Yad LaKashish, translated literally from the Hebrew as “hand to the old,” is a unique nonprofit organization, and certainly so much more to Jerusalem’s elderly residents than this literal translation implies. Based at 14 Shivtei Yisrael Street, not far from the Old City, Yad LaKashish offers essential services to elderly people who live below the poverty line. In return for coming to work, Yad LaKashish helps them financially, socially and emotionally as they regain their usefulness and productivity, living their most senior years with dignity.
Through its unique model, Yad LaKashish challenges stereotypes about the elderly, empowers low-income seniors through creative employment in artistic workshops, provides a nurturing community and is a model of positive aging at the forefront of social and financial advocacy. Yad LaKashish also provides its seniors, who work as artisans, with income security—a monthly stipend to pay rent, purchase food and medicine and pay for water and electricity. They are also provided with payment of monthly health insurance premiums, a daily hot lunch, subsidized dental care, holiday bonuses, birthday gifts and organized trips and social and cultural events. In exchange, these craftspeople produce a range of beautiful items that include Judaica and talliot, home decor and household items, children’s and baby items, jewelry and accessories, cards and paper products and gift sets. Yad LaKashish is indeed “Tzedaka in Action.”
Yad LaKashish was founded in 1962 by schoolteacher Myriam Mendilow. She was distressed by the large number of elderly immigrants who, upon arrival in Israel, faced significant economic and social challenges. They struggled to find meaningful work given their advanced age and lack of basic Hebrew, and suffered from isolation and food insecurity. She felt they had lost their self-respect.
Wanting to help the elderly and to change her students’ disrespectful attitude toward them, she decided to undertake the highest level of tzedaka, helping others help themselves, and opened a small bookbinding workshop. Here eight local men were trained in the bookbinding craft. Local schools brought tattered books from their libraries to the workshop. For a small fee the craftsmen rebound the books. The children started to bond with the elderly, and the elderly began to discover that even in old age, they had something to contribute to society.
Today, more than 60 years later, Yad LaKashish continues to create a space where older people remain active, contributing members of society and part of a warm community environment. The organization has expanded to nine workshops and nearly 210 seniors, mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, South America and Iran. About 65% are Holocaust survivors. On average, the participants are 80 years of age, and more than a dozen are in their 90s.
“It is so wonderful to bring together seniors who do not share a common language or background to create a cooperative team of artisans. Art is a language for all,” workshop manager Shachar said.
Yad LaKashish’s nine workshops are managed by professional artists. Workshop managers train the elderly in the production of professional, quality handicrafts. The training is a rigorous ongoing process, customized to meet the needs and abilities of each participant. Products are made by teams of artists, all taking on a separate step of production to make items like jewelry, Judaica, home goods and children’s toys.
“We focus on the abilities of each artisan, not disabilities, to create meaningful jobs which maximize their skills. Most of the artisans have no prior art training,” said Estie, workshop manager.
Yad LaKashish offers free tours where people can experience firsthand how the organization promotes positive attitudes toward aging and the elderly by connecting the generations through the language of the creative arts. Visitors can meet the artisans and come away with a profound appreciation of their talents.
Visiting Yad LaKashish is also perfect for groups. Many youth groups such as NCSY, USY, BBYO and NFTY, day schools, JCCs, Federations and congregations participate in tours and workshops. The artists enjoy having visitors of all ages and are happy to show the highly professional, beautiful handmade items that they, as a collaborative, have created.
Svetlana, 87, who creates ceramics, said: “I am honored when young people stop to ask me questions and compliment my work. Keep coming!”
Your tour starts in Yad LaKashish’s beautiful courtyard, with a brief history of their 60-plus years and an explanation of their mission. Next, you will be taken to several workshops. Your tour ends in the Yad LaKashish gift shop, where every item is made by their artisans. Proceeds are invested back into Yad LaKashish’s operation. The tour takes approximately one hour.
Additionally, Yad LaKashish offers hands-on workshops in conjunction with the free tour, and a chesed project. Visitors, guided by a workshop manager, make a piece of art to take home. A minimum of 10 participants is needed, and the cost is between 80-100 NIS per person. The time for this tour and activity is approximately 2 ½ to 3 hours.
The chesed project allows each visitor to make a package to be given to Yad LaKashish’s elderly artisans. All supplies are provided. Price and time is dependent on the number of participants.
Yad LaKashish indeed honors Psalm 71:9: “Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me.”
As David, 82, metal workshop said, “Yad LaKashish is like my family. I come every day to see my friends and celebrate our birthdays and holidays together.”
For more information: www.lifeline.org.il
Tours are available Sunday-Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-11:15 a.m.
Susan R. Eisenstein is a longtime Jewish educator, passionate about creating special, innovative activities for her students. She is also passionate about writing about Jewish topics and about Israel. She has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.