It's back-to-school time. For most students in the Philadelphia area, getting new school supplies is an end-of-summer ritual. But for the youth of northern Israel -- whose lives have been turned upside-down by the financial, infrastructure and emotional devastation caused by the recent war -- buying necessities has become difficult, if not impossible.
To address this issue, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has adopted a project called "Making the Grade." As part of the $15 million that Federation aims to raise through its Israel Emergency Fund, Federation seeks to raise $500,000 for this specific cause. This funding will guarantee that 10,000 at-risk Israeli children receive backpacks and the supplies they need for this academic year.
To ensure that the project goes smoothly, Federation is partnering with the Jewish Agency for Israel, which will administer the program, oversee the distribution of supplies and provide Federation with frequent status reports.
"Making the Grade" will primarily support students who are new immigrants to Israel, who are living in absorption centers or are classified as "at-risk" by social-welfare authorities. Many of the students' families have been left without any income because of the war, and therefore must focus on rebuilding their lives. School supplies can be an impossible expense after such trauma.
While in Israel two weeks ago, Federation president Ira M. Schwartz met with children in a northern Israel Ethiopian absorption center who illustrated the need for the project.
"Normally, these students would have worked all summer to have funds for school supplies," he said. "Instead, they spent the bulk of their summer in a bomb shelter."
"Imagine," he continued, "being an ambitious young person, who all year long was looking forward to earning money during the summer, then having that opportunity taken away from you."
Compounding students' lack of financial resources is the fact that many businesses in northern Israel remain closed. Even finding a store to buy supplies is hard.
To address this issue, Office Depot in Israel is partnering with Federation and JAFI on "Making the Grade."
Many of the students will receive an Office Depot debit card that they can use to buy the supplies of their choice at the most accessible store location. For students who do not have the ability or resources to travel to an Office Depot, the company is sending trucks filled with supplies to be delivered to students in the most highly impacted areas of Israel.
A number of kids have already received their debit cards or school supplies -- thanks to funds already forwarded by Federation and the support from members of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community.
For more information on Federation's "Making the Grade" project and the Israel Emergency Fund, call 215-832-0564 or log on to: www.jewishphilly.org . Checks payable to the "Jewish Federation" can be mailed to P.O. Box 57200, Philadelphia, PA 19111-7200. Write "Israel Emergency Fund" in the memo field.