WIZO First Hand: Impressions of A New Staffer

On a warm Spring afternoon, a group of us from WIZO headquarters in Tel Aviv piled into a car and drove south to Be’er Sheva, the “capital” of Israel’s Negev desert. Our first stop was a day care center that had just recently been renovated thanks to the generosity of WIZO France. Nostalgic Israeli music played in the landscaped yard, Israeli flags were draped everywhere and the adorable toddlers were bedecked with shirts that read, “J’ heart Eliane” – we love Eliane [Sprung], the donor in whose honor the center was now renamed. Everyone was in great spirits as a busload of WIZO members and supporters arrived for the inauguration ceremony.

Next, we visited Makom BaLev, which translates to A Place in Your Heart – a shelter for young women at extreme risk that provides emergency services, counseling and treatment, founded and sponsored by WIZO Australia. The modest home, with its beautifully manicured garden and wood lounge furniture, a white kitchen island stocked with snacks and soft cushioned couches in the living room, was warm and welcoming. A painting of a cactus hung on the wall, with the words Hug Me, summing up in two painfully simple words exactly what these girls need.

WIZO Israel’s Be’er Sheva branch, just a few kilometers from Makom BaLev, is a multi-storied orange building that houses the Bigudit, a second-hand thrift store, on the first floor, and Adi, a program for at-risk young girls on the second floor sponsored by WIZO UK. Bags and boxes of clothes and other donated items crammed the hallways, piled high on tables and every possible surface. Upstairs, positive words of encouragement similarly covered every surface – walls, mirrors, hanging from the ceiling – “You are stronger than you look.” Though far from modern or luxurious, the WIZO building overflowed with abundance: of love, caring, kindness and meaningful work.

But what struck me, more than anything, was the passion of the women who ran these programs. The “field workers,” as they say in colloquial Hebrew. It goes without saying that the children at the day care center, some of whom come from one of the poorest neighborhoods in all of Be’er Sheva; the young women crushed under the weight of addictions and sex trafficking; and the girls who everyone in the system gave up on, have inspiring stories that are worth putting at the center of everything WIZO does.

But there are also the incredibly moving stories of the women who chose to dedicate their lives to serving and saving those who need them. The day care center director who made aliyah from South Africa at age 14 and like the very first WIZO teachers 100 years ago, is living her Zionist dream of raising Israel’s future generation. The social worker managing the Adi program, who was born in Ethiopia and walked for months through the Sudanese desert to create a new life in Israel and is now toiling day and night to give girls opportunities to create a new life for themselves. The manager of the Bigudit, who left a career in the corporate sector in order to physically sort through mountains of donated items – losing 7 kilos and recruiting her entire family to volunteer along the way – because she has a vision of providing working class Israelis with quality clothing and a pleasant, respectful shopping experience.

WIZO enriches the lives of them all: those receiving services, those giving them, and those who make it possible: you the WIZO federations and supporters.

*Dikla*

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