Grapevine, September 13, 2020: People who care

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

ILAN GAZIT and Nissim Shalom of The Council of Youth Movements and the Pioneer Federation with their prize trophy as President Reuven Rivlin and Baruch Levy, president of the National Council for Volunteerism, stand in the background in the garden of the President’s Residence. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
ILAN GAZIT and Nissim Shalom of The Council of Youth Movements and the Pioneer Federation with their prize trophy as President Reuven Rivlin and Baruch Levy, president of the National Council for Volunteerism, stand in the background in the garden of the President’s Residence.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Ordinarily, the back garden in the presidential compound is filled with hundreds of people who have come to celebrate with recipients of the President’s Prize for Volunteerism. Relatives, friends and members of volunteer organizations are there in their multitudes to cheer, to embrace and to congratulate.
This year’s ceremony, which took place last Wednesday evening, was very low key, and decidedly less populated. Virtual events may be effective in at least getting the job done, but they the lack soul and spirit that is integral to a large assembly of positive thinkers.
As always, the ceremony – now in its 47th consecutive year – took place outdoors, but the roar of the crowd was missing. The annual awards are limited to 12 – some to individuals, and some to organizations. Four of the recipients were given a special award for their work during the coronavirus period. This was given to the Council of Youth Movements and the Pioneer Federation, which took graduates and current volunteers on one-year service projects in Israel from Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, Habonim Dror, Machanot HaOlim, Hashomer Hatzair and Tarbut, and offered their help to health officials, children of working parents and the management of homes for senior citizens. S
Some 15,000 youth participated in this initiative. Other recipients were Youth for an Equal Society, a project established in 2014 by Yaakov Fizenberg who was then a 10th grade student, whose goal was to collect baked goods and distribute them to residents in homes for senior citizens. Today, 120 young people are involved in this project on a weekly basis, and have kept pace during the coronavirus crisis. They also maintained regular telephone contact with residents.
Noam Henig, 44 from Even Yehuda, developed a food distribution app in memory of his nephew, Hagai Einmer. When the pandemic hit Israel, he gave the app free of charge to dozens of charitable organizations that distribute food to the needy. He also gave of his time in instructing people how to use the app.
Yehudit Yifrah, a volunteer with Magen David Adom in Jerusalem, works with the ultra-Orthodox community, particularly with regard to crisis responses, including the preparation of bodies for funerals. She has also distributed flowers and candy to soldiers and to families whose loved ones are in hospital.
Volunteers at the Zahala project of Aluma was established 26 years ago by ace fighter pilot Brig.-Gen. Ran Ronen-Pekker, who died in December 2016. It originally took at-risk youth from the Jaffa area and prepared them for military service. The pilot project was so successful that it was adopted by the Education Ministry, and now operates nationwide, working with students from 9th grade until induction day
Turning the Tables, helps prostitutes to escape the cycle of human trafficking and to regain their lives, through training for respectable jobs and psychological therapy if necessary, to restore a sense of self worth
The Alfred Adler Institute: established in 1963 has since 1992 run the national “Remote Control Parenting” program for parents in prison. The program provides information and skills for good relations in families, communities and society, working on the positive social-democratic principles of Adler. Meetings involve serious work with prisoners as fathers and mothers, and improving the entire family’s quality of life.
SAHI – Special Hessed Unit was established in 2009 to close gaps in Israeli society and to give all young people the opportunity for a better reality. The organization works in Israel’s social and geographic peripheries, in rehab centers and youth villages according to a unique educational model for working with young people at risk who grow up to be good citizens who promote change.
Looking Forward, established in 2011 by Keshet, is based on a 1999 social project called Creating the Rainbow, The project consists of a unique long-term program for young people at risk, particularly those from the social and geographical peripheries inspired by the vision that ‘great artists are born everywhere’. The organization looks for talented young people at risk who come from under-represented populations in Israeli television and in the public agenda, and train them to take their places in the public realm.
Volunteers in the Community Courts System was initiated in 2014 to reduce recidivism by rehabilitation of criminals through services available in local communities as a substitute for short prison terms. Today, the program runs in all six judicial districts in Israel, led by Joint-Ashalim together with the Courts Administration, Justice Ministry, Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry, Israel Police and local authorities.
David Agayev, 37, a resident of Bat Yam, immigrated from Uzbekistan in 1995. He initially encountered many difficulties that led him to become a juvenile delinquent. Despite this, he enlisted in the IDF and performed full service as a combat soldier. Upon release, he decided to change his path and to work for young people who had undergone difficult experiences like his own. As a student, Agayev volunteered in various projects for young people at risk. In 2016 he established Care for Rough Sleepers, offering vagrants a chance for rehabilitation and a roof over their heads on their way back to mainstream society.
Sharon Vardi, 66, from Kibbutz Shamir in the Upper Galilee, immigrated to Israel from Canada in 1971 and has volunteered for more than two decades at the Elem youth center in Kiryat Shmona, where she works with at-risk youth. Vardi’s volunteer work is based on creating dialog with young people, at the heart of which is the idea that every young person is capable of being a source of inspiration for change, factors that enable them to leave environments that put them at risk and to develop and acquire tools for independence and healthy relationships with society.
President Reuven Rivlin was particularly keen to give awards to individuals and organizations working in rehabilitation, therapy and education for convicted young criminals who want to make a fresh start. Aware that young soldiers are often hot headed and commit offenses they later regret, Rivlin wants to give them the opportunity to wipe the slate clean. This prize, in collaboration with the National Council for Volunteerism is Rivlin’s Initiative.
On Thursday, Rivlin honored soldiers from reserve units that have been singled out for outstanding service.
■ AUSTRALIA’S AMBASSADOR to the UN, Mitch Fifield, met his Israeli counterpart and tweeted that it was good to meet Gilad Erdan, adding that he looked forward to future collaboration between their two countries at the UN. It should be remembered that in November 1947, Australia, in the UN General Assembly, cast the first “yes” vote for the partition of Mandatory Palestine.
■ THE HEBREW calendar date for the outbreak of the Second World War that led to the Holocaust, was in mid-Elul, so it is fitting at this time of the year, to hold some kind of Holocaust-related event. On Sunday, September 13, at 1 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. in Israel) there will be a conversation between former Chief Rabbi of Israel and of Tel Aviv Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Malcolm Hoenlein, the vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The conversation will be conducted under the auspices of the International March of the Living, whose president, Phyllis Heideman, notes that every year since its inception in 1988, Lau – who is probably the world’s most widely known Holocaust survivor – has joined the March of the Living and gave a powerful and moving address to march participants who gathered in Birkenau. “He captivated the hearts of tens of thousands of those fortunate enough to hear his message,” she says. He was not there this year, because for the first time ever, the March of the Living was canceled due to the pandemic. Lau will undoubtedly link some of the miracles that came like rays of light out of the darkness of the Holocaust, to the upcoming High Holy Day season when it is decided by the Divine Creator who will live and who will die.
Program registration is at:
■ TO MARK the conclusion of month of mourning since the passing of world renowned Talmudic and Torah scholar Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, the Steinsaltz Center last week hosted an online event under the title of “The Steinsaltz Legacy: Jewish Learning for All. Today, Tomorrow, Always,” with guest speakers including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Former UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, Former US sen. Joseph Lieberman, award-winning actress Mayim Bialik, and Rabbi Meni Even-Israel, the late rabbi’s son.
The event was chaired by Ilan Kaufthal, president of the Aleph Society – an institution founded by Steinsaltz to help facilitate the distribution and promotion of his teaching and work.
Netanyahu recalled that in his discussions with Steinsaltz, they would speak about a vast array of subjects. “Rabbi Steinsaltz, had such a deep love for the heritage of our people, for our past, present and future. His books made the Talmud accessible to the whole world, and it’s no surprise that the whole world recognized his greatness. “
In a similar vein Dermer said: “His books and lectures opened up the gates of knowledge to hundreds of thousands of Jews and more.” Dermer added that Steinsaltz was “A powerful social critic,” who “lived at the intersection of many worlds, and was communicating with all of them simultaneously. Some heard, others didn’t, but the power of his words remain.”
“No one did more to further the unprecedented availability of Jewish texts and commentaries than Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his scholarship,” said Lieberman
Sacks gave the example of the Talmudic account of Rabban Gamliel’s replacement as president of the Jewish elders, to show the belief that, “God wants the doors of the Beit Midrash (Torah study hall) to be opened wide. That was the extraordinary work done by the late Rabbi Steinsaltz. He opened the doors of the Beit Midrash wide in the way that had not been done since the commentaries of Rashi. This was not a stray aspiration. He knew that the very essence of Judaism depends on the democratization of knowledge. He never halted, never gave up.”
Bialik, who spoke of her own journey of learning and growing closer to Judaism, said: “I learned Rabbi Steinsaltz’s name alongside the great sages of our people. His work was just about as foundational in my learning, as that of the great sages.”
Leading Chabad Rabbi Sholom Lipskar spoke of Steinsaltz’s interactions with the Rebbe, (Menachem Mendel Schneerson) and their close bond. Of Steinsaltz he said: it was a great privilege to, “watch him and his intensity, coupled with his humility and simplicity, connecting with Hashem and at the same time with every single person in the room.” He explained that it was the Rebbe who actually added the Hebrew translation of Steinsaltz’s name, stating that Even-Israel ,the rock of Israel, symbolized the tremendous impact his teachings had on all the Jewish people.
The event was streamed live to thousands of viewers on more than four continents. For those who missed it or want to hear it again, it is now available online at