When I immigrated to Israel I didn’t know Hebrew and didn’t have social connections. It was a period when I often felt isolated, lonely and frustrated for being unemployed.
Luckily I had my hobby – crafts – and it gave me comfort and something to do between job interviews that seemed to last forever. I also invited other immigrants like me for craft evenings at my home. We would sew, stitch, glue and talk. For many of us, the meetings at my house were a way to stay together, support each other, share dreams and experience of making our way in the new country. Stitch by stitch, step by step our lives got settled as well.
Many can argue that art making needs solitude and isolation. It is right in a sense. But when we are talking about art as a process, not only as a final product, making art in a community can be such a valuable and healing experience. It helps to feel powerful, proactive, connected and gives sense of purpose.
This is especially true for people who feel that their life is a long “waiting process.” I am talking about older people without an extended family who are not babysitting grandchildren or have health and age restrictions that keep them home most of the time.
The kind of work non-governmental organizations like Yad LaKashish do for such groups is invaluable. Five days a week, low income elderly from the Jerusalem area come to Yad LaKashish to work. They have ten workshops which include bookbinding, needlework, ceramics, silk-painting, metalwork, and more. The elderly artisans receive on-the-job training and supervision to produce beautiful, high-quality, hand-made crafts and Judaica items, which are then sold in the gift shop.
Such Yad LaKashish empowers around 300 elderly artisans, who receive a monthly stipend for their work. Also, they benefit from a wide range of social and economic services, including a free monthly bus pass, a free daily hot meal, and morning snack, subsidized dental care; monetary gifts for the Jewish holidays and a free annual day-trip outside Jerusalem.
When I visited I got to meet a few of them and hear their personal stories.
Maya is 79 years old. She’s a widow and a few months ago she came to Yad Lakashish with other immigrants who wanted to join the program. They asked Maya to help them with the Hebrew translation. As Maya helped her new friends from Russia, she realized she could also benefit from the services provided by Yad LaKashish. Maya now works in the ceramic workshop. “I didn’t know how to paint, and suddenly that’s what I’m doing, and I enjoy it so much. I’m fortunate!” – says Maya. She finds in it comfort, a new sense of purpose. It helps her feel less lonely and takes her mind away from the grief of losing her husband not long ago. Maya also enjoys the hot lunch provided by Yad LaKashish in the dining hall with other artisans like her, in total around 270 people, who create a close and robust community.
Bracha was born in 1944 and started working at Yad LaKashish in 2016. She immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia 30 years ago with her husband and nine children. Before their departure, they sold everything they owned and sewed their money into their clothing. The journey began with a three-week trek to Sudan in extremely harsh conditions. They were robbed and left with absolutely nothing, including food or water. Tragically, four of Bracha’s children did not survive the journey. “Despite the immense suffering, we never regretted our decision,” tells Bracha. A plane took them from Sudan to Greece, and from there they were finally brought to Israel. Today Bracha lives in Jerusalem. She is a proud grandmother of eight grandchildren. Sadly, her husband passed away, but the family is comforted by the knowledge that he had reached Israel and witnessed his family grow. She is delighted to come to Yad LaKashish every day, as her work here gives her purpose and adds meaning to her life. For her, Yad LaKashish is the “light in her life.”
By creating an inspirational environment infused with dignity and respect, Yad LaKashish simultaneously supports the old and educates the young.
“Yad LaKashish welcomes thousands of visitors from around the world each year. Our free tour is offered Sunday- Thursday between the hours of 8:30 and 11:15. The elderly enjoy meeting visitors and feel a sense of pride when guests admire their work.” says Ariela Schwartz-Zur, the executive director.
“Last month we hosted visitors from the United States, Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Spain, Holland, and Australia. About half the visitors are young people, and a tour of Yad LaKashish often sparks a change in their attitude towards the senior population. We offer visitors the chance to engage with our artisans as they produce beautiful items, as well as offer an enjoyable experience which opens a window to social justice in action”, continues Ariela.
Yad LaKashish also enjoys a steady flow of volunteers – from schoolchildren to pensioners – who work beside the artisans and staff.
“Our organization continues to run on the same model that was used when it was first founded in 1962. We are focused on creating creative work opportunities and building a diverse, supportive community which in many ways resembles the values of the start-up nation”, concludes Jazmine Morgan, the community relations manager at Yad LaKashish.
Visiting Yad LaKashish in Jerusalem was a powerful and excellent learning experience for me. I had a chance to see tzedakah in action. Tzedakah is charity in Hebrew and the whole country is based on it. However, the root of the word means “doing the right thing.” It felt so right to decide to do my holiday’s gifts shopping at Yad LaKashish’s gift shop which sells beautiful Judaica souvenirs made by the elderly citizens of Jerusalem. I believe the warmth of their hearts and hands will bring exceptional value to the gifts I plan to send out to my friends abroad.
About Yad LaKashish
Yad LaKashish is a non-profit organization which was founded in 1962. Yad LaKashish provides stimulating work opportunities, a warm community environment, and invaluable support services for hundreds of needy elderly from Jerusalem, many of whom are physically challenged. They are all part of Israel`s lowest socio-economic sector, and the majority are immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, and South America. About 80% of their funding is from donors and 20% comes from sales of the artists work in the onsite gift shop and online. Contact them to organize a tour of Yad LaKashish or to get more details about volunteer opportunities. Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org. More info is available here.
Photos: Yad LaKashish