A special celebration was held at the Psagot Winery Visitors Center, located outside of Jerusalem, Israel, on Monday evening. Chesed Menachem Mendel - Early Intervention for Young Orphans, held its end-of-the-school year scholarship and award ceremony for the Binyamin region. One mother who attended told BJL, when "I talk about it, I cry."
Chabad communities around the world, mark 12 Tammuz with celebrations remembering the birthday of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in 1880, and the anniversary of his release from prison in Soviet Russia in 1927. Colel Chabad is Israeli's oldest continuously running social services network. Since 1788, it has developed multiple chesed projects throughout Israel, supplying food and a wide range of services to the needy. Founded by the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Colel Chabad, is also known as the tzedakah of Rabbi Meir Ba'al HaNes, with the current executive director Rabbi Sholom Duchman.
A number of organizations in Israel support families who have lost a parent. Sadly in the Binyamin and Gush Etzion areas, far too many families have experienced a loss. What is different however, is that Chesed Menachem Mendel provides services to families, regardless of their religious or economic status. Immediately after a death is reported, head social worker, Orly Bentarya, is on the phone calling to find out the family's needs.
BJL spoke with Valerie Seidner, originally from Nashville, TN, a widow who lives in Tekoa, and a mother of seven children, whose husband died eight years ago. "Orly is "the best social worker I ever met, and I am a social worker," said Seidner, adding, "This is 100% chesed."
School can be a challenge for any student, especially those with learning issues, and can be far more difficult for those who have lost a parent to tragedy or illness. In order to monitor the children's progress, support staff regularly receive a copy of school report cards. At the first indication of problems arising, tutors or specialists are hired and paid for by Chesed Menachem Mendel. The intent is to correct problems before they become serious and provide incentives so that each child can achieve.
"Keren Menachem Mendel has been helping us for years in trying to cope with the hardships of losing a parent. They supply scholarships, fun days, grants and more, in hope that the kids will stay in school and succeed," said Deena Lawi of Neve Daniel, an olah from New York and mother of five children, whose husband died eight years ago. "I am grateful for the smiles they bring to our faces and all their love and support, " added Lawi. Her son, Netanel Lawi, one of the high school age students receiving special mention at the ceremony, was 4 1/2 years old when his father died. Netanel and his mother are proud that in addition to his school work and studies, he is a volunteer for the Gush Etzion fire department.
At the event,100 students from 60 families received grants sponsored the Falic Family Foundation, acknowledging their academic accomplishments. In 1991, Colel Chabad began organizing mass Bar Mitzvahs for Russian immigrants to Israel. These Chesed Menachem Mendel award dinners have been held at the Pisagot Winery for over 4 years. Rabbi Yitzhak Marton is program director of Chesed Menachem Mendel.
Rav Amram Blau, director of Chesed Menachem Mendel, called the young people to the stage, showing pride in each family and accomplishment, as would a proud father and grandfather.
Rav Zalman Duchman was especially pleased to have Simon Falic representing the Falic Family on the dais. Simon Falic was presented a gift at the end of the ceremony. Everyone was asked to write a personal note of thanks, those thank you messages became part of the framed collage.
Chief Rabbi of the Kotel, Rav Shmuel Rabinovitch attended and gave a short dvar Torah. Rav Mendy Blau, director Director of Colel Chabad was also present.
One after another, the parents, the vast majority of them widows, praised and thanked all those involved with Chesed Menachem Mendel, for the unconditional chesed they had received.
"It is like it comes down from the heavens, they come to do good things for you. It's wonderful," one very grateful widow told BJL, before waiting buses transported families back to their homes and communities.