Naomi Meshasha with the girls she tutors in Hefzibah
Upon reaching a certain age, one often wonders where all the years have gone. So it is with ESRA, which is now backed by 36 years of work for the benefit of Israeli society. Those years have seen ESRA grow from a small organization run out of th eliving room of Merle Guttmann (now our Honorary Life President), to the ESRA we know and take pride in today – Israel’s largest English-speaking charity organization, with a varied range of activities, a wide circulation magazine, hundreds of volunteers, and numerous projects for those in need of a helping hand. But at whatever age, the young in spirit do not spend time looking back, but rather looking ahead.
And so ESRA looks forward with a vision of progress for improving and bringing even more benefit to our fellow Israelis. Thus the recent AGM focused its open discussion on the theme: “Looking Forward”. ESRA very much belongs to all its members and volunteers, whose input is invaluable. Although ESRA’s future and how best to implement improvements is regularly discussed throughout the year in Executive and Strategy meetings, it is important to hear from everyone. The discussion ranged from a “Let's Talk” program for improving the English of high school students, through improving integration for Ethiopian Israelis, to increasing membership and starting a music lover’s group. But the discussion that received the most input was how we can get all ESRA members, from far and wide, to get together and exchange ideas at a national conference. All of these ideas will be given serious consideration and we will do our best to fulfill your expectations. Please continue to provide your ideas and requests via the ESRA office, your branch chair or any member of the Executive.
The Israeli Ethiopian community has been in the news a lot recently. Without going into the reasons for the community’s problems, suffice to say that far more progress should have been made in integrating them into Israeli society and that it is time to call them Israelis. Yes, it is fair enough to call first generation immigrants, English, Russian, Ethiopian, etc., but those born here are Israelis, who can be proud of their heritage, wherever they come from.
ESRA can also be proud, proud of the work we have done to help with education and integration through projects including Students Build a Community, Programs of Excellence, Right Tracks, Computer Centers, English Tutoring, all of which help to empower the next generation in Israel. We can and will do more. This coming school year we will open our fourth Students Build a Community project. The first, in Hefzibah, Netanya, has been running for eight years and has totally changed the area from one known as a “bad neighborhood” to be avoided, to a sought-after area where people feel safe walking around day or night, and apartments are in demand. The grades of the children mentored in this project have improved, their mentors - the students - have bonded with the children and their families, students are completing their higher education thanks to ESRA’s backing through housing and scholarships, and all can look forward to a better future made possible by ESRA’s volunteers and donors.
ESRA has seen significant expansion over the last year, adding new branches, activities and members. However, many of those who receive our splendid magazine and take part in our activities have still not taken the step of becoming paid up members. Membership fees are what allow the organization to function, providing support for our activities and projects. If you have not renewed your membership, please do so without delay. Also, introduce your friends to ESRA and encourage them to become members.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Brenda Katten and all the members of the outgoing Executive for their hard work and to wish all the members of the newly elected Executive a successful and enjoyable year, in which we see ESRA continue to progress from strength to strength. Brenda has completed three years as Chairperson and we all appreciate what she has done for ESRA in that time. I am particularly looking forward to sharing the Chair with Brenda and I am sure that it will be a productive and exciting year. As we move forward we know we will be well supported by the Executive, by all who serve on the committees that run ESRA, by our amazing staff capably led by Yonit Gurfinkel, our Executive Director, and by all of our fellow ESRA volunteers who invest so much of their time for the good of the community.