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Helping Israel’s disadvantaged youth reach the starting line

Posted By Justin Rudzki On April 23, 2008 @ 12:36 pm In | No Comments

Kav Hazinuk brings together youth from across Israel and provides them with the tools not only to improve their own future, but also that of society.In English, Kav Hazinuk translates to starting line; an apt name for a program that provides underprivileged youth with a decade of dynamic leadership and skills development training.

Now entering its seventh year and in the midst of recruiting for class of 2018, this unique program is poised to become the leadership training ground for a multi-cultural Israel: new branches in the north and south of the country are bringing together youth from a broad spectrum of Israeli society – Jew, Arab, Christian, Muslim, Bedouin and Druze.

Ten high potential teens are handpicked each year from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, guided through the formative ages of 15 to 25 and equipped with the tools to both improve their own futures and at the same time positively impact the societies in which they live.

The first chapter – Tel Aviv/ Jaffa – began its life in 2002 and has essentially acted as a pilot. “There was no roadmap for this type of program so we spent the first few years perfecting and playing with each piece of the puzzle before we were prepared to roll it out,” executive director of the program, Eli Booch tells ISRAEL21c.

In 2006, Kav Hazinuk Negev opened, followed six months ago by a branch in the Galil region. Booch explains that this expansion has allowed Kav Hazinuk to get closer to fulfilling another of its core objectives – that of building bridges between communities.

“One of the key tenets of the program is that each group represents the demographics of the region in which it sits. The idea being that potential future leaders will learn now, at age16, to work together so that 10 years later when they head into positions of real influence, it will be obvious to them to collaborate, because that’s the way they grew up.

“In Tel Aviv the scope for that has been limited because the population is mainly Jewish. But in the north and south, areas characterized by a greater ethnic diversity, it happens naturally.”

Booch is passionate that this building of cross-cultural links has a purpose beyond the fostering of social harmony. “I truly believe that when looking at the concept of leadership, being a complex and diverse society is an advantage. Leadership happens when there is innovation and creativity,” he explains. “Through this the kids are getting personal growth that is invaluable.”

The program is already witnessing results in line with this philosophy. As part of their internship, Kav Hazinuk trainees partake in the ‘Leadership Through Action’ scheme which requires them to design and implement a solution that responds to a real need identified in the community.

The list of projects is both diverse and impressive, ranging from a group of teens who spearheaded a drive to increase the national organ donor registry, and managed to sign up the equivalent of the organization’s annual draft in a single day; to a boy who brought a regional bus company to its knees in a fight for better service on behalf the local community.

Booch cites the ‘Adis Kora’t’ project as one that really embodies the spirit of Kav Hazinuk – inter-cultural collaboration effecting real change in a local community. Three girls from Kav Hazinuk Negev – an Ethiopian Jew, a native Israeli and a Bedouin Muslim – initiated a project for teenage girls from low socio-economic backgrounds aimed at increasing self-esteem through the learning of theater and drama.

According to Sapir Cohen, one of the girls involved: “Through the project we learnt that we need to give everyone a second chance despite our preconceived ideas about one another. All of us came from a different world, a different point of view and this diversity of opinion was key to the success of the project.”

Booch is justifiably proud of these achievements. But a glint in his eye betrays some restraint. Pressed for detail, he adds “What we’ve seen so far is great, but it’s essentially just the tip of the iceberg. We’re creating a leadership engine that will make long-term impact. The real results will come when these kids start entering positions of leadership.”

Booch’s passionate enthusiasm and the program’s impressive record to date make it easy to believe that this is one story well worth following into the future.