s booming tech industry.

When he got connected with Learning Through Internship (LTI) — a JDC program piloted in seven schools with 350 students interning in fields like law, architecture, and the arts — Ben Ari was mentored by a leading professional and gained real-world experience as an engineer.

“Because of LTI, I became the person I wanted to be,” Ben Ari said. “I literally started to bloom.”

Ben Ari is one of more than 1 million people per week impacted by JDC’s time-honored commitment to creating opportunity for all Israelis.

“For more than a century, we have given a voice, face, and dignity to those most in need,” said JDC President Mark Sisisky and CEO Ariel Zwang. “At the heart of this work is our commitment to ensure that Israel and its most vulnerable are stronger for the future — a future we will build together.”

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