By Yael Shapira, Federation Representative in Israel
Right before Yom Kippur I had the privilege to participate in a heartwarming, spiritually inspiring event.
20 of the older adults of Yokneam’s Ethiopian community were honored by Leket Israel for their ongoing volunteer work.
Leket Israel serves as Israel’s national food bank and has been supported in the last several years by the Jewish federation of St. Louis. In addition to supporting Leket for their national operation, federation requested that they reach out to our partnership region and seek ways to collaborate with Yokneam’s local food pantry (Kol Halev). Well, they did that and much more.
Following my recommendation, Leket contacted Shoshi, our director of the Ethiopian Empowerment Program and asked if the men involved with the agricultural farm would be interested in food harvesting volunteering. Were they ever!
Shoshi and Teganya proposed the idea to the farm group and together they decided to create a group of men and women who will commit to this endeavor. Sure enough, from June 2012 a group of 20 Ethiopian men and women, all above the age of 55 (one over 70!) have been traveling once a week to moshav Nahalal to work the fields. They have never missed the bus, they have all attended regularly, they worked zealously and they are so happy and proud!
Following 13 weeks of hard work, the group was honored by Leket Israel and were all given an honorary certificate signed by Leket’s chair and CEO in appreciation of their commitment and contribution.
The ceremony took place at the Family Empowerment Center (Federation funded) in Yokneam and mayor Simon Alfassi and I were both asked to congratulate the group. It was a very powerful and emotional experience. To see their proud smiles and to learn from the group members how much they gained from being part of a volunteer group, from being able to give back to the community and to do something they know so well and have missed so much.
The Leket coordinators who have been accompanying the group since June said that this group was an amazing phenomenon. Not because they are hard workers, which they are, and not because of the huge amount of crop they harvested, which they did, but because of their morale! Never have they seen a group of older people come to work so enthused and happy and then so sad to leave!
Many personal stories were shared with us by group members, all stressing how this group serves as a life saver for them. I’ll just quote one of the women who said, with her eyes sparkling, as she received the certificate: “ This is the first diploma I have received in my entire life!”
In just a couple of weeks the Rubin Young Leadership mission from St. Louis will be visiting the region and as part of their program they will be volunteering with these wonderful people in the fields of Nahalal. I can’t wait to be part of this encounter!