For years, Judy Lowy visited Toronto to raise money for JobKatif, the Israeli non-profit organization that helped 3,000 former Israeli residents of Gaza rebuild their lives after the 2005 evacuation. That NGO is now known as La’Ofek, which in Hebrew means “to the horizon.” Lowy, a native of Britain, was in Toronto recently to raise awareness about the organization’s new branding.
Why did JobKatif become La’Ofek?
We changed our name about six months ago. We worked for more than 10 years helping people find work. After we’d completed the mission, we decided we’d take all the knowledge and experience we’d accrued and apply it to other weak, sidelined populations in Israel.
What populations in Israel are you now focusing on?
Today in Israel, we have a strong economy and a lot of people are doing well. However, there is a big social gap. On the periphery, there are a lot of populations still living below the poverty line. We are trying to enable them to get out of poverty through education and employment.
It’s basically a spinoff of what we were doing with the Gush Katif families. We’re trying to change peoples’ lives so they become self-sufficient.
What was the first program introduced by La’Ofek?
The very first project we ran was called Achoteinu, which in Hebrew means “our sister.” It also means “our nurse.” It’s for young Ethiopian Israelis.
Rabbi Yosef Rimon, the founder of JobKatif, had been in a large building in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and he noticed that all the security guards, the cleaning ladies, everybody in the menial, low-end jobs, were Ethiopians. He said we can’t allow Israel to become a two-class system. These are people just like us and they have to be doing the same kind of work that everybody is doing.
We hired somebody to research it. She said many of the young people, especially the young women, dreamed of becoming a hospital nurse.
We ran a pilot program from 2013-16. We found 11 young Ethiopian women who were dying to study nursing. We managed to get them into four nursing schools in the Tel Aviv area. One of them dropped out quickly. The remaining 10 completed their studies – two of them graduated summa cum laude – and they’re all working as nurses today.
How many Ethiopian women have you helped?
We formed an agreement with the Henrietta Szold School of Nursing in the Hadassah Hospital, which is affiliated with Hebrew University. At the moment, we have almost 70 young Ethiopians studying there.
I see you have a program geared toward impoverished soldiers.
In Israel, completing army service is the first step towards your career. That’s where you make all your connections and friendships, and they remain with you the rest of your life.
A few years ago, the army had a problem in that a lot of soldiers’ parents were not working and the parents were relying on them to put food on the table.
The army introduced a system where some soldiers would get permission to leave, earn money and ease the situation. The soldiers were under such pressure from their families they weren’t able to concentrate on their military service. In some cases, the army gave them an early discharge, which looks bad on your resumé.
Now the army has officially recognized us through a program that translates as “employment for soldiers,” and when they get time off, they turn to us and we’re in touch with employers throughout the country, and we find them work. It’s giving them a little bit of preparation. Last year, we helped 1,000 soldiers. This year it’s going to be 2,000.
I see you also help lone soldiers?
Lone soldiers are defined as soldiers who don’t have any family support in Israel. Every year, about 2,000 get discharged from the army. Of this number, about half came from abroad and half are Israelis.
There are young people in Israel who, for welfare reasons, were removed from their homes and grew up in institutions, until they went into the army. While they’re in the army, they’re very well looked after. The minute they are discharged, they have to find their own way, and it’s very difficult for them.
The other group we have are young men who came from haredi families and who went into the army.
Their families don’t support them because they went into the army rather than study in yeshivah?
Right. It’s a very painful problem. It’s getting better. There’s this quiet revolution going on in the haredi world.
A lot of these young people are saying, “I want a better life for myself. I want a better life for my family.” A lot are studying and going to work. More aren’t, but it’s starting.
When they come out, they’re as clueless about Israel as the olim are, maybe more so. We help them start their new lives in Israel. We also help them find out what they want to do, study courses and so on. We provide counselling. We provide basic furnishings and appliances.
What other programs do you run?
We have two that are aimed at youth at risk. The first is called Ride Far. Our counsellors meet with the kids and their parents and offer them, free of charge, an extreme bicycle riding program. For the first time in their lives, they’re being challenged, they’re doing something very difficult and they’re succeeding.
Success breeds success. If they do well in that, they can do well in school. Ninety per cent of the kids go back to school. This year, we’re going to have about 300 kids in 20 groups, all over the country. We have secular, haredi, Druse, Arab and girl groups.
We have a facility in the Jordan Valley called a mechina, which means preparation. This place opened one year ago and took in 20 young guys who the army refused to recruit because of substance abuse or crime. They go through a program that involves a lot of counselling, a lot of physical workouts and they learn basic things like welding and car repair. Of the 20 guys who did the program last year, 18 are going into the army. They’re accepting them.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity