Nati Taka (far right) and Selly Bynessayn (fourth from right) pose during an IFCJ Azimuth graduation ceremony..
(photo credit: COURTESY IFCJ)
For most of his childhood, Nati Taka didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up. This, of course, is nothing out of the ordinary.
But for Taka, who was raised in an impoverished neighborhood in Petah Tikva, being direction-less seemed a risky situation that might lead him down a dark path.
“I had friends who went to juvenile prison,” Taka said.
“My mom and dad, thank God, they held me strongly. I didn’t wander around. I had a sense of discipline and an obligation to be a role model for my younger brothers.”
That need to do the right thing has governed Taka for much of his life. Now 25 and working for the Ministry Justice in Petah Tikva, he credits a solid upbringing and time spent with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews’ Azimuth program as being his guiding light.
Azimut is a program for poor Israeli youth to ensure they receive the same opportunities as everyone else. This includes, for example, pre-army courses that help them obtain coveted roles in the IDF, or vocational training and academic scholarships once they are discharged so they can find decent employment and handle the daunting responsibilities of adulthood.
Taka was forever changed by his time in the program and the influence of his mentor Selly Bynessayn, who works for The Fellowship.
“I don’t have an older brother as a role model. With her, she became like a mentor. We talked about everything,” he said.
Selly saw in Taka a capacity to give, and thought community outreach could be a good outlet for the young combat soldier, who recently completed his service.
“After the 2013 [Ethiopian] protests against [police brutality], I saw how low-income neighborhoods like mine have young people who can’t find themselves. I thought, we have to do something, even if it’s small,” Taka said.
So Taka founded Lochamey Beit Israel (The Fighters of Israel).
It is an after-school program that meets every other week and gives young men a chance to engage in sports and talk to one another without fear of judgment.
“I tell them, ‘You’re special.
You’re diamonds – diamonds in the rough. You have potential you don’t even realize,’” Taka said. “Through this, I’m doing things I had no idea I was capable of.”
In the past year and a half, Taka has been able to create a miracle of support within the struggling community.
As he walks down the street, many children walk up to greet him and feel comfortable in his presence.
But Taka says the relationships he created with the children are not one-sided. The 15 children enrolled in the program have also helped him grow and develop into the confident and capable man he is becoming.
The Fellowship’s founder and president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, said that Azimuth responds to challenges like those highlighted in the just-released national poverty survey, which showed that 58% of poor families are lowpaid working families.
Azimuth allows young people to hone their working skills so they can earn a decent wage and build their hopes for success. And the program wouldn’t be possible without its field workers who serve as mentors and coaches to hundreds of youths, he added.
“Thanks to them and to our millions of Christian donors around the world, we can bring a lot of light into people’s lives and create with them a path to a brighter future,” Eckstein said.
Azimuth tailors its assistance to individual needs. Aid could take the form of a scholarship to complete a degree program, or financial aid to pay for kindergarten so parents can work, or paying rent to allow a young person to focus on finding a better job.
With Azimuth, Taka hopes to give back everything The Fellowship has given him in return.
“They light this light for me,” he said of Azimuth and The Fellowship.
This article was written in cooperation with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.