Reach­ing the re­mote

SAHI and Yad Ta­mar make a real dif­fer­ence

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By HAN­NAH KATSMAN

Two grow­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, SAHI and Yad Ta­mar (Ta­mar Fund In­ter­na­tional), har­ness un­tapped re­sources, cre­ativ­ity and good­will to make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of two hardto-reach groups who of­ten strug­gle: at-risk teens and fam­i­lies fac­ing a can­cer di­ag­no­sis. “For me, SAHI is a way of life – to help some­one who is weaker, to lend a hand,” says 16-year-old Yishai. We are at the weekly meeting for pack­ing and dis­tribut­ing food pack­ages for the Pe­tah Tikva branch of SAHI, which stands for Say­eret Hessed Yi­hu­dit (Spe­cial Grace Unit).

“SAHI saved me,” Yishai con­tin­ues. “I was drawn to the un­der­world, an at­trac­tive thing for a 13-year-old with a fa­ther in jail. A friend in SAHI gave the coun­selor my num­ber. I said I wasn’t in­ter­ested, but he came by af­ter school to bring me to ac­tiv­i­ties.

“They sent me to a one-night work­shop to be­come a leader in SAHI. It taught me how to rely on oth­ers, some­thing I didn’t get at home. Now I’m in 10th grade in a mil­i­tary school. I was once a kid who didn’t care about my life or oth­ers. My fam­ily was collapsing eco­nom­i­cally. It never oc­curred to me that I could be re­spon­si­ble for some­thing.”

Af­ter his fa­ther’s death, SAHI CEO and co-founder Avra­ham Hayon de­cided to leave his event pro­duc­tion busi­ness.

“I re­al­ized that the only thing left af­ter we are gone is what we give to oth­ers,” he says. A friend put him in touch with Oded Weiss, who had worked for 20 years with at-risk youth. Weiss, SAHI’s found­ing pres­i­dent and ed­u­ca­tional direc­tor, be­came Hayon’s men­tor.

In 2009, Hayon and Weiss took a walk in Kiryat Gat, lo­cat­ing their tar­get by the num­ber of beer bot­tles on the ground. “One evening,” re­calls Hayon, “we brought mats, pil­lows, cof­fee and tea and lit a small bon­fire about 100 me­ters from where the teens liked to hang out. Later, a few of them no­ticed us and got cu­ri­ous. They asked if we were from the po­lice.

“Here the magic started. We told them we hoped to change the lives of the poor­est in the neigh­bor­hood, and were look­ing for re­spon­si­ble peo­ple we could trust. So the teens of­fered. But we told them we need to get to know them first.”

Hayon calls this ap­proach “re­v­erse courtship.” “Most or­ga­ni­za­tions of­fer food and bar­be­cues to at­tract teens to their pro­grams.

“We said we wanted to have a troop of hessed,to reach the most trans­par­ent peo­ple. Not names pro­vided by the wel­fare or­ga­ni­za­tions, but ones who aren’t even on the lists. We asked them to look out for peo­ple search­ing for food late at night. We agreed that the fol­low­ing week, we would bring food and dis­trib­ute it at night so no one would see.

“The gang was en­thu­si­as­tic. They waited for us and told us they had found a needy fam­ily. We dis­trib­uted the food. That’s how it started.”

HAYON AND Weiss “copied and pasted” their model to other neigh­bor­hoods. SAHI cur­rently op­er­ates 26 groups reach­ing 1,000 teens. Two groups serve haredi youth, and an­other in­cludes chil­dren with spe­cial needs.

Hayon sees the ef­fect on the chil­dren who say, “I iden­ti­fied the fam­i­lies, I col­lected the food, so I can also deal with my own prob­lems.”

SAHI is the main fo­cus of the non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Na­hah, “Giv­ing as a Way of Life,” which re­ceived the Keren Prize for qual­ity of life from the Knes­set chair­man in 2016. A few years ago at a pro­gram in the Neveh Ya’acov neigh­bor­hood, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat asked the chil­dren, “Tell me how SAHI changed your life.” Hayon re­counts one teen’s an­swer: “‘Mayor, I was a thief. Since I started do­ing hessed in SAHI, I can’t steal any­more.’ Barkat looked at me and said ‘I want more groups.’” The city con­tin­ues to lend sup­port via the ed­u­ca­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“It’s in the in­ter­ests of both sides to be in ev­ery

neigh­bor­hood,” ex­plains Hayon, “in­clud­ing the Arab sec­tor. We also plan to build a train­ing cen­ter so we can scale sig­nif­i­cantly. Our vi­sion is ‘From Zion shall go forth the law,’ and we hope to ex­port our knowl­edge to New York, Chicago, Tehran and Venezuela.

At the meeting in an out­door sports com­plex in Pe­tah Tikva, the par­tic­i­pants gather in a cir­cle. The group con­sists of Weiss, teens, young adult vol­un­teers and visitors from a SAHI group in Kiryat Gat. Reut Zo­har, the group’s “chief,” called me over to join. Af­ter a short dis­cus­sion of the weekly To­rah por­tion on the im­por­tance of kind­ness, she asked some of the par­tic­i­pants to say a few words, not let­ting me off the hook. Af­ter each per­son spoke, the group gave a lit­tle cheer. She then en­cour­aged any­one who wished to ded­i­cate the evening’s ac­tiv­ity to a loved one. Go­ing around the cir­cle, sev­eral teens men­tioned names of five or six peo­ple who had died, in­clud­ing a friend who died in last win­ter’s flood in the Arava.

I sud­denly spot­ted two girls fran­ti­cally wav­ing their arms at me. They had no­ticed that I, a re­li­gious woman, was stand­ing be­tween two men. They called me over to stand in be­tween them when ev­ery­one linked arms for the fi­nal cheer.

Dur­ing the en­tire ses­sion, the teens in the cir­cle re­mained en­gaged while seven or eight oth­ers played bas­ket­ball a dis­tance away. But as the call rang out, “For the suc­cess of SAHI!” the play­ers on the field chimed in from afar. Mean­while a row of cars, driven by ad­di­tional vol­un­teers, waited to bring the teens with the food to the fam­i­lies in need.

“CHIEF” ZO­HAR grew up in Pe­tah Tikva and stud­ies ed­u­ca­tion at the Kiryat Ono Col­lege. She ex­plains what at­tracts teens to SAHI.

“The group has girls, boys, one with a kip­pah, one with­out, one this color and one an­other. They come know­ing they will be ac­cepted. We don’t look at the neg­a­tive things – we aren’t teach­ers and we don’t cor­rect them. So in­stead of hang­ing out in the neigh­bor­hood, they are here.

“The other day, one of the girls in my group found a credit card in the street. She told me, ‘If some­one else would have found it, they would have used it.’” Zo­har helped her track down the card’s owner, and went with her to re­turn it.

“They walk in the street and think SAHI. It changes their out­look. These teens go to the shuk, col­lect the food, and make up pack­ages for peo­ple they don’t know,” says Weiss. He and his wife have fos­tered 11 chil­dren along­side their bi­o­log­i­cal ones.

“One day we asked one of the chil­dren what he learned in school that day, and he said, ‘Love thy neigh­bor as thy­self.’ But a few hours later, he beat up an­other child. I thought that maybe we raise our chil­dren with empty slo­gans. I asked my­self how we can truly ed­u­cate them with our val­ues. The an­swer was by ‘do­ing.’”

“We find these kids on the street. It may be the first time that adults are ex­posed to the chil­dren’s good­ness – they have al­ways been told they wouldn’t amount to any­thing, that they were bad. The two es­sen­tial foun­da­tions of SAHI are a feel­ing of be­long­ing, and sig­nif­i­cance.

“The idea is for them to heighten their senses,” Weiss con­tin­ues. “They see things and don’t ig­nore them. They no­tice some­one who needs a re­pair or a ramp, or an old per­son who is lonely. And they feel they can ac­cess the re­sources to help.”

Weiss re­counts a con­ver­sa­tion with a SAHI grad­u­ate who grew up in a poor neigh­bor­hood. He told Weiss how for en­ter­tain­ment, he and his teenage friends would jump on an old mat­tress and set it on fire at the end of the day. But af­ter SAHI, they tried to fig­ure out who might need the mat­tress, like a widow with six chil­dren, and get it to her. 'How did we learn to burn the mat­tress?' the young man asked Weiss. He an­swered his own ques­tion. “From the older chil­dren. And what are the younger chil­dren see­ing now?”

URIEL CO­HEN had lost his grand­fa­ther, his wife’s par­ents and two aunts to can­cer. When Yad Ta­mar founder and chair­man Micky Wasserteil ap­proached him for help, Co­hen knew he would fo­cus on help­ing the com­mu­nity and fam­ily sur­round­ing the pa­tient.

“Manag­ing my cri­sis was ter­ri­ble,” says Co­hen, now Yad Ta­mar’s CEO. “When some­one gets sick, there are cir­cles of sup­port. But I didn’t know how to ask for help. I was em­bar­rassed to ask. Peo­ple didn’t know how to reach me, and when they even­tu­ally found me I didn’t know what to tell them.”

Through Yad Ta­mar, also known as Ta­mar Fund In­ter­na­tional, Co­hen hopes to change so­ci­ety’s ap­proach to­ward fam­i­lies of can­cer pa­tients.

“My aunt got sick two years af­ter mak­ing aliyah from South Africa,” Co­hen con­tin­ues. “You are deal­ing with the Na­tional In­sur­ance In­sti­tute, med­i­ca­tions, the hos­pi­tal. Her fam­ily couldn’t ac­cess help.” He gives an ex­am­ple.

“One of the hard­est things for many pa­tients,” he says, “is stay­ing alone at night. Ev­ery night, my cousin had to find some­one to stay with her mother. I knew that the or­ga­ni­za­tion Ezer Mizion pro­vides this ser­vice, so now I make sure that Yad Ta­mar gives each fam­ily a list of or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­vid­ing valu­able ser­vices.”

Co­hen quotes Jethro in the Book of Ex­o­dus who told his son-in-law Moses, “Navol ti­bol” (you will get worn out) from tak­ing on too much re­spon­si­bil­ity. “My wife and her sib­lings were over­whelmed in car­ing for my fa­ther-in-law. We have nine chil­dren and some sib­lings have even more.”

Yad Ta­mar has de­vel­oped a so­phis­ti­cated or­ga­ni­za­tional model. Through its Com­mu­nity HUGS units, Yad Ta­mar gal­va­nizes the com­mu­nity to sup­port the fam­ily.

“We find out if there are any clubs, like an army re­serve unit. The fam­ily doesn’t ask for help and the com­mu­nity doesn’t or­ga­nize smartly. Some­one has to man­age it.” Cur­rently 25 Com­mu­nity HUG units, con­sist­ing of 4,000 vol­un­teers, re­main on call through­out the coun­try.

The Fam­ily HUG pro­gram, in mem­ory of Mody Enav, op­er­ates in par­al­lel to the Com­mu­nity HUG. Yad Ta­mar matches a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the fam­ily with

a pair of trained vol­un­teers, who help de­ter­mine the fam­ily’s needs.

“We ac­com­pany the fam­ily for a full year, help­ing with the small­est de­tails like surgery or in­sur­ance. The vol­un­teer re­mains loyal to that fam­ily and stays in touch. It has to be for the long term, not for­got­ten af­ter a cou­ple of months.”

WHEN DAVID Wiz­man’s niece got can­cer, he found him­self re­spon­si­ble for her care. “Peo­ple don’t know their rights until they are sick,” says Wiz­man. “Yad Ta­mar’s lawyer told us ev­ery­thing from A to Z, and wrote a let­ter to help her get in­come be­cause of her hand­i­capped sta­tus. A let­ter from a lawyer is more help­ful than mul­ti­ple phone calls.”

Af­ter Le­vana Sabo got lung can­cer two years ago, the hos­pi­tal so­cial worker gave her Yad Ta­mar’s num­ber. “Ilana and Varda, two vol­un­teers, came to my house,” re­mem­bers Sabo. “They helped my daugh­ter get ex­er­cise clothes and a dis­count at a sports club. When we moved house, they helped my hus­band. When­ever I need some­thing, I call Varda. Ilana and Varda are an­gels – you can write that. Now I am manag­ing. I have more morale, a lit­tle help and also some fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance. If I call they will be there.”

Omer Levi, from Ma’aleh Adu­mim, heard from Yad Ta­mar a few months ago af­ter she con­tracted can­cer.

“They were in­ter­ested in me, told me about their or­ga­ni­za­tion and of­fered to go to the shuk,” she re­calls. “They told me to ask for what I needed, and of­fered to send us on a fam­ily va­ca­tion.” Yad Ta­mar has sent 700 fam­i­lies and 700 on­co­log­i­cal nurses to va­ca­tions and one-day out­ings.

“Half a year ago, I started feel­ing weak and cold. They found a tu­mor in my si­nuses. For a year, I was hos­pi­tal­ized ev­ery other week for a full week. The sup­port of friends, fam­i­lies and or­ga­ni­za­tions can­not be taken for granted. It strength­ens you and lifts you up.

“The car­ing was very im­por­tant for me, with all their heart, for peo­ple they don’t know, was much more im­por­tant than the ma­te­rial things. They some­times call just to ask how I am. They took care of fill­ing out forms, Na­tional In­sur­ance, trans­porta­tion. Ev­ery­thing that we needed.”

The or­ga­ni­za­tion is named af­ter Ta­mar Licht­en­stat. “My sis­ter viewed her work as a kinder­garten teacher as a holy oc­cu­pa­tion,” says Wasserteil. “Ev­ery day was a day for ed­u­cat­ing the chil­dren of Is­rael. Ev­ery year she had at least one child with spe­cial needs: autis­tic, or in a wheel­chair. It brought the chil­dren in the kinder­garten to a higher level.

“When she got sick, the par­ents of the chil­dren didn’t know. She went to work even on the days she had chemo­ther­apy. But you know, there are hard days, and then she would go to a side room, leav­ing the chil­dren with her as­sis­tant, and lie on the floor to rest for 20 to 30 min­utes. She was can­cer-free for two years, but af­ter it re­turned, she died within six months.

“My par­ents worked, so Ta­mar helped raise me. She was nine years older. When she got sick, I was run­ning a cen­ter for chil­dren with can­cer and I thought we would try to work with adults, too. There was no one of­fer­ing the help that fam­i­lies needed.”

Yad Ta­mar re­ceives fi­nan­cial sup­port from the UK Jewish Na­tional Fund and the Is­raeli Wel­fare Min­istry.

By chance, the acro­nym of Ta­mar stands for ther­apy, medicine and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

“We pro­vide sup­port for med­i­cal is­sues,” says Wasserteil, “so­cio-ther­apy in ad­di­tion to chemo­ther­apy and ra­dio­ther­apy. Is­rael is the start-up na­tion, but don’t we also have so­ci­etal val­ues? Yad Ta­mar has cre­ated a model that can be copied and pasted to other coun­tries. It is cre­at­ing a so­cial rev­o­lu­tion.”

(Pho­tos: Marc Is­rael Sellem)

LEND­ING A hand at SAHI: Meeting for weekly pack­ing and distri­bu­tion of food pack­ages.

YAD TA­MAR CEO Uriel Co­hen (left) and founder and chair­man Micky Wasserteil show off posters on the sub­jects of (from left) fam­ily re­cre­ation and or­ga­ni­za­tional name­sake Ta­mar Licht­en­stat.

SAHI CEO and co-founder Avra­ham Hayon: Har­ness­ing the power of ‘re­v­erse courtship.’


PASSOVER FOOD pack­ages at the ready thanks to SAHI vol­un­teers, Jerusalem.


PRO­MOT­ING UNITY: SAHI’S ‘I Am Your Brother’ project in ac­tion.

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