The children in Hadassah’s Youth Aliyah Villages in Israel receive valuable help and support from the program. And it’s not just food and shelter they get. We provide vocational training, academic education, psychological counseling, tutoring, music, drama, and other supportive and therapeutic services, such as the unique canine rescue program.
The combined efforts of faculty and staff help these traumatized children to grow into the emotionally and physically healthy individuals who form the backbone of a strong and healthy Israel.
But these kids don’t simply take. They give back and they pay it forward. So, on this Giving Tuesday I thought it would be fitting to share two stories of students from Hadassah’s youth villages that illustrate the precept of gemilut hasadim, acts of loving kindness.
For the past two years, Esther Mikonen and Rachel Mengisto, two teenagers from our Meir Shfeyah Youth Village, have organized the delivery of Shabbat meals to Holocaust survivors in the neighborhood and helped them with simple tasks. While the pandemic has eliminated their personal, face-to-face visits, they continue to keep in touch with their new-found friends by phone.
And friends they have indeed become. The teens in our villages, many of whom have suffered their own traumas in life, have found people with whom they can share their feelings. Over the course of the weekly visits, they have formed strong bonds with them.
The girls know that keeping in touch is especially important during the pandemic, “when the elderly “are not supposed to leave the house. We’d like to do more, to visit, but we know that we might be coronavirus carriers and can endanger them.”
“In some ways, they’re stronger than we are,” they say. “They have been through such difficult times in their history that, in the end, they strengthen us, reducing our worries and fears. We recommend that everyone think about the older people in their lives and call them.” For more stories visit this link.
As for paying it forward, a young mother writes on a website called HaMalachim (the Angels) about an encounter she had in a Jerusalem supermarket. When she got to the checkout, she found that the total was more than she could afford, so she asked the cashier to remove some of the items. A young man “took out his wallet and paid for my entire purchase. I was left speechless and waited for him outside the supermarket to thank him, and I begged for his mobile number so I could contact him and return his money. He insisted that it was not necessary and told me ‘Let me do something good with my money and I wish you only good health.’ It did not end there. When I got home, I discovered that he had put 100 shekels in one of my shopping bags while I was in the market! It is not easy for any of us during this period and I am hoping that this post will reach him with thousands of thanks.”
It turns out that the generous young man was Shlomo Tasfo, a graduate of our Meir Shfeyah youth village. Shlomo came to us in the 9th grade, an uncooperative, disruptive, and hostile student, with neither motivation nor confidence. But under the care of the amazing faculty and staff, something happened. He started studying and, eventually, participated in the student leadership program, becoming a mentor to other students.
You know, some of our graduates have earned themselves a bunch of impressive letters: Ph.D., J.D., M.K., N.P., and R.N., among them. And we certainly kvell over their accomplishments. But the most important letters our students earn from their experience in our Youth Aliyah villages may be M.E.N.SC.H.
And that is something over which we at Hadassah — and Jews worldwide — can kvell.
Students from Meir Shfeyah youth village with a friend made through the Shabbat meal program. Photo courtesy of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America