By Stacey Dresner ~
Six social workers from Israel visited Jewish Family Service (JFS) offices in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts earlier this month, touring local Jewish and social-service agencies, and sharing information about their own social-service agencies and programs.
The social work professionals, from the Afula-Gilboa region, came as part of a program of the Southern New England Consortium (SNEC), which comprises 12 Jewish Federations from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. For the last 13 years, SNEC has been paired with the Afula-Gilboa region of northern Israel, in the Partnership 2Gether initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).
Coordinated by Robert Marmor, president and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, this was
a reciprocal visit for the Israelis, who hosted six social workers from the SNEC region in Afula-Gilboa last summer. During that trip, Marmor and representatives of several Connecticut JFS offices toured and learned about Israeli social service agencies in the Afula-Gilboa region, including the Woolf Children and Parents Center, the Dorot BaGilboa Senior Service Center in Gilboa, and the Givat Hamoreh Women to Women Center.
Debby Horowitz, director of Brownstein Jewish Family Service in Southbury, who went on the trip to Israel last June, felt a close connection to her Israeli counterparts when they arrived here in the U.S. “It felt like we had never left them,” she says. “We picked up with friendships that we had made last year. It was like old home week in some ways.”
In Connecticut, the group began their visit in Stamford, touring the Stamford JCC and learning about the Parent Education Program (PEP) run by Jewish Family Service in Stamford, an office that serves Greater Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien, as well as Westport, Weston, Wilton, and Norwalk. The next day, the group visited Kids in Crisis in Greenwich and then learned about the Red Cross and the City of Stamford’s Emergency Response program. The Israelis made a presentation at JFS about their own social-service programming in the Afula-Gilboa region. They emphasized the holistic approach taken at the various agencies to treat all members of troubled families – from children ages 5 to 12 with emotional or behavioral problems, their parents, troubled adolescents, or victims of domestic violence. Forms of treatment include traditional psychological treatment, family and group therapy, dance and movement therapy, animal-assisted therapy, drama and play therapy, even therapeutic gardening.
“The social-worker exchange program has afforded our social workers an opportunity to learn from their Israeli counterparts and implement innovative programming from what they have learned,” says Matt Greenberg, CEO of JFS in Stamford. “We planned the reciprocal visit in the hopes that our Israeli counterparts would have the same experience in the U.S.”
In Southbury, the group met with the JFS and local Federation before experiencing Conductorcise, led by Maestro David Dworkin. The maestro gave conducting batons to the Israelis and chopsticks to a group of children in the Federation preschool program and to a group of senior participants, turned on some classical music and then talked about how conducting and listening to music triggers endorphins.
They ate lunch with board and staff members of the Southbury Federation at “Love and Knishes,” the weekly program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut, which provides a hot kosher lunch for seniors ages 60 and older.
Later that day, the group toured the Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County and learned about its landmark Elder Abuse Prevention Program. The following day, the group went to New Haven and visited the city’s Diaper Bank, which distributes diapers to poor and low-income families through approved social-service agencies. They had dinner at the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.
After a day in Western Massachusetts, the group returned to Connecticut and met with staffers at Jewish Family Service and the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.
“Some of the feedback we received was how impressed our Israeli counterparts were with how the Jewish community takes care of itself in SNEC…identifying the needs in the Jewish community and really thinking about ways to strengthen the Jewish community,” says Marmor.
Debby Horowitz, who accompanied the group not only in Southbury, but in New Haven, Springfield and Hartford, called the week “intense.”
“I had not been to programs before in Springfield, West Hartford, Fairfield, or New Haven. So they were eye-opening and a learning experience for all of us, not just for our guests from Israel,” she said. “I was chock full of admiration for my colleagues, over the amazing programs that they have.”
Israeli participant Rachel Barnea Emergui of the Gilboa Regional Council found the visit “enlightening.”
“I was impressed by the attitude of the Jewish community towards the needy, both the Jewish and non-Jewish,” she says. “Most of all, I learned that the human problems all over the world are almost the same, but the solutions are different, and we can learn from each other’s solutions.
Cindy Mindell contributed to this report.