This Holocaust Remembrance Day, something special is happening in the white city of Tel Aviv. Something which has only happened once before in history. The second annual young immigrants ceremony commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel will take place Sunday evening. However, what really makes the event unique is that these young immigrants have also adopted lonely Holocaust survivors in a big-brother/big-sister format.
Run by the Tel Aviv International Community organization and sponsored by the Adopt-A-Safta (Safta being the Hebrew term for grandmother) program as well as Nefesh’B’Nefesh and The Israel Forever Foundation, ceremony features both young immigrants as well as survivors speaking about how they relate to the Holocaust and to the memorial day.
The Adopt-A-Safta program is run under the umbrella organization of the Am Yisrael Foundation which connects young volunteer immigrants from many countries around the world, all of whom have chosen to live in Israel. “We can’t wait for the government to do it. We can’t wait for enough money to make it run properly, we just do it,” Am Yisrael founder Jay Schultz told Breaking Israel News.
“I came to this country 8 years ago, because I don’t believe there is a future for Jews in America,” Schultz explained. “71 percent of secular Jews intermarry and that is it’s own Holocaust, except it’s worse, it’s actually suicide.”
Schultz is himself an immigrant and knows what it is like to feel a bit lonely in a new country. “For me personally, my grandparents are survivors, my grandfather has a third cousin in Haifa, and she very quickly became my adopted safta. I call her all the time, and just knowing there is someone in the country, that makes a huge difference for me and her. Connecting these lonely populations of immigrants and Holocaust survivors is great work,” he said.
Immigrants from all over the world often arrive to Israel not knowing anyone and have no family. Many live in major cities such as Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. The scary thing is, many also leave after a few years. Schultz recognized this problem and chose to do something about it.
“It’s terrible. Within three-to-five years almost half of the immigrants to this country leave” he said. “After we spend all this time and hard work bringing these people to their homeland, we fail in keeping them here. We need to connect people to Israel.”
And he has seemingly found the way to do it. With the young immigrant population of Tel Aviv tripling in the past five years, it has quickly become a beacon to young Jewish Immigrants around the world as a hot-spot of social and economic growth.
“I love Tel Aviv. It is one of the youngest cities in the world. It is super cool, super fun, and has a fantastic infrastructure, both economically as well as socially. An we need to market that. I chose to live in Tel Aviv even though I love Jerusalem from a spiritual standpoint. But this is the city I chose to make my home in,” declared Schultz.
Through his organization the Am Yisrael Foundation, Schultz has jumpstarted the social entrepreneurship of Tel Aviv. Creating a platform and model for other organizations such as Adopt-A-Safta, Sons of Abraham, Tel Aviv International Salon, Project T.A., White City Shabbat, Join the IDF, The Tel Aviv Arts Council, and others under their umbrella, the Am Yisrael Foundation is becoming the leading force for social activism among Israelis as well as immigrants in the city.
The event for Holocaust Remembrance Day is one that is special to the community as it is the only one of it’s kind in Israel. Schultz said, “As much as the programs of Adopt-a-Safta do for the survivor, it does more for the young immigrant.” Currently, there is no other ceremony for young immigrants anywhere in Israel.
“It doesn’t exist, so we created it.” Schultz continued. “We are partnering with two other interested organizations [Nefesh B’Nefesh and The Israel Forever Foundation] and we expect to have a really moving event. It was a huge success last year, with a lot of young immigrants who came and talked, and we hope for it to be the same this year.”
While the Am Yisrael Foundation is doing some fantastic work, they have no plans of slowing down. They are currently on a mission to break the Guinness world record for the largest Shabbat meal ever held in one location. Schultz explained that there was no great secret to the organization’s success, just hard work and the willingness to get out there and do something.
“We are a holistic grassroots movement that believes in community,” Schultz said. “That is our strength, and that is what we do. We build the community so that people will want to be here. Tel Aviv is a great city, one of the best for a young Jewish person. And we are out to make it better.”