Arrivals: Improving the system

A personal health crisis led Sharon August-Dalfen to focus on helping young children deal with their emotions through special ‘Kimochi’ dolls.

Sharon August-Dalfen 521 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Sharon August-Dalfen 521
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
When she made aliya in 1997 from Montreal, Sharon August- Dalfen was a trained occupational therapist who intended to work in her field in Israel. In fact she did just that until eight years ago when she had a bout with thyroid cancer, and began to see life in Israel in a different light.
“I was just turning 40 and I went through a very difficult time emotionally,” she recalls. “Although it was quite a simple procedure medically, I’d never been ill and I found the attitude of the professionals very hard and unemotional.”
The attitude of the medical staff she encountered was, more often than not, that she was making a big deal of something quite minor.
“They just don’t deal with emotions,” she says, looking back at a very tough time in her life.
In her work she had specialized in researching technology for the disabled – what she now calls “cold stuff” – and after she recovered completely from cancer she says her whole approach changed.
“I went back to university and studied music, art and drama therapy at Bar-Ilan,” she says. “I began working with more emotional components and I realized that dealing with emotions is the basis for well-being.”
She could not have known it at the time but the change in her made good preparation for the business which she and her husband are now running from their home. They are the official importers of the Kimochi dolls to Israel and are convinced that their new line is what Israeli children need to help them cope with life’s vicissitudes.
“Kimochi” means “feelings” in Japanese, and each doll in the series has a different temperament, expressed by its appearance. They can be moody, shy or extra-sensitive, and each doll has a built-in pocket to be able to accommodate the changing feelings of the doll, or more exactly, the child owner who can express his or her own moods by playing with the doll.
Importing toys was not new to the family. While August-Dalfen had always worked in her own field as an occupational therapist, her husband, Robert, is an accountant and businessman always on the lookout for something new to bring to Israel.
Their first big success was the game Bananagrams, which they brought over and had translated into Hebrew.
“We were playing the game one evening and it was such fun we decided to bring it to Israel,” she says.
“Robert decided to contact the inventor of the game and it became a big success here.”
They realized that if they took a quality product from the US or England and brought it to the Israeli public, it stood a very good chance of succeeding and last year they established their own toy company with the aim of bringing innovative toys to Israel.
They traveled together to a toy show in New York, and when she saw the Kimochi line she felt strongly that she must bring them to Israel.
“In the United States and Canada the children have to deal with regular problems like accidents, maybe divorce – but here they have all that plus wars, bombs and rockets,” she says. “There is a lot more stress here and the goal of the Kimochi dolls is to help young children learn to manage and navigate their feelings.”
The dolls come with a “bowl of feelings” and the child can spontaneously come and take one and in that way express emotions he or she cannot verbalize.
“You start to hear what’s going on in their lives,” says Sharon.
Before they took the plunge and began importing the dolls, they contacted their creative developer, Nina Rappaport, who lives and works in Hollywood as an animator, and convinced her they were the right people to bring in the dolls. Rappaport, an award-winning animator, was deeply traumatized by the Columbine school shootings in 1999 and decided to use her talents to create the line of dolls.
The interplay between mother and child with a third party – a cuddly toy which can express different feelings – is a serious educational tool as well as a toy. In the US and Australia Kimochis are included as part of the official curriculum in schools and August-Dalfen is hoping to bring about the same situation here. She has already begun going to kindergartens and training the teachers to use Kimochis with an education package which includes, besides the dolls, posters and written material.
The August-Dalfen family live in an Anglo Orthodox community which they find very supportive – both when Sharon was ill and also now that she is fully recovered and on a mission to bring changes for the better to the society in which she lives.
As the daughter of a Mahal volunteer she feels strongly the need to do something positive.
“I think it’s an important message that the Kimochis are bringing,” she says, “and one I experienced in my own life. One changes, and like the dolls one learns to live with feelings.”