Itzik Mazkeplishvili exudes positive energy. He attributes his outlook to Ma’agalim, an educational non-profit organization that empowers 11th- and 12th-grade at-risk youth from Israel’s geographical and social peripheries and helps them achieve personal success.
“I think what I received from Ma’agalim is a sentence that will be with me throughout my life, ‘Do my best!’ What does it mean to do my best? It means that no matter what, I won’t give up,” Mazkeplishvili tells The Jerusalem Post. “It may be difficult, but I will make progress, and I won’t stop. I have learned that life is a process, and that everything has its time. If I encounter difficulties, I will do all I can to overcome them.”
Mazkeplishvili, who is 23 and completed his military service four months ago, is now doing a post-army Hesder program in Kiryat Ono and working as a counselor for Ma’agalim at the same high school he attended in Bnai Brak.
Before his IDF service, he spent a year doing a pre-military training program.
He has come a long way. “As a child, I didn’t have money to pay for anything, a school outing, a holiday, even a new shirt,” he says. “It got to the point once when my dad called me in the middle of a course I was doing to become an IDF medic and said, ‘Itzik, they cut off our electricity and we have nothing to eat at home.’ That was a very difficult moment for me. I fell apart, I cried, I was broken.”
As always in such a crisis, he called his counselor from Ma’agalim. “It was thanks to my counselor, who was always there for me, that I survived,” he says.
“My mentor at Ma’agalim really helped me change my life from what it was. He wiped away my tears and enabled me to accept reality for what it is, and appreciate the place that I am in now.”
Today, Mazkeplishvili believes he is giving back some of the goodness he received at Ma’agalim by mentoring students at his former high school.
“What I learned from Ma’agalim is that if you receive something good, don’t hold onto it, but pass it on,” he says. “This has expressed itself in many different ways, starting with my military service and now by working with high school students via Ma’agalim. I was there, and know what they are going through. This is the time for me to help them graduate and succeed.
Without a doubt, I think they appreciate that I have been where they are, and broken the cycle, and this gives them hope, to open up to me, to tell me their secrets, secrets that I’m sure they haven’t shared with any other adults.”
Asked what his own personal dreams are, Mazkeplishvili says: “I have many dreams, Baruch Hashem [thank God].
One of them is to advance in the field of education, and continue to work with Ma’agalim. I want to help others as much as I can.”
Shilat Nahum, 22, has lived alone in Tel Aviv since completing her national service. Nahum grew up in a very troubled home in Tiberias. “My parents were divorced and my family had a lot of problems,” she says. “I didn’t speak to my father for years and my mother and I did not get along. She kicked me out of the house. It was a home full of arguments and wars and violence. We saw a lot of a police. It was a mess. It’s hard for me to talk about it.”
Asked what she had received from Ma’agalim, Nahum says: “Wow. First of all, they found me a home, which I didn’t have. Through Ma’agalim, I decided to do my national service first, because I knew that would provide me with a home as well. After that, they helped me get work at a hospital, taking care of sick children. They also gave me a psychologist once a week to talk about the problems in my life, and how to deal with them.”
Today, Nahum is studying at a local college to complete her matriculation examinations. She works as an au pair for a family three times a week, “I don’t sleep there, but I cook and take care of the children during the day and work as a house cleaner, cleaning two different homes on free days.”
She says her success in overcoming her problems at home is in no small part due to Ma’agalim. “Through Ma’agalim, I gained independence, confidence and lots of support. I never felt alone when I was there,” she says. “I am still in touch with my Ma’agalim counselors, and try to visit whenever I can. They are very important people in my life.”
Does she feel like a hero? “Yes,” she says, laughing. “A lot of people have a hard time believing that today I am studying at a college, three times a week, completing my matriculation and aspiring to a better future. Today I act as my family’s psychologist.
Everyone consults with me. In a way, I am now considered the head of the family, someone everyone respects.”
Itzik Mazkeplishvili and Shilat Nahum are just two of Ma’agalim’s many heroes.
There have been thousands of success stories since it was first established in 1998 by Assaf Weiss, who still serves as its CEO. Weiss says Ma’agalim has 350 counselors working with 8,000 11thand 12th-grade students in 50 municipalities across the country, providing weekly one-on-one mentoring and in-school group activities during the school day.
“We find the Ma’agalim youth primarily in the weaker peripheries of the country, with stories that are not simple, each one with its own narrative,” says Weiss. “They are at a dramatic crossroads in their lives, toward the end of high school, and that’s when Ma’agalim steps in. Ma’agalim helps them to believe in themselves, that they can break out of that troubling cycle they’re in. This is where Ma’agalim gives them the tools they need in order to change their lives. One of our goals is to enable them to help themselves on the path to success in life.”■ This article was written in cooperation with Ma’agalim.