This month, Jews across the world are coming together to light candles and revel in the miracles of Chanukah. Different cultures will celebrate the holiday according to their own centuries-old traditions. And across Israel, Jewish communities will nurture new Chanukah traditions, too.
Ashalim is an initiative of Federation’s overseas partner the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). It is an at-risk children and youth initiative through which “Better Together” neighborhoods from Be’er Sheva to Kiryat Shmona are celebrating Chanukah with a renewed commitment to bringing light back into their communities. Better Together is a program that operates in Israel’s poorest neighborhoods to improve the quality of life for children and families.
Last Chanukah, residents from apartment blocks across the Better Together neighborhood in Kiryat Shmona gathered in their courtyards to light candles, sing festive songs, and enjoy sufganiyot. Community organizers purposefully lit menorahs near residential buildings; their goal was to bring light to families who were either not invited to a Chanukah celebration or might not feel safe enough to venture outside at night.
Marcel has been a resident of Kiryat Shmona for more than three decades. After her children moved from the city and her husband died, Marcel found it difficult to live alone, which in turn affected her health and quality of life. Last Chanukah, a few girls from her apartment block invited her downstairs to light the Chanukah candles together. At this small gathering, Marcel met the neighbors who would become her new family.
In Be’er Sheva, the Better Together neighborhood Yud Alef held its own Chanukah celebrations. Throughout the neighborhood, residents blessed the holiday candles, enjoyed Chanukah treats, and organized children’s activities.
Ilana and her daughter Shachar, 8, residents of Yud Alef in Be’er Sheva, have felt the impact of their Better Together community. Shachar is involved in the Mishachkiya game room program, a creative play therapy outlet for families and their children. She basks in the warmth of her second family, eagerly awaiting each weekly meeting.
JDC-Ashalim, in partnership with local municipalities, identifies specific neighborhoods and seeks to give residents a voice in the decision-making process, strengthen the community’s belief in its own ability to change the situation, and train residents to carry out the change effectively. Working closely with the municipality, the initiative leverages existing infrastructure, such as schools, community centers and public spaces, to empower the community members to take an active role in shaping the future of their neighborhood.
Better Together helps to establish action committees, comprised of community members, municipal leaders, local service providers, and NGO representatives that aim to affect families’ quality of life. These include committees dedicated to caring for communal urban green spaces, arranging neighborhood security, and implementing health-related programming.
Ashalim Director Dr. Rami Sulimani conceived of the Better Together program and has followed the growth of the program to some 40 neighborhoods. Dr. Sulimani says the program gives neighborhood residents “the opportunity to express their voice, use their skills for the sake of their community and for their children.” He adds that, when visiting Better Together communities, residents have thanked him for all that JDC has brought into their neighborhood.
Yehuda Zusman, Better Together’s Northern Region manager, said Chanukah ties in well to the larger goals of the neighborhood initiative. “The core of the Chanukah narrative celebrates the triumph of light over darkness. And that is exactly what our Better Together neighborhoods are doing this Chanukah,” he said. “In a physical sense, they are honoring the mitzvah of candle lighting, and illuminating their homes, courtyards and public spaces. In a spiritual sense, the communities are taking the future of their neighborhoods into their own hands, in turn making their neighborhoods brighter places to live.”
Reprinted from www.jdc.org; edited for space.