By Alon Itach
Chair of the Yokneam-Megiddo Partnership Steering Committee
Note: For the last 25 years, our Federation, along with Jewish Federation of St. Louis, has supported the Israeli communities of Yokneam and Megiddo. Our Partnership is a human “bridge” that builds enduring relationships and supports critical human needs. The outcomes have been incredible!
My wife and I moved to Yokneam 20 years ago. We were a young couple looking for our first home and luckily for us we chose Yokneam. Looking back, it was an excellent choice. Today we have four kids; the oldest, Shiraz (20) is in the Army but this summer she is working at Camp Barney Medintz in Georgia. Ido (17), Ariel (12) and Gilad (7) are students in the local education system.
I am a software manager in Harmonic, an American company based in Silicon Valley, California that has a development center here in Israel. I like my work because I deal with the latest technologies and it allows me travel and see the world. In my free time I swim and run. Besides that, I love motorcycle tours and I am always planning my next trip.
I can definitely tell you that Yokneam is not the same place it was twenty years ago. Then, it wasn’t even a city, it was local authority. Yokneam became a city in 2007 and the population doubled. Today the population is about 25,000. Our 25 year partnership with Atlanta and St. Louis, has had a transformational impact on our region, both on a human and economic level.
Change in Yokneam & Megiddo
What I love is that Yokneam is still so green. More than 50% of the land is green space and it has non-urban style that I hope will remain. When I first came here the education system was failing. Many students didn’t pass the national matriculation exams and the dropout rate was high. Today, thanks to our Mayor, Simon Alfassi, the main focus is on education and Yokneam’s biggest budget item is allocated to education.
There’s been a kind of chain reaction here. As our High-Tech Park gained momentum it led to young entrepreneurs and developers making their home here. This dynamic population has changed the city. More elementary schools were built, and the level of education increased. Today, the student drop rate is only 0.8%.
During those early years, Yokneam absorbed large numbers of immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. The moshavim (settlements) in Megiddo experienced many socio-economic challenges including high rates of youth at risk, youth crimes and lack of family support systems. Federation has played a big role in equalizing a long period of inequality, filling in gaps in service that our government is not funding. In Yokneam, the Partnership focus is on supporting Ethiopian-Israeli families who are living in economic hardship, without prospects for employment or education, and still experiencing inter-generational cultural and social isolation.
A human bridge to Atlanta
Steven and Janet Cadranel are our American family. We have special relationship that started five years ago when we hosted them for dinner. Since then we have visited each other several times and we keep in touch by phone and WhatsApp.
I cherish this relationship very much. We can talk about any subject. To a certain extent, Steven is a reflection of Jewish community in Atlanta and I’m able to better understand the community through him. I think for him, I equally represent the Israeli side.
My personal story is just an example for a much bigger vision of the partnership. How many more connections like that are just waiting for a trigger? Which brings me to our Israel steering community, that I’m so proud to chair.
Strengthening the Partnership
Today more than ever I understand how important the Partnership is and how it keeps our communities strong and connected. Our local steering committee is composed of wonderful volunteers from Yokneam and Megiddo who are leaders in their local community. We are constantly looking for ways to strengthen the connection between our communities, create meaningful visits to our region, and widen the circle of volunteers.
Along with the critical assistance still needed in the Moshavim and the Ethiopian community, we should think about joint programs that will contribute to both sides. I am interested in reaching more participants in Atlanta who can benefit from the Partnership’s resources and who have the ability to cooperate in the business arena with our emerging tech companies. An excellent example of this is Given Imaging, a small Israeli startup company that now has its marketing headquarters in Atlanta.
One last thing. In Israel it is now spring time. Everything is growing and blooming in this time of renewal. I wish that our strong partnership will continue to grow and flourish and be a model for other communities.