President Reuven Rivlin joins Uri Leventer-Roberts at the launch of a new educators initiative supported by UJA.
As executive director of UJA’s office in Israel, Uri Leventer-Roberts keeps a finger on the pulse of Israeli society and the concerns the country faces — during everyday life and times of conflict. He offers a few words on the intense rocket strikes this past weekend and how UJA responded, and provides a glimpse into UJA’s role in Israel today.
(Q) With a third of Israel under attack this past weekend, how were Israelis affected and how did UJA respond?
(A) Thankfully, there is now a ceasefire. But by Monday morning, four Israelis were killed and more than 200,000 children were kept home from school. UJA’s partners the Jewish Agency for Israel, Israel Trauma Coalition, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee immediately swung into action doing everything from distributing emergency funds and checking on neighborhood shelters to operating online resources for people with disabilities.
“Rocket day” is the Israeli version of a “snow day.” And yes, kids are happy to miss school, their parents much less so, of course because of the security threat, but also because they do need to go to work. In a bittersweet account, one mother was running to find her children when the emergency siren sounded during a rocket attack. She discovered her kids putting their bikes down and standing together. They thought it was a memorial siren like they hear on Holocaust Remembrance Day when everyone stops what they are doing and stands for a moment of silence. Instead of running for shelter, the children stood still out of respect.
(Q) Day to day, what keeps you busy at the UJA office in Israel?
(A) We serve as the eyes and ears of UJA on the ground. We see our role as understanding the challenges Israelis deal with, the issues on their minds, trends and opportunities, and then share this perspective with our New York colleagues and lay leaders to develop priorities for funding projects. Once the priorities are decided, we play a key role in the grantmaking process and help choose the best partners in Israel to carry out these projects. We’re also making connections between nonprofits, whether they’re long established or newer grassroots organizations, helping them take on new areas of programming and address shared challenges together. Our office also supports site visits and missions to Israel that show donors and visitors the programs UJA makes possible.
(Q) What do you find most rewarding?
(A) I find it rewarding that I can flip the pages of the newspaper and see that UJA is involved in one way or another with so many of the issues and social challenges the country faces. We cast a wide net of support. As just one example, last year we worked with President Rivilin’s office on bringing together educators from different segments of Israeli society — people who would normally never interact learning from and about one another.
I enjoy the range and diversity of topics and experiences. I can spend my morning meeting other funders interested in collaborating with us on the Jewish identity of Israelis, my afternoon out in the field seeing a training employment program for the Haredi community, and the evening attending a gathering of tech entrepreneurs who are about to go on a UJA-supported trip to learn more about the American Jewish community.
(Q) Can you give us another example of UJA’s impact in Israel?
(A) Here’s a great example: The emergency department at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, in the south of Israel, is one of the most active in Israel. And the population of Beersheba is expected to increase by 30% in the next few years. So for this and other reasons there’s a growing need in the community. UJA’s capital campaign raised funds for a new emergency department and trauma center at the medical center. During Passover when I was at the cornerstone ceremony, I spoke on behalf of UJA alongside the head of the center and a wounded combat officer whose life was saved at the hospital. And I was honored to be able to thank the Kirsh family for their incredibly generous donation to the project.