Shlicha's/Shaliach's View

Tucson sister city, Kiryat Malachi, wins Israel Education Prize

Guy Gelbart

On Jan. 13, Israeli Minister of Education Gideon Saar awarded Kiryat Malachi the Israel Education Prize for this year. Kiryat Malachi, a town of 23,000 residents linked to the Jewish Federations of Tucson, Phoenix, and Seattle, was one of 14 municipalities considered in the final selection for the prize. The Ministry of Education sent a committee to review each city’s progress in both formal and informal education. The competition was stiff with cities like Ramat Gan, Carmiel, Ashkelon, and Herziliya in the running, but the committee decided that the overall improvement in education in Kiryat Malachi was the most impressive. A few statistics bear this out. Six years ago the percentage of Kiryat Malachi students passing the matriculation examinations (nationwide high school finals) was 37 percent. Today it is over 70 percent. Ninety-seven percent of graduating seniors go into the army or national service.

How did such a turnaround come about? Shimon Amar, head of the education department, says it was not one single program that led to this improvement, but a collection of programs, many of them sponsored by the TIPS partnership with the Tucson, Phoenix, and Seattle Jewish communities. TIPS, a partnership created by the Jewish Agency for Israel with the Jewish Federations of North America as part of the P2K project, has allocated its collective funds toward efforts to empower the youth and young adults of the region so that they will return to the community after their army service.

Israelis and American members of the TIPS committee have made decisions together about projects that would benefit from funds raised in the communities. Our local Tucson committee, founded by Ron and Diane Weintraub and chaired by Sue Schurgin with close support of our People to People chair Ken Brandis, was highly involved in leading and supporting a wide array of programs, including early childhood frameworks; after school centers focused on closing the gap between olim from Ethiopia and Buchara and native Israeli students; and special classes to help marginal high school students pass their matriculation exams. The youth of Kiryat Malachi themselves have created exceptional programs; one of them, Art City, which combines dance, music and theater, has drawn national attention and the admiration of the members of the ministry’s selection committee. Members of Art City’s modern dance troupe performed last spring in Tucson, Phoenix and Seattle, delighting community members in performances for both large and intimate audiences.

Some other programs supported by TIPS are the local youth council, the Hapoel Tel Aviv sports project and Tafnit — a project created to help struggling students from the lower 25 percent of the class close the gap as well as raise their self esteem and transform the way teachers relate to these students.

Dvora Atal, the town’s representative on the TIPS steering committee, remarked, “The support by TIPS and the Jewish communities to bolster the education and informal education programs in Kiryat Malachi have really made a difference. I can really say that we did this together.”

Winning the education prize is a great achievement, a sign of success for our long lasting partnership. But Kiryat Malachi, where more than 30 percent of the population is Ethiopian immigrants plus another 15 percent are from Bukhara, still faces enormous challenges. Together we can continue to help Kiryat Malachi become a thriving community.

Guy Gelbart is Tucson’s shaliach (Israeli emissary) and director of the Israel Center. This article was written with the assistance of Ira Kerem, TIPS community representative in Israel.