The Heart to Heart Mission has come to an end, but the most vital responsibility of all of the participants is yet to come. Most of the women are back in their homes and communities by now, already sharing moving stories with friends and family members. The final day of the mission was Thursday, February 9th. I landed at JFK this morning feeling surprisingly rested and full of inspiration and excitement that I cannot wait to bring back to my community. It was truly a privilege to travel with my fellow JFGW community members, Susan Schor, Rhea Schwartz, Leslie Kaplan, Stefanie Sanders Levy and Margaret Goodman. Each of these women, along with other women on our bus (Bus #4) made the Heart to Heart mission an unforgettable experience. Each woman brought with her to Israel her own suitcase full of life experiences and moments - some sad, some happy and all a part of her life's journey as a woman, a philanthropist and a dedicated community member.
One of the most inspiring moments of the mission for me took place on the final day when we visited the Ben Yakir Youth Village. The Youth Village has been in existence for 37 years and is currently filled to capacity with a waiting list. Ben Yakir serves at-risk boys and the majority are second generation Olim from the FSU and Ethiopia. In fact, 77% of the boys are Ethiopian Israeli. They are at risk and come from low social economic neighborhoods and have had issues with their schools in their local communities. The boys are identified by welfare departments in communities and live at Ben Yakir by choice and only with the support of their families. They are in desperate need of confidence building and personal attention.
The boys live at the village during the week and visit their family every other week for Shabbat. Boys in grades 7-9 attend classes at the village, while boys in grades 10-12 attend school in a nearby village. The incredible professionals who work at Ben Yakir provide creative learning opportunities and a caring environment where the boys can thrive and ultimately be successful in their army service and in their lives.
We were lucky to be able to meet several boys and professionals during our time at Ben Yakir. The Youth Village has three social workers and staff and use animal therapy, art therapy, touch and movement therapy to work with the boys. Three boys performed a selection of music they had learned to play on the keyboard. We also had the opportunity to see the small farm that is located on the grounds of Ben Yakir—twenty boys care for animals on a daily basis there. They feed the animals and clean the cages. The boys benefit from this because they learn to help others through the process and working with the boys, the staff is able to reach them in ways they might not otherwise be able to. Many of the boys have felt judged and rejected throughout their lives. They do not feel judged by animals and feel a sense of pride, responsibility and fulfillment from their work.
There are five youth villages in Israel, all serving young boys and girls who desperately need this unique environment that will enable them to reach his or her own full potential and positively contribute to Israeli society.
Now it is my responsibility and the responsibility of all the women who participated on the Heart to Heart Mission to take all that we have experienced and share these stories in our community. I feel such a sense of pride about the impact of our gifts to The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, locally in our community, in Israel and around the world!
If you would like to learn more about how you can make a difference, please contact me at 301-348-7349 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also visit us at www.shalomdc.org/women.
Mandy Kaiser-Blueth, Manager, Women’s Philanthropy