Wednesday, August 24, 2011

And finally, The Shanti House – You Really Must Go There If You Can

The fourth and final stop on our “I am so proud of Israelis and what they are doing” tour is at Beit HaShanti, also located in Tel Aviv. Beit HaShanti is located in Tel Aviv and a second Beit HaShanti is now located near Be’er Sheva and is named Beit HaShanti BaMidbar. It provides family, warmth and so much else for at-risk youth who had nothing else.

This amazing place began as the brainchild of Mariuma Klein with her three children and her then partner, Dino Gershuni in 1984 with, of all things, a Shabbat dinner. Mariuma, observing the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, began to just invite street youth into their home for Shabbat Dinner, and the invitations just kept going out and more and more young people kept accepting and joining this family. The weekly check point of Shabbat Dinner in which all members of this remarkable family talk about their lives, challenges, and strides made remains critically important in the life and rhythm of Beit HaShanti. Through food and stories and hugs and sharing, an amazing magic did indeed begin and continues to cast its glow for so many – both the residents and extended family of Beit HaShanti and all those who have come to know about this amazing place where magic really does happen daily.

To say that this home is beautiful would be a pitiful understatement. It is a home to all who come, whether for a day to a week, as most do, for a week to a month as some do, or for the major part of their growing years from ages 14 – 21 as yet another group does. Oh and by the way, I HIGHLY recommend that you purchase the book Not by Food Alone. My daughter, Talie and I both returned home from Israel with our own copies (a well spent $25 each) and even used several of the recipes for our first Shabbat dinner back in Philadelphia. (I am definitely considering an order for Hannukah gifts for friends and family.) In so doing, we added Mariuma and Michael’s family and warmth and beauty to our own. WOW does not even begin to capture it.

THIS IS HOME in every way imaginable and Mariuma and her husband, Michael, are the loving, doting, caring parents of all those in their charge. To hear Michael with whom we met tell the stories of the youth in his care was magic. To see the beautiful pictures from their wedding which was attended by ALL OF THEIR CHILDREN was beyond belief – I don’t think there was a dry eye in our group!

And the place is breathtakingly beautiful. Really, there is such pride when Michael and Mariuma speak of the home they have built for all of their children. Looking at these beautifully and lovingly decorated rooms and listening to these wonderful parents, one can imagine how a child who is not wanted or has no place to go will feel when coming here. Listen to their painful stories and look at their faces and see the healing process at work.

Go to their web site at It is in Hebrew, but do this. It will inspire you and just make your day. Go all the way to the left at the top where the word GALLERY appears in Hebrew. Choose the video gallery – Galleria Video. Click it and watch the clips. There are English subtitles for some of these videos; others will be self-explanatory if you do not understand the Hebrew. [Remember that your arrow to move up and down the page will be on the LEFT.] Now, enjoy some of these films and pictures. This will give you a sense of Beit HaShanti and the members of this remarkable family. We met some of them and were just blown away!

LISTEN TO THEIR STORIES!!!!!! Look at the faces and hear their voices when you can and notice when both are shielded to protect these children. One particular piece of the puzzle I noticed was that children from Haredi families who are thrown out come here as well. One of the girls from such a family tells her story on the first tape. There is a young man from such a family on another one of these films. There are so many UGLY CORNERS of Israel from which these children come and they just want…. to be children!

In the first tape there are many emotional moments, as there are in all of them. I do want to point to the moment when Mariuma talks about how she chose the place in which Beit HaShanti BaMidbar is located and she explains that it was chosen because it is on a bus line. But, it turns out it is right across the street from Ben Gurion’s grave and she finds this meaningful in that at Beit HaShanti, they are continuing the work of Ben Gurion in a better vision and hope for all that Israel can and should be.

At several points, the members of Beit Shanti invite all of us to come visit them. Next time you are in Israel and can do so, GO, I promise, you will not be disappointed. At another point in one of the videos, there is a statement by one of the members of this incredible family that “we want to be part of our people, our nation, OUR ISRAEL!” And they are … and I felt so proud of Israel and Israelis and what they are accomplishing here!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dealing with Poverty and At Risk Populations in Tel Aviv - This is part of Israel too!

Today, I want to introduce you to the problem of poverty and homelessness in Israel and how an amazing group of Israelis in the Tel Aviv area are creating, supporting, and maintaining programs to address these challenges.

The third program I want to bring to your attention is La Sova House in Tel Aviv. This major operation was the first soup kitchen in Israel and remains the only homeless shelter system in Israel. Today in the Shapira neighborhood in Tel Aviv, known for its abject poverty and hub for “undesirables,” this center is situated with a restaurant located here, three additional Soup Kitchens in Akko Nahariya and Carmiel, and the Gagon Homeless Shelters and the Kadima Youth Centers as part of its large complex here in Tel Aviv. La Sova means “until one is sated/satisfied” and this is the goal of this wonderful complex in serving its “customers and clients.”

Note these introductory words that articulate the problem and explain the work of this remarkable organization from their English web site (which I highly recommend you visit) at;

"Israel is home to thousands of people who do not possess the means to fund their basic daily survival needs. It is our duty to ensure that hungry people do not walk our streets. With that mission in mind, the LaSova foundation established in 1990 a restaurant dedicated to serving the needy in Tel Aviv. The restaurant is located in the main floor of "LASOVA HOUSE- Multi Services Center for Needy People" 18 Tchlenov St. nearby the troubled area near the Central Bus Depot, where thousands of needy people reside, many of whom are immigrants, unemployed, disabled, or elderly. In 2003, we established two more such restaurants, one in Acre and one in Carmiel.

At LaSova restaurant, every customer receives a nutritious, filling, kosher hot meal, and may eat as much as he or she desires. We serve all people free of charge, with no questions asked, no criteria for admission, and no referrals or paperwork. Contrary to the somber and often humiliating image of soup-kitchens, any person can come to LaSova restaurant to dine in a respectable manner, while sitting at a clean, well-lit and spacious venue.

LaSova Foundation feeds 2,300 needy people everyday at our various venues: soup-kitchens, shelters for the homeless, as well as 1,000 children and youth at 20 “Kadima” centers for kids and youth at high risk. In addition, we operate a free used-clothes distribution center near each one of our locations.

LaSova restaurants employ 4 people in full-time positions, as well as two employees with disabilities, who are referred to us through the Social Security Administration. All other workers are either volunteers or those sentenced by the court to community service."

Please note exactly how remarkable this system is. First of all, the place where people eat is called a restaurant. We saw it. There is dignity, concern, calm and caring in this place. There is no money exchanged though a one shekel donation is recommended for those who can afford to give it. The food is tasty, well prepared and served with respect and regard to the “customers.” This is a great place and really makes me proud of Israel and what Israelis have decided to do through their volunteerism and caring for others. What wonderful volunteers we met and the pride with which the restaurant and the shelters (homes for those who reside there) are kept was just awesome (really, I mean it, AWESOME)!

We also saw where the women and men live in Gagon, the homeless shelter system. What we observed were beautifully created and maintained living areas which reflect and breathe the notion that this is indeed a HOME and not a HOMELESS shelter at all. People stay at these homes for various periods of time as needed and receive an array of services and support including clothing, food, shelter, the dignity of being part of a group, counseling, detoxification programming, and whatever else is needed. The residents know that they always have a home here, helping to maintain it themselves as they regain their own dignity.

The work of the Kadima Youth Centers is extensive as well in their work with all those at risk, as explained on the website (cited above) in these words:

"In distressed neighborhoods all over the country, there are thousands of children and teenagers at risk. Many of them come from families of new immigrants, and their parents are unable, for various reasons, to provide them with basic needs, such as: nutritious meals, monitoring and assistance with their homework, enhancement of values, etc

These children become part of the dangerous margins of our society: few of them will graduate from high school, fewer will join the army, and they are less likely to find a profession and on the other hand, are more likely to deteriorate to criminality and drugs.

[Our goal is] to promote and nurture children and teenagers at risk from disadvantaged families, prevent their dropping out of school, and ensure their integration in the future into the normative society and not into its dangerous margins."

This wonderful place is a haven for used up prostitutes, homeless individuals, youth without a place to go, immigrants of questionable status, and so many others. Even the use of prisoners (non-violent) who are doing their community service here is yet another remarkable part of the entirety of the amazing work done here by volunteers and only four paid employees. The chairman of this wonderful organization is Gilaad Harish. As with the other efforts in this series, this was begun by private initiatives and private money, only receiving state support later once a proven track record was established. This place made me proud to see the best of Israel and Israelis in addressing some of the most pressing internal problems in its society that so many others may not even think of when considering Israel.

We are taught by our prophets and in our Torah that our poor and vulnerable ARE our responsibility. The amazing people we met at LaSova are taking these words to heart and living them. We can join their work as we can with all of the organizations here. Educate everyone you can about these wonderful places and consider adding them to your Tzedakah recipients in your schools and communities.

Monday, August 1, 2011

More Amazing Israelis who are Helping Israel Be and Do Better

In my last blog post, I introduced you to some of the wonderful work being done by individuals in Israel to address problems that are indeed part of the Israeli landscape, though not necessarily what so many (both visitors and residents) generally see when they are in Israel. Nonetheless, remember that this too IS ISRAEL being REAL! This blog post will introduce you to another wonderful effort, this by an urban kibbutz.

I want to introduce you to the work of the members of the Urban Kibbutz of Reishit in the Kiryat Menachem neighborhood of Jerusalem. The phenomenon of urban kibbutzim is a continually growing movement in Israel, a new generation of collectives in body and soul. There are seven such urban kibbutzim in the immediate Jerusalem area alone.

In this case as in others, the members of Reishit are involved in education and social action projects. These particular families came as a group from generations of their families that had lived together, tracing their beginnings all the way to the tent cities or Ma’abarot and separately identified neighborhoods or Shechunot that have been part of the history of Medinat Yisrael since its beginning stages. They are primarily self-identified as religious and practicing Jews. Some years ago, a group of these families moved to one of the poorer neighborhoods in Jerusalem, in this case, Kiryat Menahem, and opened a school, camp and youth center for all members of the community. This larger neighborhood does not have such an identified religious population. The members of Kibbutz Reishit have addressed challenges within their own community as well as the population of the larger host neighborhood in which they live. The school they have started and run has won national attention and is recognized as the Israeli version of a “school of excellence.” We actually saw the summer camp in action and it was organized, kids seemed happy and involved and it looked like what we would think a summer camp in an urban setting might look like. Kids of different heritages were playing together and hanging around in that relaxed summer camp way! It was not lost on us that what looked normal and unremarkable was actually quite amazing and remarkable, for many of the individual stories of the campers who live in the larger neighborhood involved poverty, prejudice, a history of crime and delinquency and many other such challenges. It was also not lost that those taking on the resolving and correcting of these problems are just fellow Israelis who care …. so much!

In this case a major goal of the Chaverim of Kibbutz Reishit is to use the school and camp as well as other programming they provide to integrate the residents of the larger neighborhood, many of whom are Ethiopian and virtually all of whom are poor, into the larger Israeli society. While we saw happy and laughing children there, we were told that there are many stories of pain and sadness that go with those faces.

If you want to know more about this program and the achievement of its goals, go to

In this work, the people who are the teachers and facilitators SEE and validate the children they are working with and their cultures, recognizing their celebrations and customs as well as those of the Israeli/Jewish collective. The members of Kibbutz Reishit are well educated and bring a wealth of skills and resources to this task. The chaver (member of the Kibbutz) with whom we were speaking talked about how their own sense of connectivity to Israel and their own roots have been tested by the chapters of their history and they are hopeful that their children and families will benefit as well by this involvement with others and sharing what they have – that is by giving, it is the hope of the adults that their own children will be enriched and better human beings.

Clearly there are so many lessons for all to learn here. This experience made me feel SO proud of Israelis and what these wonderful members of Kibbutz Reishit are doing for themselves, for their neighbors and others. This is another example of Israel and Israelis at their best, and I am so proud of all involved.

Please note that this is the second of four entries about amazing programs and efforts in Israel that are addressing daily challenges that are also part of ISRAEL. These entries are adapted from portions of lecture material I created for a Graduate Course I teach for Gratz College.