New Generation of Wise Leaders
I first met Esti Hess at the closing ceremony of the course which trains people from Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox (“Haredi”) community to guide and mentor Haredi young adults about wise management of their family’s economic affairs. This Smart Home Economics Management program for Haredim in Jerusalem is a partnership between the Jerusalem Foundation and the ‘Tvuna’ organization.
Mrs. Hess is a graduate of the first training course; she and her co-graduates are guiding and mentoring young Haredi women about basic financial principles and concepts and how to manage their household finances wisely and responsibly.
The guiding principle behind this financial literacy program is to cultivate young people with leadership potential from within the ultra-Orthodox community and train them as financial mentors and guides for Haredi young adults. Currently, some people growing up in the ultra-Orthodox world lack knowledge of basic economic principles and smart financial management.
Rather than external intervention, Tvuna is developing leadership that springs from within a community, that can bring about change within their own community and that takes the initiative and acts responsibly. This concept simplifies and facilitates the training process, as the Haredim recognize and appreciate the ‘in-house’ aspect of this program.
Beyond the significance of sound financial guidance and mentorship, we view this Tvuna program as an integral part of the Jerusalem Foundation’s nurturing of future leaders in Jerusalem who are committed to the city as well as to their own community.
I heard Esti Hess at the closing ceremony when she spoke as the representative of the first training course for women. I sat in the first row with my male Haredi friends and colleagues. Out of all the speakers, her quiet authority and inner strength as a role model about to lead such an important process was overwhelming. She and the other alumni of this first leadership course are true trail-blazers. When I went on the stage to congratulate the Tvuna graduates, I ignored my speech notes and shared with all those present my feelings that something much bigger than sound financial guidance is happening here.
At present, we are calling this program a ‘pilot’. Esti has already given financial education and mentoring in several workshops to women and families based upon the knowledge she gained in recent months through this training program. The pilot is successful and success breeds success. Thanks to the support of the Jerusalem Foundation’s good friends at Cross River Bank, which runs digital banking services in the USA and a development center in Israel, we are launching a second training program for women and a training program for men along the same lines.
I am not a finance or economics expert but the importance of this program for young Haredim in Jerusalem cannot be overstated. Yet Esti Hess and her Tvuna-trained colleagues are even more important. Their pioneering spirit and their leadership will bring about a much deeper change. They bring good tidings – for the Haredi community, for Jerusalem and for all of Israel.
Writing the Next Chapter in Jerusalem’s Future
A torrent of work, a jam-packed schedule and lots of trips abroad all leave me with little time for emotion. But there are moments when you lower your guard, become truly emotional and even feel like a co-editor in writing the next chapter in the story of developing Jerusalem’s future leaders. Arik Grebelsky, a new board member of the Jerusalem Foundation, and I were truly and deeply touched when we met some 16 teenagers from Jerusalem one fall evening in Jerusalem at the launch of the new pre-army-service gap-year ‘Year With Meaning’ of the Hesed Youth Patrol (SAHI).
We met Keren, Almog, Moshe, and their friends – all SAHI volunteers – who have decided to join us in creating the future of Jerusalem. They are members of the first cohort of SAHI’s gap year program. For those not acquainted with SAHI, you are missing out knowing about this amazing volunteer organization. Distribution of food packages and other community projects is carried out by teenage volunteers who grew up in Jerusalem’s peripheral and underprivileged neighborhoods and who did not feel at home in the traditional youth movements. They become teenagers with huge commitment to the communities in which they grew up despite the fact that their families and neighbors struggle with complex socio-economic difficulties.
You may not have heard about ‘SAHI-niks’ because one of their founding principles is that anyone can help another person, their community and the needy but they do so through ‘secret giving’. Hundreds of young SAHI activists throughout Jerusalem are gaining new and tremendous meaning in their lives by dedicating themselves to helping the needy and vulnerable members of the communities and neighborhoods in which they grew up. In turn, these idealistic youngsters are transformed into inspirational young leaders.
Almost two years ago, in the late hours of the night, in a wintery Jerusalem, at the height of a Covid outbreak, the idea of a SAHI gap-year was born. I had joined the motivated teenage SAHI volunteers and their counsellors that evening in packing hundreds of food parcels and basic household items which they were going to distribute anonymously to isolated elderly people and needy families throughout the city. As we worked, packed and chatted, the SAHI gap-year idea seemed then like a faraway dream.
The idea was not simply a pre-army voluntary-service gap year but a program for Jerusalem in Jerusalem by Jerusalemites. A gap-year program that would take place in the very neighborhoods and communities that the SAHi-niks know best, their own. We shared so many doubts…. “Are WE, teenagers from OUR backgrounds, really going to devote a year of our lives to community service?” These and other fears were raised but, slowly and surely, we found answers and created a program which had sounded crazy at first.
The Jerusalem Foundation backed this ambitious program from the outset, with our commitment not only to boosting Jerusalem’s communal strength but to nurturing its future young leadership. After 18 months of preparation, selecting suitable candidates, and long complex authorizations, our dream finally became reality. 16 teenagers on the brink of adulthood (aged 18) are setting out on this long journey of non-stop volunteerism, personal development, responsibility to the community, group communal life and the added value – developing a cohesive community of young leaders dedicated to staying in and bolstering the city and Israel.
This journey has begun. The SAHI alumni are living in two rented apartments in Katamonim (some of Jerusalem’s underprivileged vicinities). During the day, they volunteer in special education schools and other educational frameworks. In the afternoons, they help teenagers and the elderly in these neighborhoods with homework and housework. And in the evenings, of course, they join their younger SAHI colleagues (who look up to them as role models) in doing good deeds for vulnerable people, anonymously, throughout Jerusalem.
Though they’ll definitely encounter some obstacles during this year, there are already SAHI-niks waiting in line who want to join this gap-year program next year.
Everyone present at the launch of this program, just before Rosh Hashana, was moved to tears. We all felt that we are part of writing the next chapter in Jerusalem’s future.
On this optimistic note of good deeds, giving and creating new beginnings, I want to wish all our friends in Israel and across the world – Shana Tova! May the New Year be a good one and a year of peace.