Angels Among Us: The classroom and beyond

One woman’s lifelong dedication to AMIT.

ellen hellman 58 (photo credit: ,)
ellen hellman 58
(photo credit: ,)
Name: Ellen Hellman
Position: Chair of Development
Organization: AMIT
Mission statement: To enable Israel’s youth to realize their potential and strengthen Israeli society by educating and nurturing children from diverse backgrounds within a framework of academic excellence, religious values and Zionist ideals.
Address: Heichal Shlomo, 58 King George Avenue
Info: 673-8360;;
When Ellen Hellman was living in her native Seattle, Washington, she was a self-proclaimed “professional volunteer.” She gave of her time and energy helping such organizations as the Hebrew Academy, the UJA and the local federation. Along with her mother and grandmother, she was also involved with AMIT (Americans for Israel and Torah).
When she and her husband made aliya in 1999, she focused her professional volunteerism strictly on AMIT. After having served as the volunteer head of the nonprofit organization for four years, Hellman assumed the position of chair of development. “You don’t just walk away from AMIT – you pick another job,” says the 57-year-old mother of two and grandmother of four.
In that capacity, her main task is to raise funds for the organization’s network of 75 schools and educational programs around the country. “I am passionate about it,” says Hellman. “I have no problem asking for money for AMIT. We have an incredible product to sell. AMIT is part of the future of Israel.”
Established in 1925 as the Mizrachi Women’s Organization of America, its founder Bessie Gotsfeld wanted to do something to help children in Israel. Having grown significantly over the years, AMIT’s national network runs the gamut of educational facilities, which includes kindergartens, elementary schools, junior highs, high schools, junior colleges, youth villages, yeshivot, mechinot and ulpanot.
Working in partnership with the Education Ministry and the municipalities around the country, AMIT’s schools help promote value-driven education for their 20,000 students, says Hellman. Their student body encompasses potential high achievers, as well as drop-outs; children with physical and emotional problems; and young people fighting drug abuse and the effects of domestic violence.
In Jerusalem, the AMIT Frisch Beit Hayeled in Gilo is a group home that houses 120 at-risk children aged five to 15. Referred to Beit Hayeled by the Social Services Department, the children live in apartments with surrogate parents in family units of 12. In addition, there are a number of students who go there after school, stay to do their homework and then go home. With its warm and homey atmosphere, “Sherut leumi [national service] girls love to do their service there,” says Hellman.
Midreshet AMIT is located on the same premises. A seminary for American and European girls in their interim year between high school and college, it is in its third year of operation. “Thirty girls live there, study there and do hessed,” says Hellman. “And they get the opportunity to work with the kids. Each one is assigned to work with the children. They feel like they have a family in Israel, and the kids become part of their lives.” According to Hellman, the seminary plays a key role in the girls’ wanting to make aliya. 
AMIT also has an elementary school in Kiryat Menahem called Reishit, as well as the AMIT Nordlicht Religious Technology Center and the AMIT State Technology Center. Serving both religious and non-religious students, the AMIT schools play a vital part in getting kids off the street and inviting them into a classroom where they can learn to reach their true potential.
While they are part of the public school system and follow the curriculum of the Education Ministry, the AMIT schools extend beyond it by endorsing a Jewish, values-based education that stresses respect and morality and by offering services such as more teaching hours, extra tutorials for all grades, and training teachers to help students prepare for their matriculation exams.
In fact, Hellman points out, the schools have developed such a good reputation for their high level of education and positive ambience that students from the regular school system want to go there as well. “We have a 70-30 split: 70 percent of the students are at-risk and/or from the periphery, and 30 percent are from a higher social status,” she says.
“At the AMIT schools, the students are making something of themselves. They graduate with a certificate, go into the army and are trained in a vocation,” says Hellman. In that regard, she is very proud of the fact that a high percentage of AMIT students go into the army. “While others may try to get out of military duty, our kids go willingly,” she says. “With their bagrut [matriculation certificates], they can attain a better position in the army and make valuable connections. Without that, they start out with a minus. We want to put a plus in their column. We want to give them that edge. That’s where the dollars and the euros and the pounds sterling go,” says the inveterate fund-raiser.
“We benefit so much from our students who graduate. They are the ones on the front lines – these are our kids,” says Hellman.
To make sure those kids get everything they need, Hellman and the AMIT professionals are working hard to build a stronger fund-raising infrastructure. After suffering major cutbacks from the government and supporting organizations, AMIT is turning its local women’s chapters into fund-raising organs. For example, the 700 members of the largest Israeli chapter, Ayelet/Dvorah Masovetsky Jerusalem, represent the grassroots efforts of the organization.
“It is now up to the volunteers to help raise the funds,” says Hellman. Developing local support resources, as well as in Europe and the UK, not to mention the US, “the whole idea is to raise money – not only for the schools themselves but for personal necessities for the students, such as tefillin or eyeglasses; all the extras.”
As with any nonprofit organization, volunteers are always welcome, saysHellman. They can tutor students in English, help with the massmailings and, of course, raise funds. With groups of volunteer men andwomen of all ages – from the veteran AMIT enthusiasts in their 70s, 80sand 90s to the younger population in their 20s and 30s – the volunteersmix the social with the practical, organizing events that range fromthe annual dinner, teas and luncheons to book reviews and sushidemonstrations.  
As for Hellman, she goes straight to the core. “I don’t need to sell a dinner,” she says, “I can sell AMIT.”