ESRA Magazine
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Making a Difference

Lets-talk-19_20190828-124416_1 Let's Talk ... Sarah and Susan

ESRA has much to be proud of as we celebrate 40 years of giving to the community. A predominantly volunteer based nonprofit organization we never cease to be amazed at the achievements of our volunteers. We make a difference in the lives of many because of the varied opportunities ESRA provides for us to give. Yet how often do we hear the ESRA volunteer say "Don't thank me for giving because I gain so much from being able to give".

ESRA's Welfare Committee was initiated in 1990 by Merle Guttmann, ESRA's Founder, Hon. Life President and Editor of this great Magazine. Originally started as a welfare fund, it expanded within one year to embrace ESRA's first community project, a summer program for latch-key Russian kids in the Neve Sharet area of Tel Aviv, evolving into ESRA's Community Fund.

Since 1995 the Welfare Committee has been headed by Adele Hunter. Members include volunteers who are retired social workers and therapists having an understanding of the practical and emotional challenges facing those in dire financial straits.

The Magazine spoke with Adele who explained that applications for funding come via social workers based throughout Israel. Recently a desperate young mother with two children applied for assistance. Deserted by her husband, who refuses to pay alimony, she wanted to work to support her family but was unable to do so as she could not afford the cost of day care facilities. ESRA took on board two months' payment for the facility enabling the mother to work and thereby ensure the ongoing funding for the care of her child.

The Committee provides emergency funding for those who cannot pay rent or mothers whose children require extra help at school but cannot afford to pay for the Didactic Test – a pre-requisite of the education authority.

Recipients of funds have included Holocaust survivors and students who require help with fees for their university or college. Financial aid is granted to second year students who lack a support network.

Solomon Abeba ... studying law
Keren Maruvka ... wants to be a doctor

Keren Maruvka is in her third year of studies aiming to qualify as a doctor. In addition to her studies and working in a hospital to help fund her college fees, she volunteers at the Refugee Center in South Tel Aviv. Keren, the eldest of five siblings, is the first of her brothers and sisters to enroll in higher education. Her father, a bus driver, and her mother, a secretary working for Kupat Cholim, are not in a financial position to give their daughter assistance. Keren thanks ESRA for its kindness and generosity and says: "I promise to study diligently – to be an attentive, professional and compassionate doctor. To help anyone who wants help regardless of their financial situation or their background."

Solomon Abeba was born in Ethiopia coming to Israel with his family at the age of five. He is the youngest of five siblings. His parents survive on their Senior Citizen's Pension plus the support of Social Services. Solomon helps them financially as best he can. Solomon says: "I am in my second year as a student of the Faculty of Law. It is my hope to qualify as a social lawyer because I want to help people with low incomes. I have been a volunteer helping elderly people encouraging them to study and assisting them to improve their computer skills. In particular, I have loved helping new immigrants from Ethiopia especially the children. I assist them with their homework and help them with their Hebrew. The financial assistance I have received from ESRA will enable me to focus on my studies in order to achieve the best possible grades. It is my hope in the future that I will be able to return ESRA's generosity by giving back to others. The grant has been an invaluable and significant gift for which I will always be indebted."

ESRA is proud of the fact that during the past seven years some 1000 students have benefited from ESRA's Miriam Leah Kline Scholarship Fund. Grants have ranged from NIS 2,000 to NIS 10,000.

Befriending ESRA offers individuals who are housebound - or simply lonely - the opportunity to have weekly visits from warm, caring and friendly volunteers. It brings sunshine into the lives of those who miss out on contact with others. ESRA volunteers include retirees and students who want to befriend a lonely person. Sandra Gould, the Coordinator of this ESRA project, says "Our weekly visits make the difference in the lives of those we visit – whether for a chat, to read to our friends, play cards, games or just have a cuppa together".

Tami lives alone with a restricted mobility. She says of her befriender Judith: "I have been with Judith for three and a half years and am extremely happy with her. She has become a wonderful friend and a big helper for my heart and mind."

Judith responds: "It is simply wonderful to visit Tami for two hours each week and be given a warm welcome. We enjoy our time together – sometimes at home and sometimes we go out and have a cup of coffee together. It is very moving to have Tami say "I love you" each time I visit."

Counselling ESRA offers support to those who have suffered loss – be it a member of the family, the loss of a job or the loss of a familiar country – a common challenge for many when making aliyah especially at the age of retirement.

Counsellor Marlyn Butchins

Counsellor Marlyn Butchin, with ten years of experience, explains: "The essence of grief counseling (as compared to consulting with a psychologist) is helping people to help themselves. ESRA provides a major service to the English-speaking community. Counselors work with a gamut of problems which have more to do with matters other than the loss of a loved one. Challenges include children dealing with problematic parents; spouses who are the primary carers for their partners who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's disease; women who have suffered from rape; aliyah challenges; friction within families; family dynamics in a dysfunctional family; children who have problems with their parents and vice-versa; family inheritance problems; grief after the tragic loss of a child or young adults who cannot come to terms with the loss of a parent; people who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorders."

Marlyn sums up: "Success is when the client begins to face up to these problems and starts the difficult process of dealing with them. The first and biggest step has been taken in that they have reached out for help to an ESRA counselor and are now on their way to finding solutions."

Let's Talk was conceived in 2011, by ESRA Modiin's Brenda Brett, together with a Hebrew speaking neighbor. It followed Brenda's participation in an intensive Ulpan. Frustrated at the lack of opportunities to practice her hard won Ivrit conversation skills, she found speaking with her neighbor to be both enjoyable and successful. The result was her decision to introduce the concept to a wider audience via ESRA. Initially the format was conversation groups for English and Hebrew speakers. A year later it evolved into matching individuals one to one.

Jackie Graham took over as coordinator, in 2014, when Brenda left Modiin for Netanya; assisted by Hebrew speaker Anat Zeitak the winning formula continued.

The Magazine spoke with Jackie who sees the reason for the project's outstanding success as endeavoring to match participants with similar fields of interests.

Frieda, in her seventies, has been meeting with a younger woman for over five years, benefitting not only from the language support but the fact that two have become close friends.

Joan and Jeffrey tell their story: "Approximately two and a half years ago my husband and I were paired with an Israeli couple, living in the same street, who wanted to improve their English speaking skills. Coordinator, Jackie Graham, made a wonderful match. We speak about our families, our lives in Israel and current events. Our conversation Hebrew speaking skills have improved dramatically. We feel comfortable speaking in a small setting appreciating the helpful corrections of our partners. Let's Talk has improved our Ivrit and connected us to our very special new friends."

The Magazine spoke with Steve Freedman, the coordinator for the Raanana area. Steve says:"Let's Talk" is a great way of getting absorbed into Israeli society. I have constant requests to join the program from both English and Hebrew speakers and currently Raanana boasts 24 "matched pairs".

Steve put the Magazine in touch with Susan Simpson one of the active participants. Susan says "It's been a three way win situation for me."

Win One: I have a chance to use my Hebrew every week. Making aliyah at age 50 meant learning the language was always going to be a challenge. Living in Raanana – who speaks Hebrew?

Win Two: I have a new friend who has helped me fight the Israeli bureaucracy. Sarah brokered a great deal for me with my phone contract. I would never have succeeded with my "broken biscuits" Hebrew. She is also my window into the Israeli psyche and culture. It is not unusual for me to open our conversation with me exclaiming "OMG Sarah – you'll never believe what happened this week!"

Win Three: I have found a beautiful new friend, someone I look forward to meeting every Sunday. We catch up with the happenings of the past week; move on to the problems of the world and, if time permits, we tackle some article that Sarah has found in the Shabbat papers.

On this 40th Anniversary of ESRA's founding we have every reason to feel proud of the difference ESRA has made in improving the lives of many. Thank you Merle Guttmann for having created an organization that continues to grow and answer the needs of the moment. We have every reason to celebrate and will do so on May 14th at Shefayim – make sure you are there for a day not to be missed! 

Judith with Tami whom she befriends

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