Through Photography and JDC, Diving Deeper Into My Beloved Israel

For JDC Ambassador Orna Stern, trips to Israel with JDC have been a chance to explore her own birthplace in a new way.

By Orna Stern - JDC Ambassador | April 15, 2021

I guess you could say that I’ve seen the world through a JDC lens.

My JDC story began when my friend Shari Levy invited me to a lecture at her home. Asher Ostrin, JDC’s senior executive for international affairs, spoke about the organization’s lifesaving work in the former Soviet Union. That was the spark that ignited my JDC journey, and it has taken me around the world: Cuba, Poland, Russia, Morocco, and Ethiopia.

But I haven’t only discovered the world through JDC — I’ve also deepened my connection to and understanding of Israel, my own country of origin. On numerous trips to visit family there, I’ve seen lots of JDC projects, and I’ve even traveled with JDC’s Board and taken a special photography mission, too.

Thanks to JDC, I’ve received a rare gift: I’ve seen my birthplace in a new way, and it’s been the adventure of a lifetime. I’ve documented my visits with my camera, since I believe photos tell the story better than my words ever could.

Photos tell the story better than my words ever could.

I got involved with a project that centered on caregivers in Israeli Arab society. JDC developed and implemented a pilot in the Israeli Arab town of Shfar’am, about 30 minutes east of Haifa. A town with a rich history, it was previously only a name to me — until JDC helped open my eyes.

In Israeli Arab society, there’s a custom that a family member — usually an unmarried woman — is designated as the family’s go-to caregiver. I was used to a system where many pitch in when elderly family members need support, so to hear that the load might be carried by just one family member was unfortunate and distressing.

For Israeli Arabs, there’s a long history of selecting one family member to carry the full load. That cultural practice is institutionalized, but there are no compensating social structures designed to provide support for these caregivers. That’s the challenge JDC was looking to solve when it created an enrichment program that brings caregivers to senior centers for dance lessons and other activities.

Dance class in Shfar’am

When I visited the center during the project’s planning stage, a representative of the Shfar’am municipality was there. We met with them, along with a professional from Eshel, the JDC-Israel division focused on developing innovative solutions for the challenges facing the nation’s elderly. It was more than just a briefing — it was proof of why JDC is so effective. Partnerships between the Israeli government and JDC are critical for tackling Israel’s most pressing social challenges and implementing and scaling up successful pilot programs like this one.

The caregiver program not only gave me access and insight into a part of Israel I wasn’t previously aware of, but it also showcased how JDC identifies problems, provides creative solutions, and cultivates change.

Though COVID-19 has delayed my travel plans, I was still able to access the power of my beloved JDC on a family trip to Israel to visit my mom, during which I didn’t leave Tel Aviv. I was invited to meet with Yossi Heymann, Eshel’s director of JDC-Israel’s division on aging, for a special trip to the “Photo:Israel” exhibit, which connected two of my loves — photography and JDC’s work to make life better for the elderly.

Located just a short distance from my mom’s house, the exhibit, held in the shadow of COVID-19, was a light in the darkness for me and a meaningful reminder of how much I miss seeing Israel and the world through my unique JDC lens

Orna Stern is a JDC Ambassador living in Westport, Conn. Learn more about the Ambassadors program and other ways to get involved with JDC here

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