Sharing Our Strength

Sometimes, when we think of strength — particularly in the context of Israel — we might automatically associate it with military might, major operations that heroically brought Ethiopian Jews to Israel, or images of muscular Zionist pioneers. But Israel’s strength can also be a gentler, quieter strength: its ideas, technologies, and people, and seeing its obligation as sharing them with those who need it most. 

IsraAID is an organization working with communities facing disasters around the world, taking a unique approach to sharing Israel’s strength with others. In the video and interview below with IsraAID’s CEO, Yotam Polizer, learn more about this side of Israel’s strength and how you might channel some inspiration to share your own strengths. 

Start by watching this video of Elsie, a Venezuelan migrant and refugee who works with IsraAID in Barranquilla in northern Colombia:

Yotam Polizer shares more in this interview below:

Q: Why does IsraAID work with women like Elsie? 

Yotam: We believe that in order to build long-term community resilience, relief on its own is not enough. Wherever we work, we empower community leaders like Elsie and provide them with a box of tools that they can use now and in the future as they deal with the ongoing challenge of being a refugee in a difficult environment. Also, we see ourselves as change agents and as guests in these communities; we provide expertise to address specific humanitarian gaps, and once we build the capacity of local leaders like Elsie, they run the show. Most of our global team of about 200 people are local to the areas where we work.

Q: How does IsraAID bring the strengths of Israel and the Jewish people to its work?

Yotam: We believe that Israeli society has developed tools that have the ability to support the world’s most vulnerable communities. We developed these mostly because of the challenges we faced (and continue to face) ourselves, from the Holocaust, to the ongoing conflict, to water scarcity, and more. So we bring our expertise to our work across the fields of crisis management, including water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH), trauma prevention, innovative education, and more. We also try to bring the Israeli spirit of innovation and creativity, as well as a hands-on approach to solving problems.

Q: What have you learned about the strength of those in the countries where you work? 

Yotam: Everything. We learn so much from the communities and individuals with whom we work. We partner and work with them at the deepest level and call it a “Community First” approach. We are inspired by their resilience, dedication, and openness to partner with us and learn new skills and tools. 

One of the most important things we’ve learned is that wherever we work in the world (and especially in remote locations), there are many traditional rituals and spiritual practices that help people cope with trauma and crisis. We have come to understand that our role in most cases is not to bring outside know-how, but to encourage and support communities to use the wisdom and practices they’ve utilized for thousands of years.

Q: What values guide you in this work? 

Yotam: Humility, cultural sensitivity, flexibility, creativity, local ownership, and professionalism. For us it’s all about the local communities we see them as equal partners, and we understand that in order to create community resilience in the long run, the key is trust, cultural sensitivity, and local ownership of the project and the mission. 

Now that we’ve heard from Yotam and learned more about this particular approach to sharing Israel’s strength, let’s reflect a bit and see how it might help us see and share our own strengths. 

Step One: Reflect

  1. How do you define strength? 
  2. Has learning about Yotam’s work changed your definition of strength? If so, how?
  3. How does IsraAID’s work and approach express the notion of the Jewish people as a “light unto the nations”? When you think of the specific people who are a “light unto the nations,” who do you picture and why? 

Step Two: Brainstorm

  1. Take some time to think about your own “softer” strengths for which you are grateful. What talents do you have? What problems have you learned how to solve? How might a close friend describe your strengths? 
  2. Do you ever share these strengths? With whom and why? 
  3. Who else might benefit from you sharing your strengths? What might be the best way to share it with them?
  4. Whose strengths do you think you might benefit from experiencing? Who might be a good person or group with whom you might mutually share strengths? 
  5. What values do you think it’s important to keep in mind when sharing your strengths with others? 

Step Three: Act

  1. If your answer to Question #4 in the “Brainstorm” section above is an individual or group with whom you are in a respectful and mutual relationship, reach out and see if they’re interested in scheduling some time so that you can get to know one another better. In this context, sharing strength can mean sharing an opportunity to connect as holistically and humanly as possible: it takes strength to connect beyond the “transactional” interactions that we’re used to!
  2. Find an organization that’s a good match for you to share your strengths by volunteering. Whether it’s through IsraAID, Repair the World’s many volunteer opportunities, or supporting folks with disabilities through Yachad, there are many ways to share your strengths with others and have them share their strengths with you in return. 

We are grateful to IsraAID for inspiring this activity.