Arad mayor sees the fruits of local partnership

Arad mayor sees the fruits of local partnership

Israeli municipality welcomes NJ support for business, culture

Since Tali Ploscov took over as mayor of Arad in 2010, the Israeli city has flourished.

Its streets and public spaces have been spruced up, schools have been renovated, and its high school graduation rate has risen 12 percent. About 35 new, young families have come to live there. In a community of 27,000, that alone is cause for celebration.

“People have a renewed love and pride in the city,” she told NJ Jewish News in an interview Oct. 26.

Ploscov shared all that good news with leaders from Jewish communities in parts of New Jersey and Delaware last week — not just out of pride but also in gratitude. Arad and the neighboring region of Tamar are partnered with the communities through the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether project (formerly Partnership 2000).

They include, among others, the Jewish federations of Central New Jersey, Monmouth County, Middlesex County, and Princeton Mercer Bucks.

In addition to the partnership meeting at Middlesex federation offices in South River, she also met with leaders from United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, which is in merger talks with the Central federation, and with philanthropist Warren Eisenberg of Short Hills, who has provided a major gift to help upgrade education in Arad. She also attended a dinner with volunteers who have taken part in the service program Counterpoint summer camp and other Living Bridge projects that have brought people from New Jersey to Arad.

Ploscov speaks a little English, but was more comfortable in Hebrew. Nili Avrahamy, the partnership’s American-born director and also a devoted Arad resident, was traveling with her and served as translator.

Chatting over coffee, Ploscov told NJJN she had three goals for her visit: “I want to get to know people in the partnership and to let them know how important they are to me, to have an opportunity to thank the people involved and make sure they know how much of Arad’s success is due to the cooperation between our two communities, and also to give them a chance to get to know me.”

Ploscov is one of only five female mayors or regional council leaders in Israel. When she took over, it was following years of turmoil that had seen a former mayor, Moty Brill, removed by the national government and replaced by an appointee, because of conflicts over financing.

“I think people in Arad are proud of their woman mayor and what I’m doing,” she said, with her beaming smile. “I have been able to achieve things that others couldn’t, I think because I don’t bring my ego into it.” She joked that her smile has worked wonders, but in very concrete terms she has managed to forge cooperation at the local and regional levels, and with Israel’s government.

“I’ve never come back from a meeting with the national government empty-handed,” she said.

The cherry on top is a planned one-billion-shekel (approximately $280 million) electronics factory with government and army contracts. In addition, a major new road to Arad is planned, and private investors are building two shopping malls in the area.

Even without the gender aspect, her story is a triumphant one. Born and brought up in Moldova in the former Soviet Union, she arrived in Israel 20 years ago at the age of 28 with her husband, two children ages seven and two, “and $10 in my pocket.” With just minimal Hebrew and unable to use her degree in psychology, she got a job as a chamber maid in a Dead Sea hotel. Within three days, she had been put in charge of the cleaning staff.

She related how, when she told her family back in Moldova about this, they asked how long it would take her to become president. “We came expecting to face a lot of struggle,” she said, “but everything went so well. After two years, I asked, ‘Where’s the hardship?’”

Her husband, now a supervisor in a factory, has been very supportive. She said, “Without his help, I couldn’t have done what I have.”

Ploscov said she had no special interest in politics, but got involved back in 2003 to help get Brill elected. “I was just interested in learning more about how things work,” she said. Thrust into office mid-term after he was forced out, she is now looking forward to running for a full five-year term when this one ends in three years.

Given that the town has a complex population mix, with 40 percent immigrants, and a history of economic struggle, it isn’t a job many would envy, but Ploscov said she is passionate about the town and the position.

Children are her priority. It’s a source of pride to her that, while her son has moved elsewhere, her daughter, now 22, has chosen to stay in Arad; she would like to make other young people want to stay, and to attract more.

For all those reasons, Ploscov is grateful to the partnership. She cited, by way of example, its help financing a center that assists young adults with training and finding jobs, and an after-school program designed to keep young residents busy and happy and off the streets. “I want the children to know how important they are to me,” she said.

She also mentioned with pride the partnership-supported occupational therapy center. Until it opened, people in need had to go Be’er Sheva, 28 miles away. Families with young children are more likely to settle in Arad if it offers such therapeutic facilities, she said.

The Counterpoint summer camp, run by Yeshiva University and funded with help from the Central federation, is another source of delight to her. “I want to have many more like that,” she said.

Stanley Stone, Central federation’s executive vice president, said, “We were delighted to host the mayor. She’s a true public servant, and she has accomplished so much.

“The visit really gave her a chance to see what the Jewish communities in New Jersey are like, and I think she was very moved, from the business meetings and the social gatherings to see the commitment that this community feels to the partnership and to Arad. Her visit did a lot to strengthen the connection — the ‘living bridge’ — between the Jewish community in Central New Jersey and our brothers and sisters in Arad.”

The trip to New Jersey and visits to area JCCs have lifted her sights even further. “I saw what can be done and I want more for Arad.” And she is confident that her city’s star is on the rise. “I think people know that this is a good time to invest in Arad,” she declared.

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