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Learning Torah While Caring for Others

On June 14th I attended a conference of Temech, an organization whose goal is to help haredi women achieve financial independence through guidance in building their businesses, but is also open to non-haredi women (as am I).
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June 21, 2023
Photo courtesy of Toby Klein Greenwald

There are no coincidences in life. On June 14th I attended a conference of Temech, an organization whose goal is to help haredi women achieve financial independence through guidance in building their businesses, but is also open to non-haredi women (as am I). They encourage networking, and just before the day ended, I asked Naomi Guez, the last person I met, what she does. It opened for me a world of chesed, kindness, and I offered to write about it. 

Guez and her husband, native Israelis, spent many years teaching in Venezuela, Argentina, and for the last 23 of their years abroad she taught in the Yeshiva of Flatbush. They recently returned to Israel and Guez’s current pet project is raising funds for the Karnei Shomron Hesder Yeshiva, which has a five-year program of study and army service; most of their students enter elite combat units, some of them are officers, in addition to contributing to the security and emergency needs of Karnei Shomron. 

But they have another mission.

The yeshiva established on its own grounds both a respite program for families of children and young people with special needs, and a residential entity for young people with disabilities.

Like some other yeshivot, this one encourages their students, both in the high school and the hesder program, to community service and volunteerism. But they have gone one step further. The yeshiva established on its own grounds both a respite program for families of children and young people with special needs, and a residential entity for young people with disabilities.

Nofshon Shomron (Holiday in the Shomron)

Every weekend, and during special holiday and vacation times, children and young adults with special needs are hosted by this program, which includes lodging, meals and activities, and offers parents and families quality time, rest and respite from the intensive care they give to their special-needs children. It is administered together with Israel’s Ministry of Social Welfare and Social Services Department.

The volunteers include graduates of the Yeshiva, youth from elsewhere, soldiers, and young women performing their Sherut Leumi (National Service). Experienced coordinators from the Yeshiva are present at all of the activities, offering professional guidance and assistance.

Once a year, a week-long summer camp, repleted with activities and attractions, is held for 70 attendants with various disabilities, accompanied by 80 volunteers. During the year there are also events such as parental bonding on Shabbat and family fun days.

In a mother’s words

I spoke with Sarah Kind. She and her husband Herzl have four children. The youngest, Yair, now 24, has special needs and cannot be on his own. He has been in the Nofshon Shomron program for the last fifteen years. Sarah calls the program, “Incredible, a blessing. Before I retired, I worked with special needs children and I heard about it from them. 

“The first time, it was hard for me to let go. But our next youngest son volunteered there and he came back and said, ‘Ima, you must send Yair there. He will have fun and you will enjoy yourselves; everyone will gain from it.’

“From the moment Yair entered the program, it has been a great relief for us. The yeshiva students are wonderful; there are no words to describe the chesed they do. Rather than going home for Shabbat, they stay with these young people 24/7, take care of them, eat with them, shower them, take care of their hygiene – they do it all, in addition to running a wonderful program of activities. And some of them are even younger than the people they are taking care of, for the boys come from both the high school yeshiva and the post-high school hesder yeshiva. They give up their Shabbat weekends and vacations to help parents and families that they don’t even know, and this is not to be taken from granted; there is no greater chesed (kindness).” 

“The first Shabbat Yair was there, I was nervous the whole Shabbat. I was afraid and kept thinking – How does he feel? Does he think we abandoned him? But Motzei Sabbat (Saturday night) he didn’t want to come home, said he wanted to go there again. It was so moving; we can’t imagine him not being in the program now.”

Sarah says passionately, “We live with these children with love because they are ours, but we also sometimes need a bit of breathing space, including the parents who sometimes need it for themselves, as a couple. We need to recharge our batteries. And Yair always needs supervision; he can’t be left alone. It is impossible to describe in simple words what this is for the families and for the parents.” 

The Shalhevet Residence

The Shalhevet Boutique Residence caters to youngsters with special needs in order to integrate them into a supportive, developmental and suitable surrounding the Kollel.

Shalhevet literally means “flame” and the name was inspired by the words of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, who taught that the flame of a soul rises spontaneously and it is impossible to stop its movement. 

The Residence’s staff includes a director, social worker, house mother, counselors and professional instructors who prepare the residents for an independent life. The young adults who live in the Shalhevet residence are an integral part of the social tapestry of life, and of the chevrutot (learning companions) of the Yeshiva. As part of the program, they are placed in jobs with protective employment within the community or in Sherut Leumi as contributors to the State of Israel. 

In the beginning…

Karnei Shomron Hesder Yeshiva was founded in 1980 by Rabbi Shmuel Haber and Rabbi Avraham Kurzweil. Their main vision was to prepare men with a love for Torah and a sense of responsibility to society, to become future Zionistic leaders, rabbis and educators, exemplifying “Simplicity, morality, kindness and Derech Eretz (showing respect toward others.” The Yeshiva becomes involved with every soldier who experiences challenges during his service and maintains contact with them.

It also includes a teacher certification program, a “Torah garin” – a group of their graduates and families that go into underdeveloped, disadvantaged or troubled neighborhoods and develop communities there, and a Kollel program, whose graduates are encouraged to continue their higher Torah studies while at universities or technological institutions. 

The yeshiva spokespeople say it promotes volunteering as a way of life, for students at all levels in the yeshiva and of every age. Volunteer activities include visiting patients in nursing homes and hospitals, working with disadvantaged youth, assisting new immigrants, and donating blood. Some qualify as ambulance drivers and a significant number participate in the First Response Program and deal with emergency situations arising in Karnei Shomron.

They say that their goal is to “study, perform and connect” and the proof appears to be in the caring qualities of their students and their special programs.

To quote Sarah Kind, she concludes our interview with a Hebrew quote: “Olam chesed yibaneh” – “The world is built by love.” (Psalms 89:3, translation: Professor Harold Fisch)

Indeed.


Naomi Guez will be in the U.S. from June 22. She can be reached at: naomiguez120@gmail.com or 347-993-31028. 

Toby Klein Greenwald is an award-winning journalist, theatre director and the editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.

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