On her 30th birthday five years ago, Andi Shenker Saitowitz found a “wish list” she wrote at age 18, enumerating the accomplishments she hoped to achieve five and 10 years hence.“I saw that I had achieved every single one of my goals, and that was such a beautiful feeling,” says Saitowitz.Among the checked-off items: living in Israel, marrying and raising a family, working in a meaningful career and representing Israel in an international sports competition.
The first goal was realized when she was just 19. Saitowitz grew up in Johannesburg, in a staunchly Zionist family that came to live in Israel for a year when she was 14. After graduating from high school in 1998, Saitowitz came back to Israel on a year-long leadership program run by Zionist youth group Bnei Akiva for teens from South Africa and Australia.“That entire year I said I wasn’t going back to South Africa, but I did start university there in January, the whole time wishing I was in Israel. I asked my parents, ‘If I get into university in Israel, could I go?’ They said it would be their pleasure.”And so, with just six months of university behind her, she made aliya in September 1999. “I was accepted to study psychology at Bar-Ilan University, and grabbed the opportunity with both hands and jumped on the plane.”When asked why she felt so strongly about living in Israel, she thinks for a moment. “I really loved being here. I felt at home here with ‘my own,’ even though I’m very proud of my South African heritage.“Even at 18, I believed this is where we were meant to be and where I wanted to establish a family. I feel the same way now.”Personal development coach In March 2001, while still at Bar-Ilan, she married fellow South African-Israeli Arron Saitowitz, whom she met through a mutual friend. They moved to Ra’anana, where Arron’s extended family lives.“I love Ra’anana,” enthuses Saitowitz.“We belong to an incredible community and a wonderful shul, and our children always have cousins around.”Her husband commutes to work in the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange, while she works just a few minutes away from home at Beit Issie Shapiro, an organization that develops and provides innovative therapies and services for children with disabilities and their families.Saitowitz has worked at Beit Issie for the past 15 years, the first 10 in international fund-raising and now on the Israel side. She has pared her hours down to part-time, devoting her remaining time to her second career as a personal development coach (website: www.andisaitowitz.com).“I started studying life coaching five years ago through the Adler Institute – a very intensive, incredible and life-changing course, followed by 100 supervised coaching hours,” says Saitowitz, who also studied organizational communications. “I do one-on-one coaching and I lead motivational seminars and group workshops.”She explains that life coaching is a focused process of working with clients to make effective, meaningful, lasting changes. “That involves anything from vision work and goal planning to time-management skills, self-esteem and strategies for making life changes.”Her clients run the gamut from teens struggling with major decisions about the military or academics to adults feeling uninspired, frustrated or bored with their present situation. “Many people want to make a change, feeling their strengths are underused and their talent and potential wasted.”She calls her public workshops “inspiration hours.” Topics might include talking yourself into happier living, setting effective goals or learning how to manage time more efficiently. Saitowitz has also written a practical book called Rise & Shine: A Personal Development Journal Toward Awakening Self-Discovery and Inspired Living.“About a year ago, I realized this whole world of transformational leadership and self-development is only available to people passionate about self-help,” she says. “The average person who doesn’t know about life coaching would not have access to the wealth of life-changing tools and skills, and the books out there are very hard to read if you’re not an academic. I wanted to create something practical and user-friendly, handing over a few of these coaching tools in an accessible way so that maybe, more people could benefit.”Maccabiah and Mgifts In addition to the time she devotes her two careers and her three children – aged 10, eight and four – Saitowitz is active behind the scenes in the Maccabiah Games, the so-called Olympics of the Jewish world. She coordinated the netball competition at the 2013 games and participated in the opening ceremony at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.“Anything I can do to positively showcase Israel is something I take very seriously,” she asserts. “To be a part of Jewish athletes coming together is very close to my heart.” An avid athlete in her own right, Saitowitz enjoys running and squash, and is proud of the fact that her sister-in-law introduced netball to Israel.“We are a very sporty family, with many of us representing Israel in netball, rugby and basketball.”A couple of years ago, her husband got an idea for a website to facilitate char i table donations in lieu of hostess gifts and other tangible presents, which people often feel obligated to give even though the recipient probably doesn’t need another bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers. She enthusiastically took on this project as her own.The site, www.Mgifts.org – the “M” is for “Meaningful” – allows users to give donations of $5 to $100 to any of 30 Jewish (mostly Israeli) nonprofit causes in just a few clicks. Within minutes, the system generates an email, in English, to the honoree and a receipt to the giver; the full amount reaches the charity because the Saitowitzes take no percentage.“Mgifts was Arron’s dream and concept, and from my experience in the fund-raising world it made sense that I would share this project with him,” Saitowitz says.Though her parents and siblings remain in South Africa, Saitowitz is “exceptionally close” with them and welcomes visits from her mother six times a year.Now that she has just turned 35, Saitowitz is developing a new bucket list.“It’s hard to work in this profession if you’re not authentic,” she explains. “If I’m not working on my own goals and visions, it’s very hard to coach.”Her positive approach to life does not fail her even under difficult circumstances, such as the past summer’s missile bombardment from Gaza.“Things happen in the world that are sometimes crazy and scary, making us realize how little control we have over so much and how we need to treasure all our blessings,” maintains Saitowitz.“With that in mind, I am deeply reminded, and I remind my children, how lucky they are to have been born here and to live here.“It’s a privilege not to be taken for granted, and they are blessed.”