Thursday, August 6, 2009

If I Could Have One Wish

It was a wonderful trip, in many ways, and a different kind of a trip than I suspect many people think of when they talk of "going to Israel."

Many people decide to try and see as much of the land of Israel as possible - from the Golan to the Eilat, from the Dead Sea to Haifa, and all spots in between.

The first decision that Neal and I made was that this might be our first trip to Israel, but it wasn't going to be our last. Therefore, we didn't have to try and fit everything in during an 8-day period of time.

Simultaneously, we decided that we were going to focus a significant amount of our time getting to know some of the Mitzvah heroes that The Mitzvah Heroes Fund, Inc. supports. It was important to me to begin to put some of the names and faces together - to begin to breath life into the websites I've researched and the emails we've exchanged in the 15 months that the MHF has been in existance.

We didn't expect our trip to necessarily be "fun" - because issues of hunger, PTSD, abuse, and destructively low self esteem aren't "fun." And we were right - much of our trip wasn't fun.

What was it?


And ultimately: Transformative.

Many of the individuals we met are in my thoughts when I wake up in the morning, and among the last people I think of at night.

The Rabbanit Bracha Kappach, who's been feeding hungry people for 45 years;

Karyn London from Atzum, and our host at the new JNF
"blue box"
in S'derot

Avichai who runs the most amazing volunteer organization at the Chesed Center, providing food, clothing and parenting resources for hundreds. [ADDENDUM (Aug 9): Here's a link to a more complete description of the work Avichai does.]

Arnie Draiman, tour guide extraordinaire, who does the vetting MHF needs in order to ensure the groups we support are using their funds wisely

Caryn Green, from Crossroads, who provides a haven for teens who are lost and have difficulty find a purpose or a goal to strive for

If I had six wishes, I'd have you meet all the Mitzvah do-ers Neal and I met. It's a rare privilege to have the opportunity to talk with people who consistently make a significant difference in the lives of others.

But, if I had only one wish - this is what I'd wish for every person I know who works with kids - as a teacher, program/school director, youth worker, lay leader involved in congregational education, think-tank person who writes about educations... any one and every one who has a stake in "our kids."

A chance to spend one hour, listening to and talking with Menachem Gottesman, founder and director of the Meled School. Menachem's school is a school of last resort for many kids - teens who have dropped out or been kicked out of other schools and sometimes kicked out of their homes as well. Menachem talks about the type of school he runs: "It's a cardiac care unit," he explains. First, he adds, they fix the kids' hearts .... and then, (and only then) they work on the academics.

An hour with Menachem reminds us that all kids are only kids. That all kids have potential. That it's worth spending the time and energy to "invest" in our future - our kids.

For every teacher, every director, every youth worker who's burned out and tired of trying to fit square pegs into the round holes of our schools, an hour with Menachem would have them seriously considering how to make the holes square instead of the pegs round.

An hour with Menachem, with someone who honestly, sincerely believes that kids are worth the effort....

An hour with Menachem, who's realistic about the challenges involved in caring about kids who don't seem to want anyone to care about them....

That's what I wish for all of us.

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