Only a few short years ago, struggling parents in Haifa, Israel, had nowhere to turn. Today, they can be part of a strong, caring and inclusive community brought to life through Parents at the Center (PAC), launched in collaboration with CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection and Haifa-based partners. Initiated with the intention of bringing a pilot program to scale, PAC has met with outstanding success and will now be replicated nationwide in Israel.
“This was our goal from the beginning,” says Cheryl Aronson, vice president of CJP’s Israel and Overseas Department. “We wanted to pass on a successful program that the Israeli government and our partners could expand and sustain.” In Haifa, partners include the Haifa Municipality Departments of Education and Social Welfare; and locally, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters has provided valuable expertise.
Before PAC existed, services for struggling families in Israel were aimed primarily at children. Acknowledging that parents are the single most influential factor in the life of a young child, PAC focuses on supporting and empowering moms and dads. Many parents in Haifa are new immigrants who face significant language barriers, cultural differences, and education deficits that can impact their children in a variety of ways. “Parents at the Center helps to fill the gap,” says Aronson. “The Center offers parenting classes, provides a welcoming space for all, and also provides in-home mentoring and training for social workers and teachers.”
Building A Community
From the beginning, PAC set out to connect everyone: first time parents, parents of toddlers, new immigrants, veteran Israelis, and Israeli Arabs were all reached in a culturally sensitive way. Parents started participating, feeling heard, and becoming involved in decision making about what they needed as parents, as families, and as people.
“We’ve found that divisions of class and ethnicity go away when it comes to kids,” says Ariel Libhaber, the director of CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection. One example of that community connection came last summer. During the military conflict with Hamas, many Arab Israeli parents stopped coming to the Center because they feared they would no longer be welcome. When the Center staff and the other parents noticed their absence, the staff began calling them and encouraging them to return. Veteran Israeli parents started picking up the phone, too – and it worked. The strength of the personal relationships the parents had built overcame any differences between them.
More than 400 families have participated in PAC’s direct service programs since last year and 240 professionals have received training through PAC workshops. And yet numbers don’t tell the whole story. As Ariel explains, “It’s not always as simple as a before and after – sometimes just being at the Center, people sharing stories, talking to another parent, feeling that this place belongs to them…all of these intangibles, the human connection, that’s what’s also contributing to the positive changes we’re seeing in the community.”
Taking the next steps
Over the next year, six new sites will be chosen for PAC. The JDC will work with the Israeli Ministry of Education in implementing the expansion, and CJP will continue as the Federation partner, providing knowledge and expertise. “The fact that both the JDC and the government of Israel are backing PAC is tremendous,” says Steven Sisselman, chair of CJP’s Israel and Overseas Commission. “It reflects on the outstanding work and dedication of our amazing volunteers and partners.”
Taking the bold step of focusing efforts on the parents is now bearing fruit. “CJP had the vision, and they believed that we could do something big, something that hadn’t been done,” says Ariel Libhaber. “If you want a community to change, you don’t just give services, you give them ownership, integration, and a stake in the outcome. The result is this community is strengthening itself as a whole.”
Watch this video to learn more about Parents at the Center.