Through the looking glass

The inspiring story of an Israeli social worker.

Shula Mozes: ‘Our graduates are improving our lives.’ (photo credit: ALON MORVITZ)
Shula Mozes: ‘Our graduates are improving our lives.’
(photo credit: ALON MORVITZ)
Many decades ago, as I was maneuvering into a too-small parking place in Ra’anana, my taillight kissed the bumper of a beat-up jalopy behind me. There was a small sound of crumbling plastic; I dutifully left a note with my phone number and name. Slapped with a request to hand over six salaries for a total overhaul of the crummy car, there was only one conclusion to be learned: Do not leave notes ever again. (And get the parking beeper installed.) So... imagine my surprise, when walking out of a recent bridge game with a friend, to find the wing mirror of her luxury car balanced on her windshield with a note and a name: Noa. Noa, a social worker, explained that she’d been dreaming when she drifted out of her lane. The center where she’d worked for a decade with young adults at risk was undergoing changes, and she’d lost her job to restructuring.
My bridge partner, the owner of the car, is Rutie Oren – president of the Lions of Judah Israel. And Israel being Israel, she knew the social worker from Lamerhav (“Into the Space”) – LOJI supports the nonprofit set up by Shula Mozes 16 years ago to help young adults from dysfunctional families. Oren being Oren, she waived the repair fee. All this serendipity propelled me to meet Mozes and discover what her organization actually does.
The nine-dunam (0.9-hectare) grounds of the complex in Hod Hasharon lie down the road from where my late parents used to live. When my husband and I were young parents, we used to push our baby strollers to the estate and marvel. The sprawling, airy home has been extended to house offices and meeting rooms, a light, bright kitchen always stocked with home cooked meals and treats, study areas and gorgeous gardens that go on forever. And presiding over this property is a one-woman-dynamo – the lovely chemistry major/ opera singer/computer programmer/master baker and restaurateur/celebrity TV chef/cookery column writer and initiator of Lamerhav – Shula Mozes.
Mozes has a personal story that is quintessentially only-in-Israel. Born to Holocaust survivor parents, she dreamed of coming to “Palestina” for years, as her family struggled to get permission to leave Romania. At 13, finally “home” in the Holy Land, she was sent to live with her grandmother in Holon. Not only did Mozes not know her granny, she also knew no Hebrew or English, and was the only immigrant child in the class.
A year later she transferred to Boyar boarding school in Jerusalem, and four years after that, aged 18, she entered the Hebrew University as an atuda’it chemistry student through the army. On her very first day she met Zevik Mozes; one year later they were married.
Zevik’s story, too, is legendary. His kibbutz-founding father gave shelter to a Holocaust child whose Auschwitz- survivor mother came to visit her after a year.
Zevik’s dad, a bachelor in his mid-40s, married the little girl’s mom; it’s the stuff of documentaries with soaring soundtracks.
Zevik is the first cousin of Judy Shalom Nir Mozes (apparently soon to be ex-wife of Silvan) and Noni Mozes – he of the messy Yediot Aharonot imbroglio with Bibi. Back in the ’70s Shula helped steer the paper into the digital age; together with her husband she was instrumental in turning it into a blockbuster daily.
Then, in 1994, trouble in the family resulted in Zevik being booted out from his business; a court battle ended in his favor. At that point Shula suggested taking their considerable compensation and putting it into something positive. NIS 150 million from the payout has so far been funneled into saving Israel’s youth at risk, one at a time.
“I identified a need,” explains Mozes, mother of four and grandmother of 10. “There are many government frameworks for schoolchildren with challenges.
But the minute they turn 18 they’re on their own.
And I know from myself and my own children that for a young adult, family support is tremendously important. It can make all the difference in shaping a person’s future.”
The support system that Mozes put in place consists of three stages. Initially, students in their last year of school are recruited from the 5,000 at risk in Israel each year. This could mean parents in jail, parents on drugs, parents with physical or mental handicaps. A few participants have dropped out of haredi families who then disowned them; a number are alone in Israel with parents abroad. Psychologists and mentors work intensively with each of the students, helping them to meet matriculation requirements and prepare for the army.
Stage 2 of the program sees them through the army (or National Service), supporting them in their efforts to get into good units, providing an option of host families for Shabbat and subsidized housing for soldiers who can’t ever go home. Personal councilors with a listening ear are on hand 24/7; Mozes herself has been known to pitch up at the end of Officers’ Course with crates of schnitzel for her “babies.”
It’s after the army that problems really kick in. Young adults who’ve grown up being constantly challenged often don’t dare to dream of better days ahead. Nor, clearly, is helping others a top priority.
“Before I met Lamerhav, if someone asked me for help, I retorted, ‘Did anyone ever help me?’” admits a graduate, who now donates his rare blood type at any time of the day or night. “The program taught me that there are actually good people in the world; I hadn’t encountered any before.”
Stage 3 develops realistic dreams with participants, and makes them come true. Eighty-five percent graduate with at least a bachelor's degree; the others find their futures in trades; one Ethiopian youngster went from washing dishes in Tel Aviv to becoming a sous-chef as well as an actor with a diploma in physical therapy.
“Our graduates are improving our lives,” says Mozes.
“Mine, yours and all of Israel’s.” Having received help themselves, many graduates are more likely to volunteer than the average young adult, and eager to contribute to society.
Today, Lamerhav has homes in Hod Hasharon, Afula and Beersheba, enriching 500 lives at any given moment. Mozes is now looking to bring in more donors in the interests of expanding and enduring; recently, the government has established programs of its own to help this age group.
As for Noa of the broken mirror, she has reset my moral compass. I’m not entirely convinced that I’m such a good person, and I really hope I’m not put to the test, but maybe if I scrape up against someone else’s car again, I will leave a note, too. I will certainly consider it carefully.
The writer lectures at Beit Berl College and IDC Herzliya.
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