Project Kesher never envisioned expanding into Israel . . . until we heard those words.
When 850,000 Russian-speaking immigrants, 300,000 of them women between the ages of 20 and 55, made aliyah in 1989, it was a cause for celebration in Israel. But the reality of life in Israel for many did not live up to their expectations. Although often highly educated, they faced occupational, social and economic downgrading, were forced into menial service jobs and to the bottom of the social structure, and faced a humiliating loss of their personal identity.
It is estimated that one out of every six Jewish women in Israel today are Russian-speakers, many still struggling to assimilate into Israeli society, learn the language, earn a living and avoid feelings of social isolation.
PK GOES TO ISRAEL
In 2007, 30 senior PK leaders from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine traveled to Israel to learn about the country and sharpen their skills as Jewish Communal leaders. During their stay, they met with women from their home countries who had moved to Israel. The trip was transformational in that it underscored the need to bring the PK model to Israel. By 2009, Project Kesher-Israel (PKI) was registered as an amutah (non-profit status in Israel) and was fully operational.
Project Kesher-Israel, with its cost-effective, grass-roots model, is uniquely positioned to effect systemic change by empowering Russian-speaking women to be leaders and activists who can reach deeply into the community, build Jewish identity, and surface and effect change in issues that are important to Russian women, their communities, and all of Israel.
PROJECT KESHER-ISRAEL IN ACTION
Since its inception, PKI has trained more than 100 Jewish communal leaders who lead 18 women’s groups from Haifa to Ashkelon to Beer Sheva. PK leaders conduct Jewish educational programs, computer and economic literacy programs and are activists in the areas of women’s rights and pluralism. Initially trained by leaders from the FSU, Israeli leaders now have the knowledge and facilitation skills to lead their own retreats and training programs. This was a big step in the evolution of PK-Israel.
THE PROJECT KESHER MODEL
PKI adapted the very successful model developed over many years by Project Kesher-CIS to the unique needs of Israeli society. It is cost effective and self-sustaining and maximizes the impact of every dollar spent. PKI never replicates work that is already being done, creating partnerships with myriad organizations to work together to meet the needs of Russian-speakers. As a volunteer-driven organization, PKI relies upon the thousands of hours (close to 10,500 per year and growing) that its leader/activists dedicate to its many programs.
The centerpiece of the PKI program is leadership development, empowering women with training to become change agents within their own communities.
The leaders trained by PK Israel facilitate the 18 women’s groups throughout Israel, they comprise the staff of PKI, serve as trainers in seminars, as speakers at community meetings, as organizers of events to publicize issues, and as role models for all Russian-speaking women.
- INTRODUCTORY SEMINARS: Bring Russian-speaking women together to network and learn about PK programs. PKI vets participants of this seminar for inclusion in its Leadership Training Program.
- YEAR-LONG LEADERSHIP TRAINING PROGRAM: The 20-25 women selected at its Introductory Seminars receive one year of training and mentoring. These women meet for weekend Shabbaton training sessions four times a year. In the seminars they learn techniques of facilitating group meetings, leadership skills and study topics related to the core mission of PKI: gender equality, social activism, Jewish education, and pluralism. The “train-the-trainer” methodology ensures that all materials and information are shared with their women’s groups, hence maximizing the impact and broad outreach.
- COORDINATIVE FORUMS: Group leaders receive enrichment and ongoing training through nine Coordinative Forums each year that focus on mentoring and skills building. Program participants request information on a variety of key issues and share best practices with one another. They are educated about, and provided materials on, such topics as the Israeli pension system, workers’ rights, domestic violence, women’s health and safety, working with social media and more. Participants then use this information in their work with their women’s groups and in the wider community..
- SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIVIST TRAINING: A cadre of women from throughout Israel have been selected for this two year training program providing seasoned PKI leaders the techniques of social activism and community organizing, including teaching women to use social networks and mass media to surface and advocate for important issues in their communities, the public-at-large and in government. PKI leaders identified three tracks for their social justice work: women’s health, religious pluralism, and multi-culturalism, including Arab-Jewish engagement. Each of the tracks are facilitated and mentored in cooperation with partner organizations.
The women trained are now designing and implementing community-wide programming to bring dialogue, education and ultimately changes in attitude to key issues important to the Russian-speaking community and to all of Israel. They are organizing seminars for their local women’s groups and in cooperation with the Absorption and Women’s Departments of their local municipalities.
Financial Literacy Education
In the words of Leora G., a 35 year old cosmetologist from Arad who is married with two children: “I have lived in Israel for two years and it is really important for me to learn family financing, economic literacy and to use this knowledge to understand and control my family budget…. I learned to read the bills, check my bank account balance, as well as plan and analyze my budget. Before the training, I had a dream to open my own salon, but lacked confidence. After the course, I made my dream come true and opened a beauty salon in Arad. Thank you.”
Project Kesher-Israel’s Financial Literacy Program teaches Russian-speaking immigrants to navigate the fundamentals of consumer education in Israel on such issues as: pensions, credit, negotiating phone plans (particularly with family members living overseas), family budgets and more. The project addresses a gap many Russian-speaking women have in understanding the Israeli economic system (including banking) and fostering sound decision-making skills for family finances and budgeting. The goal is to empower women to take control of their finances and make good decisions to protect themselves and their families. This training can be critical to their stability and ability to more smoothly assimilate in Israeli society. Project Kesher-Israel designed the curriculum with a qualified coach and trainer from Paamonim to meet the needs and mindset of Russian-speaking immigrants that includes experiential learning along with peer-to-peer mentoring and support. The training sessions are comprised of five half-day monthly seminars, as well as ongoing support.
Alice Shalvi Jewish Learning Program (ASJLP)
Named for the legendary Alice Shalvi, the Israeli feminist and educator who has played a leading role in progressive education for girls and in the advancement of women, the Alice Shalvi Jewish Learning Program engages Israeli Russian-speaking women in serious Jewish learning, most for the first time.
The year-long program offers monthly half-day sessions of creative and pluralistic learning options with rabbis and Jewish educators from all movements. Each month, women from across Israel, many traveling several hours each way, engage in study about Jewish holidays, values and text and teach others what they have learned. The program connects Jewish learning with social justice, encouraging and empowering women to engage with their local women’s groups on issues that advance gender equality and religious pluralism in Israel. For many participants experiencing social isolation, the connections made provide a sense of community through a peer-to-peer support system.
Each year, the ASJLP participants conduct more than 100 holiday and social activist programs in their communities. The ASJLP provides website information and materials to celebrate the high holidays, Chanukah, Simchat Torah, Tu B’shavat and Pesach. Israeli Russian-speaking women now participate with more than 150 women’s groups and 2,500 women from the Project Kesher network in an annual Global Women’s Seder—a multi-generational program utilizing a Project Kesher-created Haggadah.