Focusing on foreign workers' children
Photo: Roee Gazit

Social entrepreneurs make a difference in Israel

Sixteen PresenTense fellows from US, Israel England and Australia work to improve Jewish communities in Jewish state and abroad

Through grassroots initiatives and small business models, 16 fellows from the PresenTense organization presented their projects in a Launch Night in Jerusalem recently.


A Jewish kaffiyah and a social awareness clothing brand, the promotion of peace through sports and mapping out grassroots organizations, seeking out refugee asylum in Israel, and the revitalization of 20 and 30 something Jewish communities are only some of the examples 16 startup organizations presented at this year's PresenTense Global Summer Institute launch event, which took place July 22 at the Hebrew University campus in Givat Ram.


A budding organization founded in 2007, PresenTense promotes community outreach and fosters innovation in today's youth. The organization hosts a six-week summer institute geared towards endorsing small business models in Jewish communities both in Israel and abroad.


This summer, 16 fellows were selected from across the globe to participate in this intensive institute in Jerusalem. According to Chair of PresenTense's Steering Committee Flo Low, "The Jewish operating system needs to be remodeled, PresenTense utilizes the incubator system to do just that."


Participants in this year's Summer Institute ranged from the ages of 19-50. Eitan Press, a self-described member at large, summed up the participants in three words - creative idealist Zionists. By the looks of the fellows' presentations they appear to be exactly that.


An Arab political fashion statement altered into a Zionist calling card. The Shemspeed Foundation has turned the stigmatized kaffiyah into a symbol of Jewish pride. Yishai Mizrahi-Varon presented his kaffiyah project as a mixture of hip-hop and fashion "to make Judaism exciting" for today's youth. The project aims at engaging an "interactive dialogue about Jewish identity, community, and Israel," according to Mizrahi-Varon.


Mizrahi-Varon is not alone in reenergizing the Jewish fashion scene; David Kramer introduced his NU social activism fashion campaign. Nu in Hebrew is slang for "come on", thereby beaconing an engaged response. The clothing line produces t-shirts bearing an often political statement in an effort to draw support for Israel. Bands such as HaDag Nahash and the Moshav Band already sport the NU campaign gear. Each shirt conveys a message and a story. The graphic image is presented on the exterior while the stories of Hannah Szenes, Gilad Shalit, and the founders of Israel, for examples, are printed on the interior.


The campaign's website says, "On the inside of the shirt, opposite the heart, the story is printed, so that wearers carry it with them inside and become its ambassadors out on the streets."


The former Program Director for Peace Players International, an organization that works to unite Arab and Jewish children through basketball - David Lasday has his eye on a new initiative. "Bring it in - Israel" an organization poised to provide sports education to disadvantaged children in Israel. Fellows, who serve as sports educators for the children are trained in Israel. Upon their return to the United States, the fellows are expected to implement their newfound skills in teaching about Judaism and Hebrew to their Jewish communities. Lasday grinning widely, quoted Plato, "one can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." Bring It In – Israel adheres to this philosophy.


Common goal: Empowering communities

A range of Cleveland-based fellows are looking to reinvigorate the dormant young Jewish community. The diminishing Jewish population in the state and the miniscule representation of Jewish youth ages 19-29 accounts for a meager 2% of the Jewish community of Cleveland, Ohio.


Madeline Bleiweiss decided to take action to ameliorate the slumbering youth culture. JCLE, short for Jewish Cleveland, showcases the city of Cleveland - intending to engage the community and provide adventurous Jewish based events. Moving away from the often humdrum monotony of Hillel events into a new engaging social gathering format will better acquaints Clevelanders with their surroundings.


In Jerusalem, Micha Kurz heads the organization aptly titled "Grassroots Jerusalem." The project creates an "evolving map" of active NGOs working to bridge Arab-Israeli relations in Jerusalem.


Advocates for Asylum established by Mollie Gerver records and documents the testimonials of refugees from Darfur, South Sudan, Eritrea and other areas of conflict. Gerver hopes to convince policymakers "to support a fair process of gaining temporary asylum" for refugees in Israel.


Recently, the issue of refugee status has been thrust to the top of the agenda and placed in the center of the public eye. A decision was reachedby the government last week regarding the fate of the children of foreign workers, who are residing in Israel illegally. Some 400 children are set to be deported from the country in the upcoming month. The debate wages on and the ruling has already been contested by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Gerver and Advocates for Asylum continue to place pressure on policymakers and stress the urgent need for Asylum.


A diverse group of organizations with a common goal: To empower their communities and actively inspire those around them for the betterment of Jewish society.


As the known proverb goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." PresenTense subscribes to this belief, but takes it a step further saying, "it takes a community to raise an innovator."


פרסום ראשון: 08.08.10, 08:05
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