Gaza evacuees get help starting a new life
By PAUL LUNGEN, Staff Reporter

Thursday, 02 December 2010, The Canadian Jewish News


Israel’s evacuation of Gaza’s Gush Katif settlements in August 2005 was a traumatic event for the country, but particularly so for the 10,000 Jewish residents forced to leave homes that some had lived in for 30 years.

At the time, the government pledged to ease the transition to life outside Gush Katif, but five years later, 85 per cent of the former residents of the southwestern Gaza region, plus others from the northern West Bank, continue to reside in trailers and 18 per cent remain unemployed, far above the country’s jobless rate of 6 to 7 per cent.

That’s the bleak picture painted by Judy Lowy, a British-born olah who was in Toronto last week to raise the profile – and perhaps some funds as well – for an organization created to help find employment and promote self-sufficiency for the former residents of Gush Katif.

Lowy is executive director of JobKatif, a grassroots organization founded by Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon to help integrate the displaced residents of Gush Katif into mainstream Israeli life.

Lowy believes the Israeli government was guilty of poor post-evacuation planning for the residents, who found themselves with no jobs, few prospects, and living permanently in what were supposed to be temporary shelters.

R._YZ_Rimon_speaking_in_Toronto-2Rabbi Rimon, who like Lowy resides in Gush Etzion, a settlement south of Jerusalem, tried to convince the government to integrate the former residents, but he ran into a virtual brick wall.

“I don’t think it was callousness,” Lowy said. “It’s government bureaucracy. Everything takes longer than it should.”

Instead of relying on the glacial speed of bureaucrats to get things done, Rabbi Rimon “became a one-man employment agency,” Lowy said.

He set up a website, placed ads in papers and with the help of volunteers using their personal contacts found jobs for the displaced Gush Katif families. In March 2006, JobKatif was formally created as a non-profit agency to carry on the rabbi’s work. Over time, it added professional staff so that today, it employs 20 people and boasts a budget of $2 million (US).

It can also boast some successes: 1,600 full-time jobs have been found; 179 new businesses have been started; more than 300 former residents have attended vocational training, and in 2008, Rabbi Rimon received the President’s Award for Volunteerism.

The success of the organization has also attracted the attention of the Netanyahu government, which last summer set up an inquiry into the handling of the Gush Katif displaced families. The inquiry, which heard testimony from JobKatif, issued its final report a few months ago “It was pretty devastating,” Lowy said. “In a line, ‘the people got a raw deal.’”

The state had encouraged them to move to the region and then, after forcibly evacuating them, did not adequately prepare for their welfare, she added.

In 2009, the government offered to provide some financial support to JobKatif, matching shekel for shekel all sums allocated for job placement. A little under two months ago, satisfied with JobKatif’s achievements, the government upped the ratio to three to one, matching every shekel spent by the private agency with three from the government.

Finding jobs has numerous spinoff benefits that go far beyond merely statistical improvements in the jobless data, Lowy suggested.

Many of the former residents were over 45, and 70 per cent had been self-employed in various small businesses, which they had created from nothing.

Particularly noteworthy were the bug-free lettuce and flower hothouses. Altogether, Gush Katif accounted for 15 per cent of Israel’s total agricultural exports, and that sector supported various spinoff service industries as well.

Many of the older residents were at a stage in life that made it difficult to find new jobs.

Lowy said JobKatif raises 70 per cent of  its operating budget from the Diaspora, mostly the United States, but she believes Toronto could be fertile ground for support.

“I invite people to take the opportunity to trigger the three-to-one government money to help people get back to normal,” she said.

Funds can be allocated through UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, which is acting as a conduit for moneys raised for JobKatif, she added.


Please note: 

The Israeli government now TRIPLE matches donations to Job Katif.   In recognition of JobKatif’stremendous success in finding employment for the former residents of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria, the Israeli government has earmarked up to $4.5 million USD on a matching basis for contributions going to directly assist the affected families. Read more.

Rav Rimon participated in the Renewing our Spirit Conference at the Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, Toronto, speaking  on "Who will be a Jew - Conversion and the Jewish Future" and on "The Gaza War Two Years After: Halachic Dilemmas of Israeli Soldiers in Battle".