Sept. 29, 2006
Giving mothers a helping hand
Single moms in Jerusalem get assistance in finding a better, easier
path for themselves.
GAIL LICHTMAN ISRAEL PRESS SERVICE
"The women in this program are the luckiest in the world,"
enthused 43-year-old Penina, a single mother of an 11-year-old son
from Kiryat Hayovel. "When you say 'single parent' in Israel,
the connotation is negative; one of a poor, unfortunate woman who
needs welfare and cannot manage. This is the first group I have
ever encountered where the term has a positive meaning."
Penina, who holds a university degree and works as a sales representative
for a pharmaceutical company, is a participant in the Single Mothers
Independence Network. Developed by professionals, the Jerusalem
Foundation and the Jerusalem municipality, this two-year pilot aims
to help provide solutions to the needs of underprivileged single
mothers by working in full partnership with them and giving them
the tools to help themselves. The first of its kind in Israel, the
program aims to lessen their dependence on social services through
parenting seminars, employment counselling, financial management,
a mutual social support system, rights counselling, and education
and enrichment for their children, with the goal of empowering them
both socially and economically.
Penina is not happy with her job both with respect to the
pay and personal satisfaction, "but I felt under pressure to
remain in order to provide for my son."
The program's professional staff has helped Penina develop a step-by-step
plan for realizing her dream of setting up her own business on the
"I have been put in contact with the local small business administration
and we are working on developing my idea," she said. "I
now have the courage to venture out on my own. This is not just
a handout. I'm being given the tools to advance myself."
This approach is reinforced by Rivka Cohen, who serves as the program's
co-ordinator in the Jerusalem municipality. "This is a program
that tells women to dream and then works towards making their dreams
come true," she explained. "We know we cannot eliminate
poverty, but we can create openings to the mainstream and a better
life. The most important thing for us is that, at the end of the
program, each woman will not be in the same place she was when she
started. We believe in their power and creativity and their ability
to reclaim this power and harness it towards bettering their lives
and those of their children."
"This is the first time that a comprehensive approach has been
taken to the difficulties faced by single mothers in Jerusalem,"
said Ella Mano-Ben Yoseff of the Jerusalem Foundation. "The
women are full partners in the program and this enables them to
take responsibility for and control of their lives. Rather than
put out a fire with a one-time care package or donation, we are
helping them to make lasting change."
Single parent families in Jerusalem make up one of the city's largest
population groups in distress, with nearly 4,000 of the 7,900 single
parent families receiving some form of welfare services and fully
87 per cent reporting economic hardships. In addition, children
from single parent families are more likely to suffer from learning
and behavioral problems and become involved in violence, drugs or
crime, thus leading to another generation of financial dependence.
The program is being implemented in stages in two Jerusalem neighborhoods
Kiryat Hayovel and Pisgat Zeev. When fully in place, it will
include 100 women in each neighborhood in three separate groups
of some 30 to 35 each. The first group in each neighborhood has
already started and recruitment of the second group in Kiryat Hayovel
The Kiryat Hayovel program, with 32 women ranging in age from 28
to 43, started in March 2006 and the women chose two workshops
one on employment and the other on coping with single parenthood.
"The program demands a lot, but it also gives a lot,"
said Shlomit Greenfield, program co-ordinator in Kiryat Hayovel.
"These women are all working in low-paying jobs and are engaged
in a daily struggle to survive and take care of
their children. The program helps them to set goals and advance
The program also aims to foster a sense of community involvement.
"We hope that they will learn not just to take but also to
give back to the community," said Keren Shani, program co-ordinator
in Pisgat Zeev. The program here began in June 2006 in partnership
with WIZO and with 35 women, including seven new immigrants from
the former Soviet Union and one Arab woman. Some of the women have
already started volunteering at the local WIZO women's rights centre
and a secondhand store for the poor. The Arab woman is volunteering
in Jerusalem's bilingual school for Arab and Jewish children.
Yehudit, a 40-year-old single mother of four from Kiryat Hayovel,
is currently working as a cook in a public institution. Like Penina,
she would like to set up an independent business, capitalizing on
her skills as a cook.
"The program is helping me to make connections and restore
the self-confidence and assertiveness I lost over the years,"
she said. "The other women really give me support and encouragement.
This is only the beginning of the road for me. I don't know what
the future has in store but I am confident it will be better."