Israel trip alters Koret fellows view of homeless issues

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One of five Koret Israel Prize fellows who took a 10-day trip to Israel last month, Leibsohn is the founder and executive director of the Low Income Housing Fund, a nonprofit organization.

The Israel trip, awarded annually by the Koret Foundation to Bay Area Jews distinguished in their fields, was initiated and administered by the S.F.-basedJewish Community Federation on behalf of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay and the Jewish Federation of San Jose.

Led by Nancy Chodosh, director of the S.F.-based JCF's overseas department, the trip gave Leibsohn an opportunity to explore a range of neighborhoods on his first trip to Israel. From the West Bank settlements to the ancient artists' colony of Safed, he toured the country along with Koret fellows Joan Barnes, founder of the Gymboree Corporation; Mary Bitterman, president of KQED; Renny Pritikin, artistic director of the visual arts program at the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens; and Drucilla Stender Ramey, executive director and general counsel with the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Traveling throughout Israel, Leibsohn became increasingly aware of a noticeable absence of people who were really "down and out." He said that in Israel, a country with far less wealth than the United States, the neediest citizens nonetheless had a higher standard of living.

Then came another discovery. "I began feeling this surprisingly strong connection to the land of Israel. There's a harshness about it that's also very comforting…and just felt like home in so many ways. Going to high school in Iowa, where people had little idea about Jews or Judaism, I had always felt like an outsider. So, being in a country where everyone shared the same roots was a wonderful experience."

Leibsohn was particularly struck by Israel's ability to absorb and provide housing for a seemingly endless stream of immigrants. During a visit to Israel's Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure and a meeting with economic adviser Haim Fialkoff, Leibsohn learned that Israelis are less reliant than Americans on conventional lending institutions for housing and basic needs because the government generally provides enough assistance .

Like Leibsohn, KQED's Bitterman made professional connections during the trip, meeting with several members of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. As a result of those meetings, she and her Israeli counterparts have been "shipping cassettes back and forth," with talk of collaborating on future projects.

Bitterman said it was too soon to speak about those projects, which emerged during talks with people in TV, radio and print media. She added, "I've invited any of them who come to the United States to be our guests at KQED."

According to Koret Foundation president Tad Taube, the Koret Israel Prize successfully addresses two of the Jewish world's greatest areas of concern — that of Jewish renewal and continuity. "The award has allowed some truly dynamic individuals to return to the Bay Area not only as community leaders, but as Jewish community leaders," he said.

The S.F.-based Koret Foundation has awarded $572,000 for Koret Prize fellows, who are selected annually. Some 63 Jews from the private and public sector have received the award since its creation in 1988. To date, the foundation has awarded more than $23 million in grants to Israeli institutions, including $6 million for Operation Exodus, the resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union in Israel.

"We send some of the most talented, intelligent people to Israel and give them an experience that they, in turn, bring back to the Jewish and general Bay Area communities," said Ron Berman, former chair of the Koret Israel Fellows committee.