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“When I first started,” said Beverly Marcus, “I couldn’t sleep the night before because I’d be so nervous, wondering what I’d do and how it would go. And then I wouldn’t sleep the night after a class, either, because I was so excited. It really gives me a high.”
That’s been the impact of volunteering as an art teacher for special needs clients at Yad Sarah’s Day Rehabilitation Center in Jerusalem.
“I’d always wanted to move to Israel,” said Beverly, and in the summer of 2005, with her children grown and everything falling into place, “the time was right.” She left her home in New Jersey for a new life in Jerusalem – “and I haven’t looked back.”
Soon after making aliyah, Beverly learned that Rabbi Benjamin Yudin would be leading a mission to Israel with Beverly’s former congregation, Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn, NJ. She joined the group, which included a visit to Yad Sarah House and a private meeting with Yad Sarah founder and then-mayor of Jerusalem Uri Lupolianski.
Yad Sarah is Israel’s largest volunteer-staffed organization, working out of 104 branches to provide an array of health and home care support services for people of all ages. Yad Sarah’s 6,000 volunteers lend medical equipment, provide legal consultation and representation for the elderly and reach out to the homebound with visits, portable dental services and the installation of special-needs equipment.
After 23 years on the faculty of Kushner Academy in Livingston NJ, where she taught Judaic studies and art, Beverly anticipated continuing to work as a teacher in Israel. She experimented with teaching English to high school students and tutoring blind and visually impaired students to prepare them for entry in Hebrew University, but found those jobs unfulfilling. That’s when she remembered her visit to Yad Sarah.
Beverly’s understanding of Yad Sarah had changed since that first tour of the headquarters with Shomrei Torah. Now a three-year resident of Jerusalem, she had learned how prevalent the organization was. “You see Yad Sarah’s vans all around town,” she explained, “and people are always talking about it as the place to go if you need equipment.” She knew the organization was run by thousands of volunteers, and that they would likely welcome another.
“It’s kind of funny,” she continued. “I hesitated at first. I thought: everyone volunteers at Yad Sarah; it’s so cliché!” But Beverly would soon learn why everyone in Israel is so eager to volunteer at Yad Sarah.
She thought she was ready for a change, professionally. She hoped to sign on as “a helper,” assisting someone else wherever her services might be useful. But when Yad Sarah’s personnel department learned that Beverly was an art teacher, they were thrilled – they immediately asked her to lead the art class in the Shikumon, the Day Rehabilitation Center.
A Purim Project
Beverly had very little experience in special education; it would be a challenge, she knew, but she took it on.
Assisted by two other volunteers and one young woman doing Sherut Leumi (National Service), Beverly leads a class of 14 women, ranging in age from their late 40s to 70s, who have varying degrees of functioning ability. Only two of the students are able to walk in unassisted; most use mobility devices.
The new role for Beverly has been a perfect fit. “It really is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” she said. “I enjoy it very much.” In some ways, she soon realized, it was actually easier than the work she’d previously known; certainly, Beverly said, it’s nothing like working with high school students. “These women really appreciate what I do for them. They shower me with brachot.”
Often, the most challenging part is coming up with weekly art projects that engage the students. The class has already tackled a range of assignments – they’ve designed signs and holiday cards, decorated planters and plates, and used decoupage to transform glass jars into vases – then made flowers for fill those vases.
The group has been together for a while, and Beverly enjoys seeing the rapport the women have with each other. Several members of the group have full use of only one hand, so they work together to use two-handed tools like scissors. Recently, the women had a rough time when a member of the group died, but there are also many simchas to celebrate, with the students regularly announcing an offspring’s accomplishment or the birth of a grandchild.
The women have welcomed Beverly into their circle, and she enjoys talking to them about her own life. “I share stories with them,” she said. “They think it’s cute that I’m American. When I struggle for a word in Hebrew, they love it. They help me out, but they really get a kick out of it.”
Beverly was right about Yad Sarah – sometimes it does seem like everyone in Israel is connected to the organization. But there’s a reason so many Israelis are moved to give their time to Yad Sarah: over and over, the work has proven to be a reward for its volunteers as well as its clients.
Now, Beverly can only laugh at her original hesitation to join the trend. “I’m proud to be associated with Yad Sarah,” she said.
For more information about Yad Sarah, call 212-223-7758 or visit www.yadsarah.org.