Leah Avuno has spent the last year in Tucson as one of Tucson’s first pair of shinshinim, teen emissaries from Israel.
Three years ago, Avuno was a 15-year-old immigrant to Israel from Ethiopia living with her mother, aunt and siblings in Kiryat Malachi, a city known for its diversity. Passionate about her family and friends, Leah found herself frustrated with how separately each of the immigrant communities lived.
Speaking with friends from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, Morocco, Iraq and other countries, she found they felt the same. Together they created an integrated, student-led youth program and called it “Puzzle” because of their vision — that all of the city’s youth would come together like pieces of a puzzle.
Children immigrating to Israel with their families can feel like strangers in a strange land, and existing national youth movements haven’t resonated with the immigrant children and youth of Kiryat Malachi. When Leah and her friends formed Puzzle, 10 people showed up for the first meeting. Today the program boasts more than 100 participants and the numbers are growing rapidly.
The Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona provided a grant to the Kiryat Malachi Development Fund for Puzzle in 2016 as part of the aligned JCF/Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Community Grants Program. The grants committee recently approved a second year of funding.
Puzzle, now recognized by Kiryat Malachi as its official youth-based movement, has become a catalyst to increase residents’ identification with the local community and Israel. Participants learn about the history and culture of their new country, which Avuno and her co-founders believe is crucial to feeling a sense of belonging.
Puzzle counselors are high school sophomores, juniors and seniors who meet twice a week for training. Counselors create and lead weekly sessions for children in grades 4-9. The participants integrate values and ideology they learn from Puzzle in their daily lives. An added benefit is that the program develops and empowers young local leadership. The group’s first cadre of counselors renovated neighborhoods in need of repair and raised money to purchase food for needy families and to keep their program running.
Puzzle is one of several programs in Israel that received funding through the aligned JCF/JFSA Community Grants Program. More than $120,000 was recently allocated to programs that meet the needs of youth and young families in our Partnership region. Other programs that will receive funding this year include:
• Aharai – Youth Leading Change, which will increase the preparedness of youth ages 16-18 in Hof Ashkelon for significant service in the Israeli Defense Force;
• Hof Ashkelon Community Center for Garden Stories, high level cultural events that children can attend free of charge.
• Krembo Wings, which will open a branch of the organization in Kiryat Malachi to bring together children with disabilities and their able-bodied peers.
• Nochah – Giving as a Way of Life, which empowers at-risk youth in Kiryat Malachi by engaging them in acts of “doing good” in their community.
The committee also granted funding to two Israeli programs outside of the Partnership that either provide secular education for haredi Orthodox youth or bring together Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs for organized activities where participants go beyond dialogue to work together toward a common goal.
• Society for the Advancement of Education enables haredi boys attending Hachmey Lev Yeshiva High School to combine Talmud study with high-level general studies to earn a quality Israeli matriculation certificate that will allow them to find gainful employment while maintaining an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle.
• Community Council of Greater Baka for the Good Neighbors Project of Abu Tor that identifies and works toward solutions for the joint needs of Arabs and Jews living in six neighborhoods in south Jerusalem.
For more information, visit jcf