October 18, 2010 / 10 Cheshvan 5771
“During my army service I came face to face with the glaring social gaps in Israeli society. Creating the Kama Urban Young Community with friends in one of Beersheva’s most under-resourced neighborhoods was our way to take grassroots social action. Seven years later, the results are tangible.”
Growing up in a middle-class family in Haifa, Naomi Efrat, 28, was unaware of the wide social gaps in Israeli society. Training soldiers from severely underprivileged families during her army service deeply affected Naomi and led her to a future of social activism.
While studying psychology at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Naomi and a group of 30 socially responsible friends who believed in strengthening the Negev established a young urban community in one of Beersheva’s most depressed neighborhoods. “Our course of action was to live side-by-side with the people and make change from the bottom up,” says Naomi. “Their neighborhood became our neighborhood, with all of us investing together to make it a better place.”
With the support of the Jewish Agency, the young community activists initiated a number of neighborhood projects. These include a youth center where teens come for social activities and homework assistance, neighborhood Jewish holiday celebrations, and physical repairs, landscaping and clean-up of open spaces.
The neighborhood coffee house established by the Kama Young Community is a unique concept in dealing with teens from underserved areas. “We created a work environment where the staff, many of them teens and young adults, are given fair wages and are treated with respect. In turn, they learn to be responsible and develop a solid work ethic,” says Naomi. Social workers and psychologists work with the staff, offering ongoing support and guidance.
In addition to living in a Young Community, Naomi is partnerships coordinator at the Jewish Agency supported Shahaf Center for Community Development. Shahaf brings together over 100 Young Communities throughout Israel and empowers them to work collectively for greater change. “As a network we focus on specific areas like youth-at-risk, entrepreneurship and sustainability, thus enhancing our national impact,” says Naomi.
Naomi feels that the Young Communities’ Network is creating a stronger connection among social justice activists from different segments of society. “Today, I am working with peers who I never would have interacted with in my social circle,” says Naomi. “We now have a common goal that goes beyond our religious and political differences.”