Youth Futures Mentor Pays it Forward

Tags: Federation, Israel, Overseas, Blog

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We recently met a young woman named Yafit, an Ethiopian Jew whose family made Aliyah more than 30 years ago. She is just one of nearly 100,000 Ethiopian Jews who completed the journey – an effort that Cleveland’s own Federation President Steve Hoffman helped initiate. Now, Yafit is paying it forward as a Youth Futures Mentor, a Federation-supported program that provides community-based mentoring for youth in Israel. Read Yafit’s inspiring story here:

Hello, my name is Yafit and I am a mentor for Youth Futures in Beit Shean – Cleveland’s sister community in Israel.

I was born in Israel, the daughter of two parents who made Aliyah from Ethiopia during Operation Moses in 1984. I am the oldest of 6 siblings. I saw how tough it was for my parents to make their dreams come true in Israel. Both worked very hard to learn the language, to find jobs, to adjust to a new culture and so much more. Remember that when immigrants first arrived from Ethiopia, they were taught for the first time about electricity, indoor plumbing and so many other western customs.

Nevertheless, my parents were committed to us having a better future in Israel. They always reminded us that it is a 2,000-year-old dream of our people to live in Israel. To make sure that we fit into Israeli society, they only spoke Hebrew to us in the house, and we lived in a neighborhood with many veteran Israelis. They just didn’t want us to feel different in any way.

After I finished my army service and my Master’s degree in Special Education, I decided that I wanted to work with children from difficult backgrounds.

I moved to Beit Shean to be close to my boyfriend who lives in Beit Shean and began working for Youth Futures as a mentor.

I am a mentor to 16 children. I meet with the child and their parents regularly, and I meet each child at their school five days a week. I also meet with the child’s teacher and social services (if needed) to try and get everyone to work together to help the child succeed. We want to give each child emotional support so that that they become more confident and empowered children.

One of the girls we work with is Sharon. Sharon is now in 6th grade. I met Sharon when she arrived to a new school in 5th grade. I noticed Sharon right away – not because she was a trouble maker or because she looked different than the other kids, but because she simply refused to speak. When she moved to this new school, she stopped talking altogether. She had no confidence and it was clear that she needed help at many different levels.

The first thing I did was go to visit her home to talk to her parents and see how she interacted with her family. I would ask Sharon questions and her mother would answer them for her. I thought to myself, “How can a young girl learn that she has something important to say if her parents will not even let her speak for herself?”

So I began to take her aside privately and begin to talk to her. At first, I would only ask her questions that required a yes or no answer. And slowly, she would begin to answer. Then I would ask her questions that would require a two word answer. And slowly she would begin to answer those. After a few months of working together, she was already saying full sentences! I taught her to set little goals for herself that were reachable so that she never felt a sense of failure. Each time she would reach one of her little goals, she would feel motivated to achieve the next goal.

I will never forget the way I felt when one day she turned to me and said- hitzlachti – I succeeded. Now we set our sights on making one or two friends at school, and slowly she was able to do that as well. Even the teachers began to let me know that she would raise her hand in class and offer an answer!

That process took over a year for us to accomplish. I had to go back and work with her parents on allowing her to answer questions and feel a sense of worth in the house. And, I had to help the teachers understand to be patient with her and help her achieve very small goals.

But it worked. It really worked.

Sharon is only one of 16 children that I am responsible for and I am concerned with the progress of each and every one of them. But there is so much I want to accomplish as a Youth Futures Mentor. I want the girls that I work with to grow up to be proud women. I want them to realize how much potential each one of them possesses; so many of the girls aren’t proud of the things that make them unique. I have many hard moments, but when I look at the big picture I know that I am helping change their lives.

Thank you again for all your community’s support. With your help we are making a difference in Israel. We are truly stronger together! Thank you on behalf of all the children and families who cannot be here and thank you themselves.

Stories like Yafit’s are made possible by your generosity to the Campaign for Jewish Needs. Join us as we aspire to leave no community member behind in Cleveland, Israel, and 70 Countries around the globe. Donate today.

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Learn More: Federation, Israel, Overseas, Blog