Studying success Israeli style

by | Feb 5, 2016 | Other News

Jack Habib, Pat Robertson and Annie Sandler.

Jack Habib, Pat Robertson and Annie Sandler.

Prof. Jack Habib and his colleague Dr. Keri Zelson Warshawsky enjoyed a walk through Seashore State Park on Thursday, Dec. 17 as their last experience in Tidewater before they flew back to Israel. Invited to Tidewater by Annie Sandler, the researchers experienced two days of whirlwind activity orchestrated by Sandler and Robin Mancoll.

The prior evening, Sandler spoke to a gathering of members from the Tidewater Couples Project, Hineni alumni and the Young Adult Division’s cabinet (YAD) in her home, saying, “As a member of the Myers JDC Brookdale board, it has been a privilege working with Jack and witnessing research as it unfolds into its practical application. I marvel at the improvements made because of MJB’s findings.”

Under Habib’s leadership as director of MJB, the 40-year-old institute serves Israel, the Jewish world and the international community in developing and disseminating research that directly impacts social services and relevant governmental policy.

Established as a partnership between The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Israeli government, the Institute is uniquely positioned to help bring about social change by offering measurable feedback for the country’s most important national social initiatives.

In Tidewater, Habib shared his wisdom with many different groups. “Every research project starts with the challenge of identifying the very specific reason for the study. Narrowing the goal is critical to its success,” he says.

Ralph Robbins, executive director of the Virginia Israel Advisory Board (VIAB), led a group of 10 to meet with the researchers to explore the idea of measuring the benefits of the program, Minds in Motion, a dance experience for fourth and fifth graders. Started in Richmond, the dance course has expanded to two communities in Israel, integrating an exchange of students between the Israeli and Arab communities.

“Jack has the unique ability to draw out the opinions of group members and steer the discussion,” says Robbins. With Habib’s probing questions, the participants (including Brett Bonda, director of the Richmond Ballet and Cat Studdard, its director for education) settled on the study’s focus and potential contributions for a program that is expected to play a major role in the collaboration of two communities.

Students in the Global Studies and World Languages Academy at Tallwood High School listened intently as the MJB director described the complexity of Israel’s society. Habib stressed that with each wave of immigration, Israel has been challenged with melding the disparate cultures into one society. He explained, “As a newly established state in 1948, Israel chose to find a way to honor the culture of the Arabs already living there. The government created a dual educational system, which allowed Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis to study in their own languages and learn customs relevant to their own cultural preferences.

“With the end of the Holocaust, the resettlement of the Ashkenazim from Eastern Europe and the Sephardim from neighboring Middle Eastern countries added another dimension to the population’s diversity. In the 1990’s, hundreds of thousands of Russian refugees made Israel their home and a second major wave of rural Ethiopian immigrants also arrived. While Israel is famous for its unique hightech industry, this has also contributed to a widening of socio-economic gaps. Later waves of arrivals from Yemen, India and more recently, France have continued to transform this multifaceted society,” said Habib.

As Gregory Falls, the school’s program director, says, “The teenagers’ exposure to the sociological confluences confronting Israel’s society stimulated an intense dialogue after the presentation. The students stayed to talk about the visit for almost an hour after Prof. Habib and Dr. Warshawsky left.”

“I could have listened to Jack for days,” says Betty Ann Levin, director of Jewish Family Service. Habib and Warshawsky met with the agency’s staff, board members and leadership. Dr. Robert Palmer, director of the Gerontology department at EVMS, also joined the group. The conversation began with an introduction to the institute’s work taking place in Israel. MJB’s research on the elderly, the disabled and health care services led to an active conversation about what has been learned to promote best practices.

Drawing on the Institute’s research on poverty, child welfare, and youth at risk, Habib led a strategic conversation for the program directors of the Seton Youth Shelters, including the Street Outreach, Emergency Shelter and Mentoring divisions. Having built a safe “home,” financed an outreach van and installed an effective emergency hotline, the program offers support and temporary alternative housing to teens at risk. Spearheaded by nonprofit leadership consultant, Jane Stein and Seton board president, Steve Waranch, the conversation underscored the challenges and successes of the program.

Waranch says, “The meeting became a lightning rod for future discussions because it presented a rare opportunity for us to consolidate our differing viewpoints, share insights and team build. The discussion expanded our own microcosmic perspective by hearing that other nations face similar challenges when providing direct care for children at risk. Working in the trenches day-to-day can become blinding, but Habib’s professional expertise and enthusiasm illuminated the importance of our tireless efforts to improve the world.” Changing the day’s dynamic, Habib and Warshawsky met with Israelis living in Tidewater for a dialogue about the country’s present social issues that affect Israelis on a daily basis. In an animated Hebrew conversation led by Jasmine Amitay, Sandler described the dialogue as “fast paced, interactive and intense.”

In an interview with Pat Robertson on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Habib discussed some of Israel’s effective social initiatives. The network continues to support Israel, as demonstrated in the recent release of its powerful documentary, The Hope. The Institute agreed to serve as a resource for the network’s continuing effort to share exciting social developments in Israel.

The MJB presentation to a joint meeting of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater board and its Israel and Overseas Committee provided useful background information for UJFT’s allocation process, regarding projects in Israel. To a packed boardroom filled with community leaders of all ages, Habib discussed an overview of the enormous expanse of MJB’s work, as well as the social challenges facing Israel and the key national efforts to address them.

MJB has flourished under the leadership of Habib and the Institute’s team of experts, receiving requests worldwide for its guidance and advice. With Habib’s passion for “actionable knowledge,” MJB has become the “go-to” institute for the information needed to set change in motion and make it successful. “Underlying the society’s complexity, Israel is a special place where all Jews are welcome and all Jews strive to live together as one nation,” underscores Habib.

Over the years, the Institute has researched major policy issues such as the adoption of national health insurance, the national program of home care for the elderly, the national policy for Holocaust survivors, the national program for children and youth at risk as well as innovative social interventions such as PACT (an early childhood program for Ethiopian immigrants) and the network of one stop employment centers for Israeli Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox.

An ongoing dialogue takes place with all of the major ministries involved with social policies, including the ministries of Finance, Health, Social Affairs, Education and Social Security.

Reflecting on his Tidewater visit, Habib says, “The exchange of ideas was very powerful. So many facets of the Tidewater community share the same social issues found in Israel. This community has played an important role in the Institute’s work and Myers JDC Brookdale looks forward to continuing to be a resource for Tidewater Jewish community.”

by Karen Lombart