In 1956, Golda Meir was appointed as Israel’s second foreign minister. To the surprise of many in the Foreign Ministry, she very quickly decided to travel to Africa to build friendships with nearby countries. This is what she wrote in her autobiography:
“We couldn’t offer Africa money or arms, but on the other hand, we were free of the taint of the colonial exploiters because all that we wanted from Africa was friendship. Let me at once anticipate the cynics. Did we go into Africa because we wanted votes at the United Nations? Yes, of course … But it was far from being the most important motive … The main reason for our African ‘Adventure’ was that we had something we wanted to pass on to nations that were even younger and less experienced than ourselves.”
Readers may be surprised, but the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world, goes back to Israel’s very early days. Yes, friendship and the concept of tikkun olam, which began this long-lasting connection to Africa, continues on until this very day.
For decades, Israeli researchers, scholars and experts in disciplines such as water, irrigation and agriculture travelled to different countries in Africa to continue Golda’s vision and assist those who may need it. Thousands of African professionals in different areas have been trained in Israel in various fields with one main goal: to help others.
This wide-ranging program has been managed for more than 60 years through a small department within the Foreign Ministry called MASHAV — the Agency for International Development Cooperation. This department has managed hundreds of training sessions not only across Africa but around the globe. It has brought thousands of experts to Israel to be trained in professional centers, each focusing on one of four main sectors: education, agriculture and water, management or medicine.
Since its establishment, MASHAV has trained close to 270,000 participants from approximately 132 countries and has developed hundreds of aid projects worldwide.
Internally, Israel has more than 40,000 different nonprofits working in various areas — educating those with limited access to schools, working with disadvantaged populations, taking care of Holocaust survivors and the elderly, fostering abandoned animals, etc. All of this comes from a country of only 9 million people, roughly the population size of New York City.
Many of the nonprofit names are well known, such as IsraAid, Save a Child’s Heart or Desert Stars. These are only a few among thousands that work to promote dialogue between Jews and Arabs, help educate about and defend LGBTQ rights, assist children with special needs and many more. All these organizations and people do incredible work to make Israeli society better.
I had the privilege to witness the work of one of these amazing organizations this past January when I accompanied a group of rabbis to Aleh Negev, a rehabilitation village for disabled children and adults in southern Israel. The aim is to empower those with disabilities so they can feel confident and independent wherever they may go in life. While there, we took an intensive look into the advanced and innovative medical, educational and rehabilitative care given to those with disabilities. They have everything from hydrotherapy and art therapy to communication classes and more. The work being done there is phenomenally heartwarming.
The story of Israel making the world a better place is a lesser known story. Although a few organizations and nonprofits were briefly mentioned, I urge you to explore all the wonderful Israeli organizations, nonprofits and people working to make Israel, and ultimately the world, a better place.