For thousands of years, Jews have lived as minority populations in various regions worldwide, surviving largely through their strong commitment to community.
Orna Eilon is continuing that tradition through tireless work as the unpaid CEO of the MATI Israeli Community Center, in the West San Fernando Valley, helping Israelis stay connected to their faith, their roots and their traditions, as well as to Israel, Israeli culture and the Hebrew language.
MATI, a Hebrew acronym for Israeli Cultural Center, was formed four years ago by Eilon and about a dozen other Israeli mothers, who worried that their own children, and the rest of the younger generation, were losing their identification with Israel and Judaism.
“What Israelis teach their kids at home is not enough,” said Eilon, who reaches out to Israelis in Southern California who cannot afford to pay tuition for Jewish day schools or religious schools. Since most Israelis don’t have extended families here and don’t join synagogues in large numbers, many of the younger generation remain unaffiliated, nonpracticing and disengaged as Jews, often assimilating at a rate even faster than other American Jews.
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Eilon saw this happening in her own home with her three children. And when she realized how many other Israeli families were struggling with the same issue, she saw the urgency for a group like MATI.
Now, in addition to her work as a real estate broker and raising her kids, she has helped MATI create a community for multiple generations of Israelis by generating connections between families and various other organizations.
“The feedback has been amazing,” said Eilon, who described events ranging from intimate family hikes to last year’s Yom HaZikaron (day of remembrance for Israeli soldiers) ceremony, which drew 700 attendees. “It’s become so clear how much this was needed in the community.”
MATI has also co-sponsored events with the Israeli Leadership Council, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Israeli Scouts, various synagogues and a host of other organizations. The result is the emergence of an organized Israeli community in Southern California, of which Eilon is one of the most dedicated and passionate leaders.
On the grand level, Eilon’s work is about the continuation of a culture. On the day-to-day level, Eilon said, it’s about individuals, like an elderly Israeli who is completely alone coming to light a Chanukah candle amid a large, boisterous group of people who speak the same language, literally and figuratively.
“Now we feel like a community.”