New Book Published on JDC’s Pioneering Social Service Work in Israel

March 28, 2013

“In my research, I found that the JDC’s MALBEN program has offered the weak and needy in Israel a helping hand and a warm and understanding heart for more than 25 years. This project should be used as a local and international example of providing short and long term health care in times of crisis.”

Dr. Pnina Romem

These are the words that Dr. Pnina Romem, head of the nursing studies program at Beershebas Ben Gurion University and author of the recently published book MALBEN: Mosadot Letipul Beolim Nichshalim (Eng:Malben: Institutions for the Treatement of Aged, Sick, and Handicapped Immigrants), chose to summarize her findings on one of JDC’s most influential social service initiatives. After Israel became a state in 1948, it still lacked a national welfare infrastructure. To address this need and to alleviate the burden placed on the Israeli government to care for these needy populations, MALBEN was established in 1949 in partnership among JDC, the Jewish Agency, and the Government of Israel as a network of institutions and services for handicapped, elderly, and chronically ill immigrants.

In 1951, JDC took on full financial responsibility of MALBEN, and by 1957, JDC had invested close to $200 million in the program, assisting more than a quarter of a million people. During that pivotal year, JDC operated 23 facilities in Israel, such as geriatric hospitals and mental health institutes, as well as housing units for immigrant families and individuals who could not afford to rent their own homes. MALBENs social welfare work subsequently evolved to emphasize community services rather than institutional care whenever possible.This shift was in line with dominant professional thinking at the time, and encouraged independent living.

By the early 1960’s MALBEN had begun attending to the social welfare needs of Israel’s general population by providing special education programs and by caring for at-risk youth. Furthermore, MALBEN supportedvoluntary organizations, such as Ilan, a group which worked with handicapped children suffering from polio and cerebral palsy and Micha, which worked with hearing-impaired children. By 1976, Israel had built the infrastructure to care for the needy, and JDC handed off the group homes, hospitals and other programs to the Israeli government. After 27 years of activity, MALBEN was officially disbanded in 1976, having met its social service goals.

This Hebrew-language history is an adaptation of Dr. Romem’s doctoral research, for which she culled the JDC Archives in both New York and Jerusalem. Dr. Romem has supplemented archival material with interviews of former MALBEN personnel and clients. She has visited many of the former MALBEN facilities, which were central to her research. While in the field, she found that many historical MALBEN buildings were completely destroyed, while others bore no sign or plaque commemorating the history of medical aid and service that had been distributed within their walls. In conclusion, Dr. Rotem says, “I hope that my book serves as a reminder, even a small one, to this wonderful program that is now almost completely forgotten.”

See 1950-1960s MALBEN photos here.