Some 1,800 refugee families are living in precarious circumstances following their expulsion from Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip and northern west bank in August ‘005. Most of these families remain without permanent living quarters or jobs.
This week, the founder and chairman of JobKatif, an employment initiative for the heads of the refugee families, will be in town.
"My goal is to put people back on their feet," said Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon. "We are dealing with people who are not working because of the disengagement, not because they do not want to work. I don’t believe in giving charity to people all their lives; I want them to be independent. I know we have the knowledge and the system to put them back on their feet. We just need the money to make this happen."
Rimon, chief rabbi of the town of Alon Shvut south of Jerusalem, and a teacher at Yeshivat Har Etzion there, first connected with the displaced families when he brought toys, food, and prayer books to a group housed in a Jerusalem hotel shortly after the expulsion. Fearing for their loss of livelihood, he soon founded JobKatif and started recruiting a mostly volunteer staff to augment the resources of the government.
Working out of space donated by Newark-based IDT Corp.’s Jerusalem office complex, JobKatif provides a variety of employment-related services to the expellees, many of whom had been farmers and must now pursue different careers. According to its Website, jobkatif.org, the organization has with the help of about $’.5 million in private donations put more than 750 people back into the workforce, sent dozens of people to job-retraining courses set up by the government, and facilitated the opening of 1’0 small businesses.
But despite these achievements, approximately 800 former residents of Gush Katif are still unemployed and living in substandard conditions.
"The government calls us every day," said Rimon on Tuesday, before departing for a trip to speak in Bergenfield, Englewood, Teaneck, and other East Coast destinations. "They want to try and help but the bureaucracy is so difficult and they know we can do more."
Thus far, the government has not given monetary support to JobKatif. But Rimon revealed that the day before, he had attended a meeting in the prime minister’s office where government officials agreed in principle to provide matching funds to reach the goal of $9 million they estimate Rimon needs to continue offering such programs as living stipends during retraining and grants for fledgling businesses. A formal decision is expected early next week.
"It is important for people in the United States also to know that for every dollar they donate, the Legacy Heritage Fund will donate $4," said Rimon. The fund recently concluded another matching-grant program that raised $600,000 for JobKatif.
For those with more difficult employment situations, the organization has started placing them in volunteer positions. So far, about 1′ percent of the participants in this program have been offered a paying job as a direct result, according to Rimon.
In addition to parlor meetings in private homes, Rimon will speak at area synagogues this weekend on the topic of the laws of the Sabbatical year: Friday night and Shabbat morning (after the early "hashkama" minyan), Cong. Keter Torah, 600 Roemer Avenue, Teaneck; Shabbat afternoon between mincha and ma’ariv, Cong. Ohr HaTorah, 36 Rector Court, Bergenfield; and Sunday morning, 9 a.m., Cong. Rinat Yisrael, 389 W. Englewood Ave., Teaneck.