three white people dancing with a crowd of young Kenyan children with an Israeli flag in the background
(Left to right) Emma Cohen, Jamie Baxter, and Yonatan Moskovitz dance with the children of the Brydges Center (Photo/Billy Mutai)

Bay Area crew gets a look at Israeli projects in Kenya

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Participants in a recent overseas trip sponsored by the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco and the National Council of Jewish Women say their nine-day tour offered them a new and broader view of Israel. Yet they never set foot in the Jewish state.

This was a trip to Kenya.

“Sharing for a Better World: Inside Kenya” enabled 15 young Jews from the Bay Area and Seattle to see the fruits of Mashav, Israel’s international development program. The delegates — among them a homeless shelter manager and a Jewish agency executive — were chosen from more than 40 applicants, each viewed as a leader with a passion for social justice.

The delegation visited projects supported by the Israeli embassy in Nairobi, and met with local Kenyans who have trained with Mashav in Israel.

Mashav is the Israeli equivalent of USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, said Ravit Baer, Israel’s deputy consul general in San Francisco. “The focus is on knowledge transfer.”

The visitors saw projects that were focused on helping improve the lives of people dealing with hardships: poverty, abuse, abandonment, HIV/AIDS or other woes.

Ravit kneels on the ground with a young Kenyan girl, they are putting a small tree into the ground
Ravit Baer, deputy consul general of Israel in San Francisco, plants a tree with a girl from Brydges Center (Photo/Billy Mutai)

Shoshana Gould, 28, of Palo Alto is a veteran of five organized trips to Israel. An alum of the Diller Teen Fellows program and the Kohn summer internship program in the Bay Area, who had a fellowship at Urban Adamah in Berkeley and worked for two years at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, Gould is no stranger to Judaism or Israel.

But thanks to this trip, she realized, “We don’t often talk about or even know the amazing things that Israel does. I don’t think a lot of people really know about the country besides the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict.”

Gould said she learned about Israel “in a totally different way,” and now has “new information” to share with others.

Eran Hazary, 38, of Oakland was especially impressed with Rescue DaDa, a project that takes girls off the streets in Kenya with the goal of reintegrating them with their families or relatives within a year. The girls — many of them victims of violence — “were really happy; they were singing,” Hazary said. “They were inspirational.”

Hazary was so moved by Rescue DaDa he launched a Facebook fundraiser that surpassed its goal by raising $800 in five days.

To know that Israel played a role in empowering women was gratifying to Hazary, the assistant director of American Jewish Committee in San Francisco. The trip promised “an opportunity to see the relationship Israel has outside the U.S.” and did not disappoint.

a white man and a white woman stand holding up an Israeli flag with a group of young waving Kenyan children
Eyal David, deputy ambassador of Israel in Kenya and Liron Gal Gendler, wife of the ambassador of Israel to Kenya, at the Golden Girls Foundation (Photo/Billy Mutai)

Juliet Chaitin-Lefcourt, 29, of San Francisco, was also moved by DaDa, which brings up to 70 girls each year to its rehabilitation center, where they receive help and are taught life skills. As gifts for the girls, the delegation brought towels, something Americans take for granted, noted Chaitin-Lefcourt, but for them “something they can call their own that they don’t have to share.”

The trip made a lasting impression on Chaitin-Lefcourt and increased her interest in Israel and Judaism. “I want to dive in further” into Jewish activities, she said.

Friendships were born, too. “It’s a continuing relationship,” Hazary added. “It’s been great getting to know the people on this trip.”

Baer said the trip was designed to promote the work that Israel does through Mashav, and that participants will “do some event this year to share information with the community.”

There was another goal as well, Baer said. “One of the challenges we see is an erosion within the younger Jewish community of a connection to Jewish life and a connection to Israel.” Some of the delegates “had no real connection to their Judaism in any way.”

That, she believes, has changed.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.