2018-01-17 / Voice at the Shore

Federation may partner with Ayalim, an organization of 21st century Israeli pioneers

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Participants on Jewish Federation’s 2015 Taste of Israel Mission take a tour of Ayalim’s Adiel student village in the Negev, led by village resident and program leader Efi Rubin. Participants on Jewish Federation’s 2015 Taste of Israel Mission take a tour of Ayalim’s Adiel student village in the Negev, led by village resident and program leader Efi Rubin. The pioneer spirit is alive and well in Israel among the students and young adults who take part in Ayalim, an organization of 21st century Zionists who are creating new communities in the Negev and Galilee. The young Israelis in Ayalim not only build and inhabit these new communities; they also do volunteer work aimed at improving the quality of life in surrounding communities.

Founded by two idealistic young Israelis, Ayalim has built 22 communities for students and others throughout the Negev and Galilee since 2002, said Kirk Wisemayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, who has visited several Ayalim villages during Federation Israel missions.

“I’ve seen three of these programs. They’re very successful.” One that was initially housed in two trailers has since mushroomed into a village of “Adobe-style buildings,” all built by students, he noted. At Ayalim, he added, “their motto is: The sky’s the limit.”


The Ayalim pioneers’ motto, “the sky is the limit,” is emblazoned above the gate of the Adiel Student Village near the Negev’s Moshav Ashalim, 35 miles south of Beer Sheva. The Ayalim pioneers’ motto, “the sky is the limit,” is emblazoned above the gate of the Adiel Student Village near the Negev’s Moshav Ashalim, 35 miles south of Beer Sheva. Ayalim is currently seeking to expand through partnerships. One such partnership may involve the Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, which is exploring the possibility of creating an exchange program of sorts with Ayalim, said Wisemayer, who met with Ayalim leaders to discuss this possibility last month along with Federation’s Israel co-chairs Sheila Friedman and Judy Galler.

The ultimate goal, said Wisemayer, is to build a new bridge between Israel and Southern New Jersey. This bridge would allow Jewish local teens and young adults from Southern New Jersey to be part of Israeli Ayalim communities for periods of 4-8 weeks at a time, and would likewise bring Ayalim students to our communities to do volunteer work for similar amounts of time, he explained.

According to its website, Ayalim seeks to “revive and renew the Zionist idea in the 21st century…through the establishment of student and entrepreneur villages.”

These student and entrepreneurial villages are ultimately intended to turn into permanent communities.

“The students in our villages integrate community building and social outreach, thereby promoting society and education in the Negev and Galilee,” the website stated. “In return for academic scholarships and subsidized housing in the villages, each student in Ayalim volunteers with children in development towns and distressed neighborhoods…”

Currently, more than 500 students participate in Ayalim, living and volunteering in student villages. Many Ayalim student villages are built within existing communities, with the goal of strengthening these communities’ social and educational frameworks. Ayalim has also built its own settlements, including one in the middle of the Negev known as Shizaf.

“The array of social activities operated by Ayalim grew out of the desire to deal with the difficulties that are part and parcel of living in the peripheral areas of the country, which suffer from low priority on the public agenda,” noted the Ayalim website.

Accordingly, the organization sees social involvement as one of the most significant ways for students to connect with their surroundings and their neighbors. Students must commit to giving 500 hours annually to Ayalim; in return “they receive not only tuition and subsidized housing, but also a chance to impact the lives of over 20,000 children and youth in the Negev and the Galilee,” according to Ayalim.

Ayalim currently works with numerous partners, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, Jewish Federations of North America, and the Israeli government.

The partnership envisioned between South Jersey and Ayalim would send students from South Jersey to Ayalim villages, where they would do projects in their field of study or interest—be it anything from engineering to social work. The American students would also learn about Israeli culture and society by getting to know Israeli students and people in nearby communities, said Wisemayer. Israelis who came here would do volunteer work for various Jewish agencies and become part of the local Jewish community, he added.

“I think it’s an exciting project,” said Wisemayer. “It’s something really different and new. It’s a great leadership opportunity.”

If all goes well and is approved, he added, the partnership program with Ayalim could be up and running by late spring or early summer of 2018. 

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