Meet The Executive Director: Ariela Schwartz-Zur of Yad LaKashish

© Yad LaKashish

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

When Yad LaKashish was founded in 1962, the State of Israel was only 14 years old. Myriam Mendilow, a school teacher, was distraught by the elderly’s loss of self-respect as well as by her students’ disrespectful attitude toward them.

Inspired by one of the pillars of Tzedakah, helping others help themselves, she decided to take action. She opened a small bookbinding workshop where eight local elderly men were trained in the craft. Local schools brought tattered books from their libraries to the workshop, and for a small fee, the elderly rebound the books. The children started to bond with the elderly, and soon the group of beggars rediscovered that even in their old age, they had something to contribute to society. Almost 60 years later, Yad LaKashish has expanded to 10 workshops and nearly 300 elderly.

For 27 years, Myriam led the organization with vision and passion. Upon her passing, Nava Ein Mor was selected to continue Myriam’s mission. Under her direction, Yad LaKashish expanded its local and global impact; the number of elderly artisans doubled and acquisition of the campus in which Yad LaKashish operates was completed. After 28 years of dedicated leadership, Nava retired and in December 2017 I (Ariela Schwartz- Zur) was given the honor of becoming the 3rd Executive Director of Yad LaKashish after serving as her deputy director for more than a decade.

We are proud to have pioneered a model of positive aging, and to continue to create a space where the elderly can remain active, contributing members of society.

What is Yad LaKashish’s mission?

Our mission is to improve the quality of life of elderly through creative work opportunities and comprehensive social and financial benefits in a warm, community environment.

How many people work/volunteer for your organisation?

270, low-income elderly men and women (aged 62- 94) come to Yad LaKashish every day. The majority of program participants are Jewish immigrants from the FSU, Ethiopia, South America and Iran, many of whom survived the Holocaust, others walking across the Sudan to save their families from war and famine.

What inspires you the most about Yad LaKashish?

I am inspired by our elderly artisans. Everyday elderly men and women, many over the age of 80, come to work full of determination, enthusiasm and optimism. These elderly have lived through many challenges but continue to have positive attitudes and show a desire to learn new skills and help themselves. They are able to master different techniques and create beautiful artwork, despite poor eyesight, lack of dexterity, and other physical challenges.

What do you enjoy the most about your position and how did you get involved with the organisation in the first place?

From the moment I first visited here, 17 years ago, I was captivated by the charm of the place. Yad LaKashish is lively, creative, optimistic, and expands the soul. The combination of professional artistic work and the joy that the elderly artisans gain from their creativity and successful mastering of new skills creates a unique valuable community. I feel lucky to be part of a place that promotes good.

What are the biggest challenges for your organisation?

As a non-profit organization, we receive minimal funding from the government. Thus, we rely on our friends around the world and sales from our onsite and online store to be able to provide this life changing program to the elderly.

Also, as many of our artisans do not speak Hebrew, it can often be difficult to communicate with the elderly.

What programs do you offer for the elderly?

Since 1962, Yad LaKashish has provided creative work opportunities for thousands of Jerusalem’s most deserving elderly residents. In addition to a monthly stipend, Yad LaKashish participants receive comprehensive package of social and financial benefits, including an unlimited monthly bus pass, a daily communal and nutritious meal, and access to dental care subsidies. The elderly at Yad LaKashish, many of whom do not have nearby family, also gain a sense of community and belonging. While our focus is on empowering the elderly, Yad LaKashish is dedicated to making an impact on the attitudes of the younger generation towards seniors. Our tour provides a platform to show young people that elderly members of society can be active contributors to the community.

Is it possible for our readers to come visit you?

Each year we host thousands of visitors from around the world. We host tours daily, in English or Hebrew, from 8:30-12:00. Our tours offer visitors the chance to see Tzedakah in action, meet with the elderly, and spend time shopping in our store. We offer hands-on activities, like souvenir making, at a nominal fee.

We are located in downtown Jerusalem and would be happy to hosts visitors and groups of any size. Email [email protected] to set up your visit!

How can our readers support your organisation and how can they reach you?

Of course donations are most welcome, but readers are also able to support us by shopping on our online store and coming to visit us. We also invite readers to follow us on Facebook and Instagram, where we post the stories of our elderly artisans and share our daily activities. Share our mission with your friends and encourage them to visit us during their next trip to Israel!

© Yad LaKashish

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