Let’s Talk About Changing Lives

Between Us

I was a Surfer Dude.  For about 20 minutes.  In Israel.

Surely this requires an explanation. I was in Israel this week for meetings of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Federation’s largest overseas beneficiary agency and partner.

We did site visits one day, to learn more about the work that takes place on the ground in Israel with the contributions made to Federation’s annual unrestricted campaign. One of the stops was on the beach in Bat Yam, where we met Ofer, a young man who spent time as a shaliach in an American Jewish summer camp. After his army service, he met up with a friend to talk about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. They are both avid surfers and both were concerned about at-risk teens living in Israel.

They approached the Jewish Agency for Israel with a dream and a request. The dream: “Hagal Sheli” or “My Wave” in English — a unique program to engage teens from troubled homes. They proposed to teach the teens how to surf. Using balance on a surfboard as a metaphor for finding balance in their lives, they take teens who are all too often told they “can’t do this,” or “are not good enough at that,” and give them confidence to conquer the ocean, learn sportsmanship and provide empowerment.

The Jewish Agency gave them a micro grant to buy their first surfboards and wetsuits. That was 3 years ago. Today, Hagal Sheli serves over 200 at-risk teens in two locations.

We spent some time on the beach with two teens, learning how challenging it is to balance on a surfboard. I met a young woman who travels 3 hours a day, taking 3 busses from Jerusalem, to come to Hagal Sheli. She is now a counselor, teaching other teens about surfing and about life. We heard an extremely compelling story about Tomer, a very tough kid with a criminal record whose principal recommended that he NOT be accepted to the program. The program leaders took a gamble, and today, because of Hagal Sheli, Tomer has been accepted into the Israeli army despite his background.

This is the power of federated giving: by leveraging the gifts of thousands in our community with hundreds of thousands throughout America, we change lives in our community, in Israel and around the world.  To spend time with these teens, representative of far too many other at-risk Israeli children, was to better understand the positive impact we can have on others.

Surf’s up!

Here are four ways to Make It Yours this week:

Save the Date for the first ever Grand Slam Sunday: Jewish Community Day at National’s Park on Sunday, August 30.

Join PJ Library® at Rehoboth Beach for a dino-riffic story time complete with songs, snacks and crafts on Monday, July 6.

Check out a special screening of the documentary Blue Like Me at the DCJCC on Tuesday, June 30.

Go Behind the Booth at Bethesda’s Central Farm Market with Jewish Food Experience on Sunday., Aug. 9.

Click here to access the full community calendar