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Doing good around the world

IsraAID comes to help — and stays

IsraelAID arrived in the Bahamas as soon as Hurricane Dorian abated.
IsraelAID arrived in the Bahamas as soon as Hurricane Dorian abated.

Navonel Glick, IsraAID’s co-CEO — he shares that position with Yotam Polizer — grew up “all over the place,” he said.

“I grew up in Israel, France, India. My father is a rabbi and teacher of Jewish meditation. He wanted us to be exposed to different environments.” Some of those environments left their mark, he said, citing the extreme poverty he saw in Calcutta.

“There was a boy about my age who asked for my empty water bottle. I gave it to him and my parents reprimanded me.” They told him that if the boy refilled that bottle with dirty water and sold it, anyone who drank that water could get sick. That connection, between cause and effect, had a large impact on the Israeli, who learned that “good intentions don’t always accomplish the best of things.”

Mr. Glick, who has learned a great deal from his experiences with people in distress all over the world, will talk about those experiences, and IsraAid, on September 22 at Teaneck’s Rinat Israel. Founded in 2001, IsraAID, an Israel-based international non-governmental organization, has worked in emergency and long-term development settings in more than 50 countries.

The upcoming presentation is the third memorial program organized by Beverly Luchfeld of Teaneck, wife of the late Jack Flamholz, whose commitment to sustainability, innovation, and Israel inspired his family to undertake events combining those interests.

A earlier program, devoted to water sustainability, involved both Hawthorne high school and the Teaneck Creek Conservancy. This year’s program — targeted primarily to synagogues and high schools — will include a workshop segment for students, sensitizing them to the needs of disaster victims and offering them role-playing experiences in disaster scenarios. Mr. Glick will speak with the adults at the program, while IsraAID staff work with the students.

Navonel Glick

Mr. Glick’s life is a case study in learning how to help others. Intending to become a doctor, Mr. Glick — who was awarded the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Spirituality in 2016 and was nominated for the annual Forbes 30 Under 30 list — enrolled in McGill University in Montreal but soon learned that Canadian winters were not to his liking.

“I had the idea to volunteer with Tevel b’Tzedek in Nepal for a few months, thinking it would be a meaningful volunteer experience and I could come back for summer classes,” he said. He worked in Nepal with street children and “fell in love” with the life of an aid worker. “Twelve years later, it became my life.”

While Mr. Glick stopped doing field work several years ago, when he took up the mantle of co-CEO, “I miss it,” he said, noting that he had worked in Kenya during a severe drought; in Haiti after a devastating earthquake; in the Philippines after a typhoon. And the list goes on — Sierra Leone, Iraq, Jordan, and even the United States, after Hurricane Sandy. The day we spoke, an IsraAID team was arriving in the Bahamas, in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. “As we were preparing, I could feel the tingle,” he said. “I felt it coming back. There’s nothing quite like it.”

Mr. Glick said that when a disaster strikes, most organizations show up in a week or two, while the tragedy is still in the news. As the news moves on, so too does the money. “But that’s when the need is the greatest,” he said. “The Bahamas are utterly devastated. There’s so much trauma. So much needs to be done for the long term,” beyond providing providing food and emergency shelter. “We try to stay for the long term,” he said. “We stayed in Haiti for eight years.”

While Mr. Glick hesitated to say that Israel reaches crisis areas first, he did say that “We get there quickly. It’s not a race. Everyone does their best. We’re able to be flexible, and in extreme chaos, flexibility is very important. We bring Israeli innovation and dynamism.

“When there’s chaos, we pack our bags and get on a plane.”

IsraAID’s work is done by both staff and volunteers, with some 250 staff members around the world and a roster of 2,000 “professional volunteers. We work with doctors, social workers, and project managers experienced in humanitarian work. We call them up” to see if they can help, and after the first few months, the group brings in new teams on a rotation basis. “If it’s a long-term project, we register and hire local people,” he said.

“The U.S. is a special case,” he added. “They don’t need our pros,” already having an ample supply of doctors, for exmple. But IsraAID can offer other kinds of help, for example, working with flood victims when insurance payments don’t come or FEMA moves too slowly.

IsraelAID workers unload supplies in the Bahamas.

Disaster victims “may be staying with a cousin or a friend, but they have to go back to work, or school, and their home is devastated,” Mr. Glick said. “It affects how you feel about yourself. It puts people in a bad place. At a small cost we bring dedicated Israelis willing to help clean and gut homes and do debris removal. Most people can’t afford it. We work together.” His group also works with other organizations, such as Team Rubicon, a veteran service organization that uses disaster response to help reintegrate veterans back into civilian life.

Many people have never met Israelis. “It’s also an opportunity for us to work together with local Jews and with the community at large, which may not have interacted with the Jews in the community,” Mr. Glick said. “It breaks social barriers. Bonds are created.”

At Rinat on September 22, Mr. Glick’s staff will try to raise students’ awareness, “so they understand what we’re dealing with in humanitarian aid, what disasters are and how they work. They’ll have to react to a disaster themselves. For example, if a well is contaminated, what does it mean? They’ll have to try to work it out.”

IsraAID is doing a lot of educational work on the West Coast, he continued. “We want people to be able to look at the news and relate to and understand it a bit more, to discriminate between what is real and what is fake and to have a deeper interest.” He hopes that they’ll also learn how to get involved.

While the aid organization is neither political nor faith-based, “It all begins with values,” Mr. Glick said. “We’re human beings, not angels. Values is where we start. Many of us are Jewish, drawing on our own inspiration. When you’re working with a Jewish group, you draw on those values.”

Even if you do not volunteer, “Knowing is a lot,” he said. “It can inspire future action. One never knows when a time will come” when you will need such information. “We’re always recruiting volunteers,” he added, citing such out-of-the-box contributions such as that made by Batya Klein of Englewood. (See below.) “She turned a community center for refugees into a beautiful, respectful, inspiring place, including refugees in her work as well,” he said. He knows that “people can’t always drop what they’re doing. But we can all do something.”

As a nonprofit group, entirely reliant on donations, even donations of $18 can make a big difference to IsraelAID, Mr. Glick said. “We’re not driven by large donors, and 89 cents out of every dollar goes to work. An $18 donation can make all the difference, providing a hygiene kit for someone in the Bahamas.”

For more information or to make a donation, go to IsraAid.org.


Who: The Jack Flamholz Sustainability Project and IsraAID

What: Present “Emergency Response — Addressing Global Crises”

When: September 22, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Rinat Israel, 389 West Englewood Ave., Teaneck

To register: Go to https://tinyurl.com/IsraAIDTeaneck

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