By: David Parsons, ICEJ VP & Senior Int. Spokesman

Over recent decades, Israel has gained a well-deserved reputation as the ‘Start-Up Nation’. Israel’s bustling hi-tech industry has seen phenomenal growth due to the innovative spirit driving the business, biomedical, cyber and security sectors. In one of the latest signs of the nation’s hi-tech prowess, Israel now has 65 ‘unicorns’ – defined as privately-held companies valued at over US$1 billion – which is more than all of Europe combined.

Given this remarkable record, it is no wonder that eleven years ago Israel was accepted into the select club of the world’s most developed nations – the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Israelis were quite proud of that accomplishment, but they also know that their nation’s true economic picture is not as rosy as it appears.

For instance, Israel has one of the largest income equality gaps between rich and poor of any OECD nation. The hi-tech industry indeed is thriving, but it only accounts for 8% of the work force. For the other 92%, well over half are employed in the nation’s ‘second economy’ – a lagging domestic market of low-paying, low-skilled, often temporary jobs with little growth potential.

Many of those stuck in this shadow economy are from large Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jewish families located in crowded urban neighborhoods. Others live in development towns in the northern and southern periphery of the country. They often do not make enough money to even owe income taxes, which means that the other half of Israel’s work force is bearing the nation’s tax burden.

This was all before the Corona lockdowns drove unemployment rates to over 20% during the past year. At the same time, the political paralysis of four indecisive national elections also froze the annual state budgeting process which would have allowed the government to address these worrisome trends.

And now, the State Comptroller has just assessed that nearly 70% of Israel’s labor force – some 2.7 million workers – must be retrained and reskilled in the next few years to remain employable in the emerging automated economy of the future.

So despite Israel’s economic success, there are still many struggling families in the Start-Up Nation who need our help, and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is working on practical and effective ways to assist them. Through our “Giving a Future and a Hope” program, we are helping disadvantaged Israeli families reach for a brighter future.

The ICEJ has identified several clear, simple ways we can be of great assistance to many poor Israeli families. For starters, we are sponsoring job training and skills development programs for low-income earners who are seeking to keep up with the rest of the nation in a fast-changing world. Various studies have shown this can be accomplished by either “up-skilling” or “re-skilling”.

One of our new initiatives will provide special training in code writing as well as job placement services to 60 Israeli Arabs aspiring to work in the hi-tech arena. Many young Arab professionals are eager to enter the Israeli hi-tech industry, and companies are looking to hire them. But they lag in certain key computer skills largely due to cultural gaps and thus only 3% of Israel’s hi-tech workforce is Arab. By supporting this program, we will be helping Arab hi-tech talents find their place in leading Israeli companies, while also fostering coexistence in Israel.

The ICEJ also has been providing hope and assistance to many Jewish immigrants struggling to adjust to life in Israel. This includes sponsoring a special mentoring program that is helping many distressed immigrant families from Latin America and the former Soviet republics. We also have invested in many Ethiopian Jewish students at all levels of schooling, from supplying computers for needy children in grade school to providing scholarships and stipends for promising young Ethiopian professionals pursuing university degrees.

Another key area of assistance is our efforts to provide computers to children from low-income families. The corona crisis has accelerated the move to remote online learning at home, yet some 20% of Israeli children lack computers and even internet connections in their homes. This has put them at a serious disadvantage compared to their peers. So, the ICEJ will be increasing our recent efforts to provide affordable laptop computers to children from poor Israeli families.

There are many other ways in which the ICEJ’s “Future & Hope” program is impacting the lives of needy Israelis. We are strengthening less-fortunate Israeli families, offering them educational and economic empowerment, lifting children from broken homes and youths at risk, assisting struggling new immigrants and minority communities, and promoting coexistence among all segments of Israeli society.

Through our “Giving Hope” outreach, you can help make a difference for many poor and disadvantaged families in Israel, so that they too can begin to enjoy the promise which this nation holds.

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