Partnership2Gether Links St. Louis to Yokneam-Megiddo, Israel
The Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2000 program (P2K), established in 1994, (renamed in July 2011 to Partnership2Gether), has successfully partnered global Jewish communities directly with Israeli communities—the majority of which, like Yokneam-Megiddo, are in national priority areas. The program was created to meet the challenge of developing Israel’s priority areas – the Negev, Galilee and Jerusalem, and transform the Diaspora-Israel relationship into a partnership of peers working to strengthen ties between Israel and the Jewish people.
Over the past 15+ years, Partnership 2000 built partnerships between more than 550 Diaspora communities in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Australia, Russia and South Africa and almost 50 regions in Israel. In 1995 the St. Louis Jewish community joined with the Jewish community of Atlanta in a “sister-city” relationship with the town of Yokne’am and the surrounding region of Megiddo.
At first, most P2000 programming focused on economic development and social welfare issues. Today, the emphasis has shifted to developing and strengthening relationships between the people of St. Louis and Atlanta—and the people of Yokne’am and Megiddo. Exchanges of professionals, summer camp counselors, young leaders and frequent visits by delegations of leaders have fostered strong bonds between the communities, despite their vast geographical separation.
Two major initiatives currently funded through the Partnership, in collaboration with the municipalities, support programs there that reflect Jewish Federation’s strategic priorities such as programs for the vulnerable, young adults and young families.
Initiatives in Yokne’am-Megiddo Include:
- education programs
- child enrichment and development programs
- after-school activities
- senior programs and services
- family education programs
- business forums to promote economic development
- school security systems
- assistance to immigrant families in distress
- subsidized text books for schools
- civil patrol car
- Since the Partnership began, Yokneam-Megiddo has teamed with Jewish Federation of St. Louis and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta enabling the communities to connect and share their Jewish identity, while inter-personal relationships have flourished, through a series of programs based on exchange visits and reciprocal home hosting, volunteer programs and developing online relationships.
Yokneam-Megiddo is a region south-east of Haifa located in a picturesque valley beneath the Carmel Mountains. Yokneam Illit was founded in 1950, while the surrounding region of Megiddo comprises 13 villages including kibbutzim and moshavim farming cooperatives. Yokneam-Megiddo, located south of Haifa in the Lower Galilee’s Carmel foothills and Jezreel Valley is both picturesque and prospering. But this was not always the case.
Prior to the founding of P2K, Yokneam-Megiddo was one of Israel’s poorest regions with a population of European refugees and Mizrahi Jews fleeing Arab countries. Over the past two decades Yokneam-Megiddo has taken in new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Argentina and Ethiopia. Yokneam-Megiddo has 1,600 Ethiopian immigrants.
Strategic Directions – Strengthening Disadvantaged Populations
Since its inception, P2K has channeled philanthropic funds from Diaspora communities into social welfare, education and people-to-people programs that benefit disadvantaged Israelis. Over the years, assistance given by St. Louis and Atlanta has improved the opportunities and quality of life for children and youth at risk, disadvantaged families, new immigrants and the elderly in Yokneam-Megiddo.
P2K has adopted 190 of the most needy immigrant families and provided enrichment and educational programs through a specially built enrichment center, and programs in community centers and schools.
When Yokneam-Megiddo was twinned with the Jewish Federations of St. Louis and Atlanta, the region was considered disadvantaged and neglected, and many were leaving for more promising pastures in Haifa and Tel Aviv.
Yokneam-Megiddo – The Transformation Continues
The region today is growing. Infrastructure development work began in August on the Mevo Carmel high-tech industrial park in Yokneam-Megiddo. When completed this will be Yokneam-Megiddo’s fourth high-tech park, and another milestone in the transformation of the region from one of Israel’s most disadvantaged locations, to one of the most flourishing.
Over the past decade alone, the city of Yokneam’s population has grown from 17,000 to 22,000, while the surrounding kibbutzim and moshavim have a population of 11,500 up from 9,000 just three years ago.
Judy Yuda, the Jewish Agency’s Yokneam/Megiddo P2K Regional Manager said, “Partnership 2000 has played an important role in providing an infrastructure of education, welfare and cultural services that have helped integrate the disadvantaged residents of the region. We have also focused on helping small businesses with mentoring and loans.”
She added, “While many middle class young couples have been attracted to the region by the quality of life and job opportunities that are on offer, P2K has been especially important in attracting new immigrants to the region and giving them the resources that help with their integration.”
Yokneam Municipal spokesman Roee Edot said, “We have about 5,000 new immigrants in Yokneam, mainly from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. Our emphasis on quality educational and welfare services has been important in enabling us to take them in and facilitate their integration.”
With high demand for housing in the region, Yokneam’s master-plan is for the city to have a population of 35,000-40,000 by 2030. With the privatization of the kibbutzim and land reform, new neighborhoods are being built in the Megiddo region, where the population is growing by 5.7% annually.
Megiddo Region spokesperson Yael Barnir said that her region also has major plans to expand. “We expect to reach a population of 18,000 within the next five to seven years, mainly by building neighborhoods in the kibbutzim and moshavim for young couples attracted by the region’s quality of life, education system and accessible transport system.”
Barnir added, “About half of the kibbutzim in the region are undergoing privatization and expansion. It is causing hardship for many, but we are thankful for the support we have had over the year from P2K in education, welfare programs for the disadvantaged and business development.”
A major turning point in the region’s fortunes came last year with the opening of Highway 6, which now reaches the Megiddo Region. Edot said, “This has really made Yokneam attractive. Many young couples are moving here because homes, although expensive, are more affordable than in the center of the country, and they can drive to work in less than 30 minutes. At the same time more and more high-tech companies are enquiring about moving here.”
Yokneam was founded after the establishment of the State, and in its early years settled by immigrants from North Africa. The first kibbutz in the surrounding Megiddo region was Mishmar Ha’Emek was founded in 1926 with seven more kibbutzim and three moshavim (agricultural cooperative villages) set up in the following three decades.
Times were hard in the region until the early 1990s when improved infrastructure and government economic priority status enabled Yokneam to establish a flourishing high-tech industry. Among the companies with plants in Yokneam-Megiddo are Johnson & Johnson, Intel, Given Imaging, Marvell, Medtronic, Lumenis and Mellanox.
But despite the new found prosperity, the past decade has posed difficult challenges. The second Intifada saw suicide bombers strike the region from nearby Jenin, while the privatization of the kibbutzim has brought hardship and uncertainty to many.
Life is especially hard for the 200 Ethiopian immigrant families in Yokneam who must adjust to the ways of a high-tech society, and here P2K has played a pivotal role in providing desperately needed educational and welfare programs designed to enhance opportunities for the newcomers.
Arkady Hasidovich, Regional Coordinator for P2K Yokneam-Megiddo said, “P2K has played an important role in helping Yokneam-Megiddo become part of Israel’s mainstream. But no less significant has been the role it has played in initiating people-to-people programs that bring together the Jewish communities of Atlanta and Saint Louis with the Israelis living in this region. This is particularly important for the younger generation because we cannot take the Israel-Diaspora connection for granted.”
Highway 6 has brought Yokneam-Megiddo closer to the center of Israel, while P2K, often using virtual programs rather than concrete and asphalt, has brought Israel closer to the Diaspora. The Partnership program specifically has brought St. Louis closer to Israel.