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Melbournians, Carl and Diana Davis visited Ahuzat Yeladim in October 2011 and learned that. . .


Home from their trip, Carl writes. . .

. . . .whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
– Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 (37a)

This Talmudic maxim, our rabbis tell us, doesn’t mean that by saving someone’s life have you actually saved the world.  What it means, they say, is that you have saved the world for the person whose life you saved.  After an extraordinary visit to Ahuzat Yeladim in Haifa, Israel, late in 2011, we have come more than ever to believe this interpretation of the old biblical saying.

Correctly described, Ahuzat Yeladim is a therapeutic and post hospitalization residential centre for children from 7 to 18 who suffer from behavioural, emotional and psychiatric problems.  But after our visit, we would rather describe it as haven of hope.

Our tour of this amazing establishment was facilitated by WIZO in Victoria.Janine Gelley, the Deputy Chairperson of the Tourist Department and Executive of World WIZO was our host.  She told us that she was excited to have the opportunity to show off her special project.

Travelling from Haifa on a warm Autumn day, Janine was reluctant to talk much about her special project.I want you to gain your impression first hand and not have it coloured by my view,she said.

So Diana and I simply had to contain ourselves and enjoy the ride with Arie, our driver, colourfully describing notable elements of the landscape as we drove along the superb highway from Tel Aviv to Haifa.

See the wall separating the West Bank, said Arie.That was built at the instigation of Ariel Sharon in 2002 to stop wave after wave of suicide bombers entering Israel and murdering Israelis. Once the wall was complete, the bombings stopped almost immediately –  but the world condemned us for doing this  but, he said with a typical Israeli shrug, who cares! They simply forced us to defend ourselves!

As we drove, we spoke to Janine of our connections to WIZO with my aunt, Martha Jacobson, a past Federal President and Diana’s mother, Hannah Halprin, an indefatigable worker and one of the founding members of WIZO Hadassim.  Janine well recognized how important Australian WIZO is to Ahuzat Yeladim as she demonstrated her remarkable knowledge of our families connection and contribution to this inspiring institution.

Our anticipation heightened as we approached magnificent Haifa and climbed the hills towards Ahuzat Yeladim. We entered this beautiful place set among gardens with spectacular bougainvilleas and immediately we started to feel the ruach- the unique atmosphere where you knew this was a singular place, a place of exceptional achievement.

And so it was. . . After entering the main building, we met the Principal/Director, Yossi Saragosi. For over an hour he told us of the raison detre of Ahuzat Yeladim.  He described case after case where seemingly hopeless challenges were not only met but success achieved.

How do you measure your success? I asked.

The army is the test, he answered.All our graduates are required to do their military service but the army won’t admit kids who are problems.So I tell them that this person, for example, is not the same child who entered Ahuzat Yeladim at the age of 11 severely emotionally disturbed.He has become a self-reliant person with a healthy feeling of self-worth and therefore worthy of entering the army.And so he is accepted as are 95% of our graduates. That is the measure of our success here.

As he described one case where a young girl was so disturbed that the only way she could express her anger at the world was to violently destroy her environment, her classroom, her personal space.Yossi, who was her teacher at the time, accepted the challenge and relentlessly worked to communicate with her. Eventually he succeeded. He made her a promise that he would sit in the hall when she graduated from Ahuzat Yeladim and that he would, one day, dance at her wedding. He achieved both. Tears flowed down our faces as we listened to this inspired man.

All too seldom in your life, do you have the opportunity of meeting someone who makes such an indelible impression on you that you will never forget them and their presence constantly enters your mind. So it is with Yossi Saragosi. And his staff, too.The commitment, the dedication, the refusal to be judgemental, the dogged relentlessness with which they approach their task  are all qualities which are vital in the remarkable success of Ahuzat Yeladim.

We visited several of the elements of this facility including an innovative small zoo where healing pet therapy is practised. The children are allocated an animal to care for. This connection allows them to experience the unconditional love between creature and carer perhaps for the first time in their lives.

More tears flowed as we saw the honour boards with names so familiar to us including my wife’s late parents to whom Ahuzat Yeladim was so important a part of their agenda as a WIZO project.

No words can adequately underscore the importance of the role Ahuzat Yeladim plays in the salvaging of young lives in this young nation.The part played by WIZO Australia in performing the Mitzvah of allowing Yossi Saragosi and his team to save the world of their precious, damaged children is unparalleled and irreplaceable.And WIZO Australia is just as vital a part of Ahuzat Yeladim as Yossi and the team. New facilities, improvements, constant upgrading of accommodation is WIZO Australia’s constant, ongoing task.For without WIZO Australia and its unstinting contributors, Ahuzat Yeladim would simply not be the inspirational reality it is.

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