At JDC-Ashalim, Promoting Social Mobility for Israel’s Youngest

On International Children's Rights Day, Dr. Ariel Levy reflects on why caring for all of Israel's children is so crucial.

By Dr. Ariel Levy - Director, JDC-Israel Ashalim | November 18, 2022

Dr. Ariel Levy (pictured left, with JDC-Israel Executive Director Sigal Shelach) has spent over a quarter-century lifting up Israel's at-risk children and youth.

How do we uplift all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds? For more than 27 years, Dr. Ariel Levy has devoted his life to this question. And as director of Ashalim, the JDC-Israel division focusing on children and youth at risk, he works to understand both the challenges that exist for disadvantaged children and how to overcome them. This International Children’s Rights Day, Levy reflects on why social mobility is a key ingredient for bettering the lives of all children in Israel. 

Social mobility is on the public policy agenda around the world, with discussions led by economists and sociologists at institutions such as the World Economic Forum, Opportunity Insights, and the Brookings Institution. The United Kingdom and Denmark have even embarked on national social mobility initiatives.

Here in Israel, JDC-Ashalim is leading the charge, working to increase the odds of upward mobility for our next generation. In many ways, our vision for Israel’s vulnerable children reflects principles laid out in the 1924 and 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. For example, the 1924 declaration states: “The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood.” The 1989 convention expands children’s rights further, including rights to “the highest attainable standard of health” and “the right of the child to education.”

Dr. Ariel Levy

Upward social mobility is the ability to climb the socio-economic ladder in a changing world, independent of those characteristics that may impair the chances of upward movement. In short, it’s about improving odds. JDC-Ashalim reinvigorated the classic model of social mobility by recognizing health, digital competency, and a sense of belonging as key determining factors of social mobility in addition to education and economic opportunity. Through this model, more children are able to maximize their rights to earn a livelihood, attain the highest standard of health, and receive a full education.

Our approach to improving all five areas of life — Health, Belonging, Education, Economic Resilience, and Digital — is both intergenerational and intragenerational. We can’t wait 25 years to understand the impact of our interventions and need to improve the lives of today’s children within their lifetimes. We spearheaded — in partnership with ERI Research Institute, the Rashi Foundation, Jindas, and the Yated pilot program with the Ministry of Welfare — research into predictors of social mobility for different ages and groups. We then built a national dashboard of 15 indicators, such as stress, depression, and sense of security, that will guide us with our government partners as we implement initiatives to move the needle on social mobility.

Participants at JDC’s Youth Village Ventures program pose for a photo.

Unfortunately, many of today’s children in the Arab sector, Haredi society, and Israel’s socio-economic periphery face barriers in climbing the social ladder and actualizing their rights. For example, one of every five children in Israel in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, did not have access to a home computer for distance learning. Only 7.4% of children born in a weak municipality are likely to reach the top decile in comparison to 21.7% from strong municipalities. 64% of Haredi children and 62% of Arab children live below the poverty line, in comparison with 9% of Jewish non-Haredi children. Access to these kinds of data points is vital to designing effective solutions, and so we developed a digital data platform that is open to the public — SEMI (Social and Economic Mobility Israel), accessible at — which consolidates available data from multiple government sources and presents a macro-scale, interdisciplinary view on social mobility in Israel.

Early childhood is a particularly important stage in improving odds for social mobility. First, early interventions prevent problems from developing altogether, rather than seeking to mitigate harm once it’s been done. Second, areas of life are closely interconnected in early childhood, so a good investment early on can yield fruit in all areas of life. Investing in parent-child bonding in our First Thousand Days program for Bedouin children, for example, also improves those children’s educational chances.

All children deserve the option of advancing up the social ladder and maximizing their rights to education, health, and livelihood, regardless of their background.

Furthermore, early childhood care is universal. When we improve nutritional education in well-baby clinics through our Healthy Nutrition From the Start program, for instance, all the babies in that clinic receive the highest attainable standard of health. Finally, early childhood investment yields a significant financial return. For every shekel devoted to early childhood care, almost 5 shekels are gained to the Israeli economy.

Our Social Mobility Conference on Nov. 10, in partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, highlights the way forward. We gathered experts from our government partners, the private sector, and other stakeholders to put forward creative approaches for this interdisciplinary challenge. Five key areas of life for advancing social mobility are on the table, and we are excited to continue leading the charge to provide innovative opportunities for social mobility to Israel’s vulnerable young citizens. All our children deserve the option of advancing up the social ladder and maximizing their rights to education, health, and livelihood regardless of their background, and at JDC, we intend to continue providing it to them.

Dr. Ariel Levy has over 27 years of experience in both formal and informal education frameworks, government, and the nonprofit sector. He became Director of JDC-Ashalim in August 2020, after serving as a visiting faculty member at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership and as an advisor at the Yad Hanadiv Foundation. Prior to these positions, Ariel was a Senior Deputy Director in the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Pedagogical Secretariat Division Director.

Sign Up for JDC Voices Stories