When organizers were planning the visit to Seattle of Israeli social workers last month, they had no idea how crucial the insight of the visitors would be in helping local social workers cope with the tragedies of Sept. 11.
“It is uncanny that only three weeks later we have far more in common than we could have believed,” said Ken Weinberg, executive director of Jewish Family Service.
During the social work exchange, Yaffa Cohen, head of the Social Welfare Department, and Yefet Madar, Kiryat Malachi deputy mayor for welfare, had talked about how deeply the consequences of living with war penetrate the fabric of society. The economy is hurt and people lose their jobs. When a breadwinner can’t support the family because terrorism has eliminated the business, people become morose and frustrated and may take out that anger on family members. Social Service providers grapple with helping the family find stability not only so there is enough to eat and proper medical attention but also to provide assistance with their emotional upheavals.
“In both places, said Weinberg, “being a social work professional requires an enormous commitment. And then something like our tragedy happens and you realize that in Israel, they have the same social work problems that we have but there the comparison pales because they confront and are besieged by enemies all the time.”
Kiryat Malachi was founded in 1951 to replace a “tent city” housing refugees from Arab countries. Kiryat Malachi, which means “Angels Town,” was named in honor of the Los Angeles Jewish Community that helped establish and develop it. Kiryat Malachi has absorbed many new immigrants since then — including many immigrants from Ethiopia — bringing its total population to 20,100. In addition to support from Los Angeles, Kiryat Malachi is also a Seattle sister city through the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
The Israeli visitors spent a week meeting with members of the Seattle Jewish community in social and professional settings. They met with hospital social workers, the director of Social Work at the University of Washington, as well as leadership from Ryther Children’s Center, Youth Eastside Services, Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, Jewish Family Service and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
According to Barry Goren, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, it was a important exchange for the entire social work community. “I was thrilled by the visit,” said Goren, “because it gave our local human service people, both inside and outside of the Jewish community, a chance to learn about and get connected to Israel and, specifically, to our Partnership 2000 community of Kiryat Malachi/Hof Ashkelon.” Partnership 2000 is an international program of The Jewish Agency for Israel together with the United Jewish Community linking Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora to promote Jewish continuity.
“There is agreement about what a wonderful and meaningful exchange it was and how similar the actual social work is,” said Weinberg. “At the same time, we were able to take them to programs quite different from any in their own country. We took them to the Seattle Counseling Center for Sexual Minorities,” says Weinberg, “They have nothing like that in Israel. They were impressed and moved and their thinking was revolutionized.”
“The visit helped to humanize our connection,” continued Goren, “so we have the sense that money we raise here is helping real people with real needs in a real place.” Goren also reflected on the juxtaposition of the exchange to the events of September 11th: “It is ironic that we heard from many of our friends, colleagues and relatives in Israel — in a total role reversal — wanting to know if we were safe. Certainly Americans will now have more of an understanding of what Israelis have been going through for many years.”
For Yaffa Cohen, this was her third trip to Seattle. Yefet Madar was here for the first time. “Everyone parted,” says Weinberg, “greatly enriched.” Holly Redell is the development director at Jewish Family Service.