Making Educational Waves: An Urban Educators’ Kibbutz in Akko

 In Israel and Overseas

Starting at a Garden Party

“There were 25 people there. The garden looked amazing. The food was delicious. It was very friendly. We knew many of the people already, so it wasn’t awkward. It was a very comfortable feeling. It was like coming home.”

That’s how Roei Tau felt coming from Akko to the East Bay. Roei is a member of Dror Israel’s educators’ kibbutz in Akko, Israel. The Akko Educators’ Kibbutz was founded in 2005 with 20 young people straight out of the army. They wanted to create positive change in Akko’s challenging urban environment whose population is one-third Arab, two-thirds Jewish, including ten thousand immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The city’s unique demography poses a daily challenge for those seeking to counteract tensions between the groups. And, like other cities in Israel’s periphery, Akko must also contend with the challenge of retaining its young adult population, who often leave for larger cities seeking economic and cultural opportunities.

So, they established a vibrant cooperative community of educators . Twelve years later, the educators’ kibbutz has grown to 95 members whose work on a range of formal and informal educational projects makes a daily impact in the lives of thousands of children, youth, and adults throughout Akko and the Western Galilee.

A Special Partnership

Dror Israel’s Akko Educators’ Kibbutz has had a special partnership with the Jewish Federation of the East Bay for the past seven years. That’s why Roei was visiting Berkeley, attending a garden party at the home of Rabbi James Brandt, CEO of Federation and Foundation.

Since 2011, Federation has partnered with the kibbutz in Akko to help it grow and develop. Not only has the funding from the East Bay helped sustain the kibbutz and impact thousands of Israeli citizens in Akko, but this relationship has helped to shape how kibbutz members see American Jewry.

“The whole concept of Jewish philanthropy was not very familiar to most of the kibbutz members,” said Roei. “I think the relationship between the Jewish community in the East Bay and kibbutz members in Akko broke down the stereotype of the rich Jew that supports us. It has made it much more personal. Over the past seven years, the whole concept of what a partnership could look like changed. We started out asking, who are these American Jews that care about Israel? Today, we have a relationship that is really people to people. These philanthropists are people who care about Israel, who have family in Israel, who visit, who are involved, who we know and host in Akko.”

Together, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay and Dror Israel’s Akko Educators’ Kibbutz have accomplished so much. Over 20,000 citizens of Akko and the Western Galilee participated in kibbutz activities last year. Programs range from services for at-risk teens, leadership training, summer camps, after school programs, coexistence programs between Arabs and Jews, and so much more.

Building Confidence through Soccer

Roei works with HaChalutz, which uses the nexus between sports and education to spread the values of cooperation, fairness, trust, and equality among all Israelis. At the garden party, he told the story of one boy, Matan:

“He loves soccer and has a natural gift for it, but he has a very hard time committing to something because deep inside, he doesn’t believe in himself. He always refused to practice. ‘I’m the best, I don’t need to do anything.’ he’d insist. He also felt like everything was against him: the referee, the team, the world. And he would get furious in games.

“He is a very good player, but he’s not that good. He needs to improve. Most of the games, I benched him because I said, ‘If you’re not going put the effort in it, you’re not going play.’ And I couldn’t risk him losing his temper. At the same time, I’d tell him that I believe in him, that I think he could be a spectacular player. He just needs to put the work in and believe in himself.

“One of the last games in the season, I was really counting on him. It was an important game. I told him at the beginning, ‘Listen, I want you to start today, but I want you to be at your best.’ And he told me in that conversation, ‘I want to start on the bench, and when I feel ready, I will approach you and I will say I want to come in.’ And after a few minutes, he came to me and said, ‘Let me in, now I’m ready.’ He was amazing in that game. He was such a superstar.

“The most amazing part for me was at the end of the game. We were on offense and he was fouled, but the referee didn’t call it. I thought to myself, ‘Okay, this is going to be bad.’ But he stood up, ran to me, and said, ‘I’m furious! Take me out so I don’t ruin the game.’ And so I did.

I was shocked. I was so proud that he had that kind of self-awareness and self-control. He was amazing, and I was so thrilled for him.”

A New Home

When the founding kibbutz members first moved to Akko in 2005, they were given a temporary residence by the municipality in a building on the edge of the city. Today, they’ve located a new building in the heart of the city that will house their growing community and have space for a broad range of activities. It’s the building of a former nursing home that will serve as both a community center and housing for the educators.

“This is a model that we can share with other people, municipalities in Israel, and governmental offices,” explained Roei. “We can say, ‘Listen, we have talked about the concept of an urban educators’ kibbutz for so many years, but now we have a physical place that you can actually come to and see.’

“The concept of an urban educators’ kibbutz is very abstract. It doesn’t have an American equivalent. But when people come to visit the new building, it will tell the story by itself. When people go there, they’ll see families and educators and community activities and meeting rooms and everything will be together. It will be like, ‘Okay, now I get it. I see what it is.’”

And they’ve almost reached their goal.

“We’ve bought the place. Most of the renovations are behind us, and some people have started to move in. Programming is just starting and the designing of the community floor is happening now. In a few months, by the end of 2018, it will be complete.”

We are so glad that the Jewish Federation of the East Bay has helped to make this dream a reality.

Would you like to learn more about Dror Israel’s Akko Educators’ Kibbutz? Visit their blog to stay up to date on the latest new from Akko.

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