“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
(Little Gidding) ― T.S. Eliot
Rarely does life — at least one lived to its full potential — proceed according to our so-called plans.
I first walked through the doors of Hut HaMeshulash’s Open Space Drop-In Center in December 2013. At the time I was pursuing a double master’s degree in law and philosophy at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University with a Ph.D. as part of the long-term picture.
Needing to support myself even as I studied, I was intent on working in a field unrelated to my academic path. My thought was to somehow apply myself to improve the lives of Jerusalem’s many troubled and lost youth, those not much younger than I and even my own peers who I passed on the streets each day. These were, after all, my people. I could relate to their situation as my own juvenile years were somewhat similar.
I arrived at Hut HaMeshulash (the Hut) during a very special period, both for me personally and for the organization. My arrival coincided with Hanukah, and the Open Space was full of light. Not only the kind produced by candles, but more powerfully, I felt, the type emanating from the gathering of many beautiful people in one setting. From that moment, I felt at home and quickly fell in love with the place and my new colleagues.
At the time, Hut’s professional staff included five youth counselors; a social worker; and Dana, the Open Space Director, who became my mentor, as well as her husband, Igal, with whom she started the organization in 1999 and who still serves as its Executive Director. This inspiring young couple would come to play a major role in my life.
By chance, two weeks following my arrival, an important collaboration with Israel’s Ministry of Social Affairs got underway, enabling the organization to grow in exceptional ways. In the three plus years which have passed, the number of young people who receive practical, emotional and vocational assistance through the Hut as they seek to get their lives back on track has grown to 800 annually; the Open Space tripled its staff and recruited many extraordinary volunteers to lend a helping hand; and Israel’s authorities are now far more focused on the needs of young people who age-out of other rehabilitative frameworks and those in need of an anchor after leaving ultra-Orthodox backgrounds.
Among the developments made possible because of this new collaboration was the launch of an employment advancement program operated in partnership with the National Insurance Institute – Secure Future. A mere six months after joining the Hut’s professional ranks, I was entrusted with managing this new initiative with the aim of assisting teens and youth secure their futures through emotional empowerment and vocational training. Though I had lacked experience, Dana and Igal, believing in the vast potential of the individual, characteristically took a chance on me and gave me opportunities that would change the course of my life. This, I understood, is what the Hut is about – the practice of recognizing the spark within each of us, regardless of background or past, and empowering each person to rise up and meet life’s challenges.
Fast forward to the summer of 2017: I can hardly believe that my colleagues and I have facilitated seven successful Secure Future cohorts for nearly 150 young people – many of whom came to us after periods of homelessness, problems with addiction, criminal pasts and workplace humiliation. As a result of the program, these young people are now able to move beyond fear, disappointment and other obstacles, advancing both personally and professionally.
I am writing these words during my last days at the Hut, for this round at least, as I will soon join the 26th cohort of the Mandel Leadership Institute. No doubt, the Hut, as an organization and an aggregation of exceptional people, both staff and participants, has altered my life’s path. My time and experiences with the Hut have helped me believe in myself and my ability to make change happen – in my personal life and the world at large. When I arrived, I saw myself as a student, today as a field activist, a social entrepreneur, and an agent of change. I wish to recognize all the amazing people with whom I have worked: Thank you for embracing me, believing in me, pushing me, laughing and rejoicing with me. Thank you for the togetherness, the honesty and loving critique of my work. Thank you for seeing me.
Here’s to the new beginnings that each day brings…