As Israel celebrates its 73rd anniversary this month, we look back at how our country was founded and at who stood with us in the early days of statehood-as well as in later decades. If you were to ask the average Israeli, she or he would tell you that our nation was born thanks to our own strong will and staunch desire to build a homeland. But we could never have done it without the support of our sisters and brothers in the Jewish communities abroad-in the diaspora.
Starting long before our Declaration of Independence, world Jewry was the backbone of the Zionist movement, and its support continues to this day. JUF has been with the people of Israel from its very beginning in 1900, half a century before the modern state of Israel was established. And for the past quarter of a century, JUF has been closely connected with our Partnership Together community in Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir.
Partnership Together (P2G), launched in 1995 by the Jewish Agency for Israel, was designed to meet needs in Israel's periphery and connect Jews in the diaspora with Israel and with Israelis.
When JUF selected Kiryat Gat and its adjoining Regional Councils of Lachish and Shafir, the rationale was to select an underserved region of Israel where JUF support could be meaningful and impactful. Twenty-five years later, our Partnership has exceeded all expectations, and it continues to thrive and flourish.
P2G receives its annual budget of close to $1 million from the JUF board. Allocations are decided by a lay committee, half of whom hails from Chicago and the other half living in the region.
With Chicago and local co-chairs, the committee selects an average of 30 non-profit organizations in the region, which receive funding for an average of three years. These non-profits, vetted by our Israel office and our own P2G staff, provide invaluable support to tens of thousands of residents in the region, giving solutions to a wide range of needs from job placement to youth at risk, from elder care to food security for underserved families.
Another large part of our budget supports "mifgashim"-encounters of different groups and cohorts from the region who meet their Chicago counterparts throughout the year, in Israel, and in Chicago in non-pandemic times.
Roughly a third of the P2G budget is dedicated to our own flagship program titled Sulamot ("ladders"), supporting STEM education in the region and focusing on math, science, computers, and technology to bridge substantial gaps between kids in our region and kids in Israel's more affluent localities.
In the first three decades of its life, the state of Israel was a developing nation with a relatively low socioeconomic level and huge financial needs. Diaspora communities were instrumental in creating the modern state of Israel, the start-up nation of high-tech and leading-edge innovation and know-how. And yet, the gaps between those who have and those who do not are still great and cannot all be filled by the government alone. Today, many Israelis in the social and geographical periphery still rely on the outstretched hand of our sisters and brothers in the diaspora.
In our Partnership region, members of our Chicago community have a chance to view firsthand some of the amazing JUF-supported projects that do good for thousands of residents. JUF's 25 years of support is respected, appreciated, and recognized by close to 100,000 residents who make Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir their home. Together, Israelis and Chicagoans, we continue to build a strong alliance for the next 25 years-and beyond.
JUF's Partnership Together (P2G) is a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel that links communities in the diaspora with communities in Israel. Chicago's P2G region of Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir is located in Israel's northern Negev. Through P2G, nearly $1 million of funding from JUF's annual campaign supports projects that promote the region's development, improve the quality of life for its residents, and connects them with Chicago Jewry through "people-to-people" programs.
Ofer Bavly is the Director General of the JUF Israel Office.