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It Takes a Village: Closing Achievement Gaps Through Israeli Community Centers

Bakehila was founded in 2002 by Israeli entrepreneur, philanthropist, and politician MK Erel Margalit; Margalit and his wife Debbie noticed that children in the nearby community of Kiryat Yovel in Jerusalem attended school without lunch and suffered from a 30% drop-out rate
Illustrative photo of Israeli schoolchildren, August 27, 2013. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli schoolchildren, August 27, 2013. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

“On Point” Interviews with Annette Blum

As an individual and through my organization, Blum Media International, I challenge myself to take on projects that compete with the status quo and offer fresh perspectives on religion, culture and international affairs. My new video interview series, “On Point,” offers an inside look at the mechanisms and ideas that movers & shakers use to bring about change. This episode of “On Point” looks at a dynamic Israeli non-profit organization called Bakehila whose humanitarian mission I have been proud to support.

Bakehila was founded in 2002 by Israeli entrepreneur, philanthropist, and politician MK Erel Margalit. After moving to Ein Karem, a neighborhood of Jerusalem, Erel and his wife Debbie noticed that children in the nearby community of Kiryat Yovel attended school without lunch and suffered from a 30% drop-out rate. This inspired Erel to create an organization of community-based centers that would provide academic enrichment so economically disadvantaged students wouldn’t fall behind.

I consider Erel a friend, colleague and someone that I can look to for what is trending in the world of politics, education and finance. He named this organization Bakehila, a Hebrew word that means “in the community.” Despite its short 12-year history, it has been very successful in accomplishing its mission. Eight communities in total have been impacted, including two Arab neighborhoods. About 750 students have attended one of Bakehila’s Learning and Enrichment Centers.

During November 2016, I traveled to Jerusalem and met with various staff members and students of Bakehila. In this video, I interviewed Erel and we chatted about Bakehila’s work in these communities. He stressed that better education leads to upward social mobility. He believes that graduates from these centers feel more hopeful about their futures because they leave with skills that make them more attractive to prestigious universities.

Erel has proven that Bakehila’s model is sustainable and is a ‘win-win’ for the city. Graduates of the centers often return as volunteers, and act as mentors for younger generations. Not only are students getting better grades—but they’re able to look at role models who have been successful as a result of attending one of Bakehila’s centers.

The city of Jerusalem is often at the forefront of ongoing regional conflict. Despite the challenges this creates, he believes that city is “winning,” and that it will emerge from such issues stronger than ever before. Toward the end of our enlightening discussion, Erel quipped that it “takes a village to raise a child.” From what I’ve seen over the years, if that ‘village’ has a place like Bakehila, I have no doubt in that child’s future success.

You Have to Give, and Not Just Take: Interviews with Students from Bakehila 

The best way to learn about the impact of Bakehila is through students who have personally attended and benefitted from one of its centers. Beit Safafa is an Arab-Israeli community located in East Jerusalem where Bakehila opened a Learning and Enrichment center in 2010. Serving over 100 students a year, this center has grown to be Bakehila’s single largest Learning and Enrichment Center.

In this second video, Sereen and Dina, two young women from Beit Safafa and graduates from Bakehila, discussed what they gained from attending programs and why they returned to work as volunteers.

Sereen says that while her grades at school were good, she was incredibly shy. Bakehila was a place that not only enriched her academic career but also enabled her to break out of her shell. Dina nods in agreement with Sereen, stating that the staff at the center are committed to setting students up with success in the classroom and beyond. These young women remained committed to the mission of Bakehila and although they now attend university, both returned to the center in Beit Safafa as volunteers. Dina stated that it was the staff at the center who inspired her to volunteer: “I remember one of my teachers told me, if you want to be a good person when you grow up—you have to give and not just take.”

It’s clear both of these young women are role models to younger students in Beit Safafa. In the latter part of this interview, I sat with Dina and some of her students. We talked about their favorite courses (Arabic, English, and Math they respond in excited voices) and their personal career aspirations. From doctors to lawyers to teachers, these young students have goals and a vision for their futures. This vision is obtainable thanks to role models like Sereen and Dina who are proof of Bakehila’s impact.

Bakehila is a metaphor for what can happen when like-minded, strong-willed and dedicated individuals take an idea and implement it to create change. It also provides a model for how today’s youth, equipped with the tools to succeed, can lead us out of the state of anger, withdrawal and discord that much of the world lives in today. With the dedication and commitment of programs such as this, young leaders are inspired to become role models in their own communities in the hopes of leading the way to a better future for us all.

About the Author
Annette Blum is an activist and philanthropist with a focus on global citizenship. Using art and media as dialogue-generating platforms, Ms. Blum advocates for social justice causes across the globe, and sponsors diverse advocacy-based programs. Among many board and advisory positions, Ms. Blum is a member of the Artists and Educators Board at Center Theater Group, the Clinton Global Initiative, and Religions for Peace, a U.N. affiliate program. Recently, Ms. Blum has collaborated with the Jerusalem Season of Culture program, the Clinton Global Initiative, and is a contributing writer for The Huffington Post, where she shares her experience with social and political programs and events taking place across the globe, with her specific focus on the intersection of art, advocacy and dialogue.
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