For Doron Zamek and Yitzhak Yitzhakoff, the Holy Bagel Factory in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood is more than a place of employment - it's a place they call home, one that offers a hand to special-needs youngsters like themselves seeking a place to work or learn a trade.
Zamek, 21, who likes to "come in the morning and give everyone a hug," spends six hours a day at the factory "making lots of boxes" for Holy Bagel's products, and is one of a group of special needs employees the company has taken on.
Says co-owner Zev Wernick of the project - which also works with local schools for those with special needs - "It's giving back to society. Yes, we worked hard, but without God's help we wouldn't be anywhere.
"It wouldn't be easy for them to find a job in other places. Other Israelis are not as tolerant... But they're part of our family."
So Zamek packs boxes with his headphones on, singing to himself. "It's a special home to me," he says, adding that "people here are nice to me." He notes with a grin that his favorite bagel is onion.
For Yitzhakoff, it's a real learning experience, since the 17-year-old is learning to be a baker at a local school for young adults with special needs. In the morning before he arrives, he says, "I think of how much fun it will be. It's helping me in life, learning how to make cakes... When I come in here in the morning I feel like it's home... If I had not gotten into this, I don't know what I would do with my life. I learn things here I didn't know before... I'm expanding, like the dough."
Holy Bagels' own baker Meir Levy says working with the special-needs kids allows for "working on some of your own traits: patience, having a bigger smile. And when you see that they're enjoying themselves and understand and are cooperating, you're also happy."
With Levy's help, Holy Bagel also buys and helps ship out a weekly supply of groceries to needy families in and around the Jerusalem area.
"I'd love to be a multimillionaire and establish foundations and give out money and help people monetarily, but until that day happens, this is what Zev and I see we can do," says co-owner Ari Dubin. "For me - and it's mostly at Zev's initiative - it does make me feel good."
"We want to continue with our charity work," says Wernick. "The economy's down, so Meir's been getting less, but we're trying to do more."
"As we're growing, we'd like to help other people."
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