Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Observations from my Sabbatical Leave: Erez College, and the Highest Level of Righteous Giving

EREZ COLLEGE, SHELOMI, WESTERN GALILEE, ISRAEL – The “Ladder of Tyre” is the name given to the range of mountains that separate the Western Galilee of Israel from southern Lebanon.  It was the area from which the Hezbollah drone shot down by Israeli Air Force jets last week originated.

It is also the view I see each morning these days as I arrive for my volunteer work in the town of Shelomi, as you can see from this photo: In the background, on the top of those mountains, are the antennae marking the Israeli border station.  In the foreground is Erez College.

Erez College has been my focus for the last two weeks, and into the next two weeks, as I engage in my volunteer efforts.  My sabbatical has been enhanced by my offering help to the development efforts of the College’s Executive Director Sandee Illouz.  She is an American – from Iowa – who immigrated to Israel in 1975, found her way to Shelomi, and established this school as a way to increase the quality of life in this depressed part of the nation.

The book of Leviticus reminds us to “Strengthen the poor person so that he does not fall and become dependent on others” (25:35).  And the goal of the school is exactly that: to strengthen the relationship between a worker, his or her skills, and that person’s job, so that s/he advances in salary, in opportunity, and in quality of life.

The school offers evening and Friday morning classes to people who are employed or underemployed, in areas of engineering, marketing, practical computer technology, basic understanding of programs and applications, technical Hebrew and English, day care provision for children and senior adults, and others.  Since the school’s opening in 1983, there have been 10,000 successful graduates who have filled the ranks of IT companies, IT departments in large corporations, warehouses, and hospitals, in various parts of the country.

The school has been wonderfully instrumental in raising the dignity of people in this region.  As a place at the periphery of the country, and a region that has known its share of enemy infiltration and fire even as late as last Thursday, the town of Shelomi has not been able to attract ‘the best and the brightest’ of Israeli society.  New immigrant absorption problems, mixed with a small town attitude of limited vision, have hampered Shelomi’s residents in their pursuit of a higher standard of living.  The poverty is palpable as you walk through the town’s main business square, and you get the impression that with just a little push, this place could blossom.

And this is what Erez College is doing, increasing the ability of this area’s residents to thrive.

My specific tasks are simple: to interview board members, students, graduates, and teaching staff – all in Hebrew – and turn those interviews into English language materials, in print and online, for potential donors in English speaking countries.  The intention is, of course, to entice them to give money and make business investments in this region, in order to allow the people and the state of Israel to thrive.  Large and small donors to the College need to better understand the need for populating the Western Galilee, raising the work standard of this region’s residents, and enlarging the profile of Zionism even in the border areas.  And that is what my work is all about.

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