By Stacey Dresner
Western Mass. – Six social workers from Israel visited Jewish Family Service offices in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts earlier this month, touring local Jewish and social agencies, and sharing information about their own social 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.
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 year. 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.
The Israeli social workers who toured the area were Eli Banias, director of the Department of Welfare in the City of Afula; Hagar Stam, director of the Child-Parent Center in Afula; Irena Gober, the head of staff of the City of Afula’s Welfare Departmert and director of the Child and Family Center; Rachel Barnea Emergui, the social services manager for the Gilboa Regional Council; Yael Laber, social work manager for the Welfare Department in Afula and director of the Center for Prevention and Treatment of Domestic Violence; and Sigal Banias, social worker for Youth Law at the Afula Welfare Department.
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. We picked up with friendships that we had made last year. It was like old home week in some ways,” she said.
While in Springfield, the social workers met with the board of Jewish Family Service and representatives of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, making a presentation about their own social programming in the Afula-Gilboa region.
The group emphasized the “holistic” approach taken at the various agencies to treat all members of troubled families – from children ages 5-12 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.
They later toured YWCA Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Program and Specialized Housing in Springfield, then spent lunch with Joan Lesser, PhD, MSW, and Smith College professor to discuss children and adolescents in crisis before spending an evening sightseeing in Northampton.
Bob Marmor thanked the SNEC collaborative for their support of this trip.
“This was a very innovative opportunity to do a “Partnership 2Gether” program. It would not have been possible without the support of SNEC, nor without the support of the area Federations, and my colleagues throughout the SNEC communities,” he said.
In Connecticut, the group began their visit in Stamford, touring the Stamford Jewish Community Center and learning about the Parent Education Program (PEP). 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.
In Southbury, the group met with the JFS and local Federation before experiencing Conductorcise, led by Maestro David Dworkin. The maestro gave the Israelis, some staffs, children in the preschool program and a group of seniors chopsticks, turned on some classical music and then talked about the music and the endorphins they were feeling as they waved their sticks and conducted along with him.
“It was a lot of fun,” Horowitz said. “It is actually an award-winnng nationally recognized exercise program for seniors, but it is great for an intergenerational program too.”
They ate lunch with board and staff members of the Southbury Federation at “Love and Knishes” the weekly senior lunch program, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut, which provides hot kosher lunch for seniors ages 60 and older.
Later that day they toured the Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County and learned about its Elder Abuse 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. In the afternoon, the group took a tour of the Yale University campus and then had dinner at the Slifka Center.
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, how impressed they were with all of the creative programming, identifying the needs in the Jewish community, and really thinking about ways to strengthen the Jewish community,” Marmor said. “That being said, they were also impressed with how JFS is also helping to heal the world and its multiple programs in the general community. That is very foreign to them. So it was an eye-opening experience for them to see what the Jewish communities and institutions look like and how they function to strengthen both Jewish families and families in the general community.”
Debby Horowitz, who accompanied the group not only in Southbury, but in New Haven, Springfield and Hartford, called the week “intense.”
“When we were in Israel and the Israelis came around with us all that week, and we went to a dozen or more different social service programs they had not all seen each other’s programs in action. The same thing happened on this end for us Americans. 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 our guests from Israel.
“I was chock full of admiration for my colleagues, both in Connecticut, and Bob Marmor up in Springfield, over the amazing programs that they have either within their own agencies or some of the providers they have in their area. For example in Springfield, the YWCA domestic violence program is just state of the art.”
“Our visit with the American colleagues was mostly enlightening,” said Rachel Barnea Emergui of the Gilboa Regional Council. “I was impressed by the attitude of the Jewish community towards the needy, both the Jewish and non-Jewish. 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. All over the world there is divorce, low income, domestic violence. One has to be very creative in order to answer the needs and this opportunity to study how it’s done elsewhere is very enriching and an important experience.”