In October 2013, two weeks before the academic school year begins, hundreds of Israeli students will gather in the city of Lod for the bi-annual Ayalim Building Festival. For over a decade, Ayalim, an Israeli non-profit, has been establishing youth villages in impoverished towns and cities across Israel – in order to revitalize and raise the standard of living of these struggling areas. In 2011, Ayalim established a student village in Lod called ‘Kfar Studentim’ in order to harness the passion and idealism of young Israeli college students for the sake of helping Lod tackle the issues of poverty and lack of education.

Despite Lod’s proximity to Israel’s booming metropolitan city of Tel Aviv, Lod remains decades behind the prosperity of its cosmopolitan neighbor. The city’s fractured community, high crime and unemployment have made it a place to avoid. Slowly, thanks to Ayalim’s youth village, as more and more youth move to Lod in search of communal living and a way to make a difference, a new life has breezed into the city.

Students in the Ayalim community practice the values of cultural tolerance, co-existence and promote activities that take advantage of Lod’s diverse population. Recent festivals and bridge building events organized by Ayalim students have brought together religious and secular Jews as well as Arabs and new immigrants. Ayalim’s initiatives include planting public gardens, constructing educational greenhouses and organizing after-school programs.

Recognizing Ayalim’s success and the importance of building Lod, the Prime Minister’s office offered Ayalim a matching grant for funds raised towards expanding their activities. Many local businesses surrounding the student village also benefit from Ayalim’s presence. Local coffee shops, clothing stores and even organic food markets showcase their products at Kfar Studentim activities. The Ayalim student-run pub provides a performance venue for young artists in order to trengthen the creative culture of Lod from the inside out.

Ayalim recognized that with tens of thousands of students studying at universities nearby, the potential for positive change in Lod was too great for one village alone. In a few weeks, Ayalim’s students will take on another larger than life project by building a second youth village deep in Lod’s city center. Ayalim chose a deserted school which has stood as a monument of neglect, surrounded by poverty and streets rampant with criminal activity, as the home for its new youth village.

At the end of Ayalim’s Building Festival in October, the new Lod Student Village will have 20 renovated apartments that will be home to an additional 50 students. There will also be an on-site community and sports center, landscaping that includes sitting areas, pergolas and a community vegetable garden that will be tended by both students and neighbors.

For the first time ever, Ayalim is opening its project to non-students and extending an invitation to anyone inspired and ready to get their hands dirty by joining them in Lod. Motivated citizens from the Golan Heights to Eilat, from the Galilee to the Mediterranean, will join young people deep in the heart of Israel’s center to rebuild Israel’s social periphery from the ground up.

You can also be part of building Israel and upgrading Lod into the 21st century by supporting this project – click here to take part: Build Israel Brick by Brick.

Your support is worth more since as a non profit endorsed by the government, Ayalim has a matching program with the Israeli government – for each dollar they raise the government matches – become one of the new pioneers and join this project.

by Ayalim & Eitan Press, Staff writer for United with Israel

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