President’s Column: Building, or Rebuilding, a Home
I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Young Judaea. Whenever I have a rough moment in my personal life or a particularly challenging patch as Hadassah’s national president, a dose of Young Judaea fixes me up just fine. Picture with me the 400 members of Young Judaea’s Year Course, mostly from the United States and England but with a sprinkling from Canada, Belgium and France, sitting on the back lawn of Beit Riklis on Mount Scopus.
They had just met and were getting to know each other, exchanging names, flirting and joking—maybe a little nervous about their first time so far from home. Two of the counselors played guitars and sang that emotive Hebrew song, “Ayn Li Eretz Aheret,” which translates roughly to “I don’t have another Israel.” What a beautiful moment.
There was a swearing-in ceremony where the students got their dark-blue button-down Judaean shirts to wear on official occasions. On the front of the shirts are four badges—the flag of Israel and emblems for Young Judaea, the Federation of Zionist Youth and the Israel Scouts. But on the right shoulder is the symbol of Hadassah. How proud I am of these young people as they go off to do their volunteer work wearing our colors.
One third of the teens settled in to study in Jerusalem, while the others moved into apartments in disadvantaged areas of Tel Aviv and Bat Yam. They had only been in the country one week when—without yet knowing Hebrew—they set out to help encourage residents of Tel Aviv’s Hatikva quarter to take part in educational and social activities at the local community center. No one flinched when the counselor, herself a Year Course graduate, announced the daunting challenge. In Bat Yam, a city with enormous social challenges, Mayor Shlomo Lachiani came to greet the Young Judaeans who are part of the first group ever to invest three months of their lives (the groups rotate) working with single-parent families and immigrants, teaching English and helping shut-ins.
But what gave me a particular thrill was hearing that the Judaeans were taking a regular city bus to experience some of Tel Aviv’s nightlife. You see, I’ll never forget a particular cold Jerusalem night when I was in Israel as national treasurer. Terror had so escalated that for security reasons we had to practically lock the Year Course kids in their guarded dormitories. To pick up their spirits, I invited them out for dinner to a Moroccan restaurant. The chef served the biggest plates of couscous I’d ever seen. Truthfully, I felt a little sorry for them. But do you know what? They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. Many of the graduates of that Year Course have returned to live in Israel. Nonetheless, I don’t take it for granted that our current Year Course kids can go out and have a good time.
We did more than take the Young Judaeans out to eat. In those dark days of the intifada, we followed the advice of generations of Hadassah women who, in turn, followed the advice of the prophet Jeremiah. When Israel is in trouble, build a house there. We decided to invest in tourism and bought land on Jerusalem’s Masua Hill, broke ground and built a youth hostel, Beit Ar-El, when nearly all the youth tourism programs were closing down.
We can all be part of this exciting project by supporting Young Judaea in America, by contributing to the Beit Ar-El hostel and celebrating its dedication in Jerusalem next March.
Among this year’s Year Course participants is Mia Goldwasser, a young journalist for JVibe, a Jewish Internet site. Mia was in New York when her hometown, a New Orleans suburb, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and she couldn’t go home to get her passport or suitcase. But she managed to get a new passport and new clothing, and she arrived despite the uncertainty. We mourn with the people of the Gulf Coast, for their loss of dear ones, their homes, their livelihoods and dreams. The hurricane and its aftermath tragically underscored the fragility of our existence. More than ever this Thanksgiving, we need to be grateful for the blessings in our lives.