September 3, 2015 by Debra Gittler


I made a last minute change of plans and decided to travel direct from Tel Aviv to El Salvador (via New York and Atlanta). I miss ConTextos and am tired of reading about what’s going on. I need to feel it.

One thing has been bothering me since my last blog post: the difference in population sizes between Israel and El Salvador.

A two million people difference is enormous.

In my last post, I disregarded the difference and mentioned that Israel has had enormous migration in the last decade. That is not true.

Twenty years ago, Israel fostered an enormous wave of migration from Jews escaping the Soviet Union. In fact, it was this wave of migration that led to the start-up culture and tech-based industry that now flourishes in Israel.

The Israeli government recognized that these new migrants were educated as scientists as mathematicians, but that the local context had to adjust to integrate them into society and the work place. Incubators and accelerators were set-up, funded by the government and international philanthropy, to engage these new citizens—many highly educated—into the workforce through entrepreneurship.

And look at what happened. As a result of this investment and guidance, Israel is now the top location in the world for start-ups, after Silicon Valley.

So perhaps my Israel-El Salvador comparison is debunked. (Although, out of fairness, I was not making a comparison, but looking at El Salvador through the Israel lens.)


There are over two million Salvadorans living outside of their native country. Two million individuals who have lived in other lands—mostly the USA—developed skills and practiced a sense of citizenship that they didn’t have in El Salvador.

What if they were to come home?

They may not be a wave of scientists and mathematicians akin to those fleeing the Soviet Union for Israel, but they would bring a new idealism, sense of accountability, insistence for transparency, and vision.


Which brings the subject of migration.

733 migrants fleeing Northern Africa for Europe on three flimsy boats.

A baby boy’s body washed ashore like drift wood; a testament to the migration of millions of Syrians.

Tens of thousands of children walking through the desert to escape violence in Latin America.

And yet, the countries of arrival—the countries and regions to where these migrants head—are in the midst of their own struggles: vast inequalities of wealth and access, rampant social outcries about systemic inequity and abuse, growing levels of violence, and increased political corruption…

I know the world is more peaceful now than ever before in history. But it’s still so far from peace.

We have to give these refugees safe homes. But we have to also make their homes safe, so that they don’t have to be refugees.

It’s time to stop asking: Why ___________ (fill in the country) when we have problems in our own back yard?

If we don’t help ________________, it is only a matter of time until they seek refuge in our own back yard.

Debra Gittler
Founder and Executive Director

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