The ISHA Center: The Dream Becomes Reality

What is it like to see a dream come true? It’s a phrase that gets used a lot, but to see it really happen is amazing. Almost six years ago, Women’s Philanthropy of UJC MetroWest began to bring a project to life. Last week in Israel, I got to see it in full living color.

 

The project was originally conceived as a joint venture that would renovate an old building in Ofakim, our Partnership 2000 city in Israel. Half of the building would be used for a center for people with special needs and the other half would be a women’s center, a place where the women’s groups of Ofakim could meet. Women’s Philanthropy would raise the funds for the women’s center through Lions’ Leap, an initiative created by Paula Saginaw, then Women’s Campaign chair; the special needs center would be funded by one of our most generous MetroWest philanthropists, Maxine Myers. This was a great idea until the engineers took a look and declared the building unsound. 

 

Undaunted, we moved on. The center for special needs found a new home at the Ofakim matnas (like a JCC, only in Hebrew) and we began searching for a new location for the women’s center. While we were looking, the Rashi Foundation, a leading Israeli charitable foundation, approached us about partnering to create another two-part solution: the women’s center and a “warm home” for girls at risk. Previous women’s missions from MetroWest had visited with the girls at very small, overcrowded apartments that served as the “warm homes” where the girls went for programming and support after school.

 

This seemed like a great match — the women could mentor the girls and create strong bonds. A site was identified and declared usable by the engineers. I went to see the new building on a trip to Israel in the summer of 2008, when I was Women’s Campaign chair. Yes, it was usable — there was a structure and a front courtyard and a back yard. Underwhelming might be the word for it, however. With some vision, though, you could imagine something taking shape. In fact, we gave it a name, the ISHA Center. Isha means woman in Hebrew, and the Hebrew acronym of ISHA stands for “Ofakim Initiates the Integration of Women.”

 

Entrance to the ISHA Center.
Entrance to the ISHA Center.
The ISHA Center was dedicated in November 2008, when a delegation from MetroWest was in Israel for the International Lion of Judah Conference and the General Assembly. If possible, the building looked worse than when I had seen it in the summer, as it was now a mere shell. But progress was steady. We planned an opening ceremony to coincide with the national Jewish Federation of North America’s Heart to Heart 2 Women’s Mission to Israel, which took place last week. Fifteen women from the MetroWest delegation took leave of the rest of the mission and traveled to Ofakim. 

 

When we pulled up in front of the ISHA Center, I truly could not believe my eyes. The warm, inviting space was the same shape as I remembered, but everything else was completely different. Clean, bright, colorful, and airy, it is everything I hoped it was going to be and more. The opening ceremony was very brief but warm. As I sat and listened, I was facing the plaque that bears the names of all of the women of MetroWest who helped make the ISHA Center a reality. I could picture the faces that went with all of the names. I just wished all of them could have been there with us but felt privileged to be there on their behalf. 

 

Leslie Dannin Rosenthal planting in the therapeutic garden.
Leslie Dannin Rosenthal planting in the therapeutic garden.
We also got to help with one of the first projects between the ISHA Center and the “warm home”: we planted some of the plants and herbs for the therapeutic garden that was the idea of Barbara and Dan Drench. Thanks to the Drenches and their many friends, the women and girls will work together and the center will have a beautiful garden to welcome all who come to visit. 

 

Finally, we got to visit with some of the girls who come to the “warm home.” They clearly love coming to the ISHA Center, which is staffed by a “house mother” and a social worker. These women provide workshops for the girls on topics ranging from cooking to what it means to be a young woman with so many choices and decisions to make. The girls love the bright colors, the space, the computer room, and the simple fact that they have someplace to go, rather than to be at home with no supervision or hanging out in the street. 

 

Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, Anna Fisch, and Ellen Goldner in front of the plaque
Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, Anna Fisch, and Ellen Goldner in front of the ISHA Center plaque.
What I realized after meeting the girls is that the plaque, with all the names that mean so much to me, is the least important feature of the ISHA Center. The most important thing isn’t tangible. In partnering together with so many, we have created yet another connection between the people of MetroWest and the people of Ofakim, another living bridge that unites us and strengthens Jewish community.

 

The ISHA Center is a reality, not a dream. There are many, many people who made it possible, starting with the over 200 women who gave so generously to make it happen. The leadership of Women’s Philanthropy over the last six years, including Stacey Davis, Paula Saginaw, Maxine Murnick, Lisa Lisser, and Anna Fisch, our current president, and Sarabeth Margolis Wizen, our director, was totally committed to making the ISHA Center a success. But it is the vision and determination of Amir Shacham, MetroWest’s associate executive vice president, Israel and Overseas, who is our eyes, ears and, most of all, our heart in Israel, which truly made the dream a reality. Much of the “we” that I referred to above was really Amir calling, emailing, and urging us forward. Truly, there are no words to thank him. I think the best I can do is to say that Amir’s efforts in bringing the ISHA Center to life demonstrate that he is a true disciple of Theodore Herzl: “If you will it, it is no dream.”

 

I can’t wait for all of you to go to Ofakim and see the ISHA Center and meet the MetroWest family in Israel!

 

Leslie

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