May 26, 2024
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OU Israel Center Builds Society One Person at a Time

Channah Devorah with her violin.

Amid all our activism and prayers for the soldiers, the hostages, the victims and those suffering from the massacre and the war, we may lose sight of the other groups of Jews who struggle in Israel and the organizations that serve them.

On a recent trip to Israel, the Orthodox Union’s Director of Foundations and Strategic Partnerships Jeffrey Korbman of Highland Park spent a lot of time getting a closer look at the ongoing work of the OU’s Israel Center.

OU Israel, through its Seymour J. Abrams Jerusalem World Center, assists tens of thousands of English speaking olim in adapting to their new home through innovative inspirational Torah activities and social and cultural events. Through OU Israel Youth Strengthening Initiatives, thousands of Israeli youth are strengthened to make the critical transition into adulthood — enabling their participation in Israel society and ensuring their upward socioeconomic mobility.

Korbman shared with The Jewish Link his encounter with one young woman whose life has been touched by the OU Israel Center.

“She left home at 14. She walked the streets at night. She slept on benches. For years. Tonight she sat two feet away on the couch, smiling.”

Channah Devorah is one of 2,500 Jewish young adults who descend each month to a basement. But this is no ordinary basement. This basement is the OU “Zula” located in central Jerusalem.

Zula, which means “a cozy place in nature” in Arabic, could not be a better name. When you descend to the Zula basement, you’re immediately hit by aroma from the kitchen, where all kinds of food are available for free. It’s welcoming, delicious, inviting and warm.

Your senses soon ricochet to the sound of music. Across from the kitchen, 60, maybe 70 young Jewish adults are hanging out, relaxing. There are couches. There are guitars. There is song, There is music. It fills your soul.

Nothing here is by chance. For all the seeming informality, the Zula is an ingenious environment of smell and sound that is conducive to conversation. And conversation is the goal. Sometimes it’s about sexual abuse. Sometimes it’s verbal or emotional abuse. And sometimes the reason why someone comes is simply because they are lonely. Life can feel pointless when you believe no one sees you, no one cares.

Late at night, spirited live music and delicious food set the ambiance of comfort for young adults to open up to trained and experienced OU advisors. Music and delicious food create a sense of warmth that permits one to share their stories and begin to heal.

So too Channah Devorah.

While wandering the streets, Channah Devora came upon a violin years back. She taught herself to play. Last year she thought to apply — somehow — to music school but was too nervous to audition. This year, after hanging and playing with friends at the Zula, Channah plans to go to that audition next month, this time with confidence.

“Tonight,” said Korbman, “she played for me the iconic tune of the mi shebeirach prayer, composed for the healing and welfare of others.

Channah is healing. And looking forward, “with hope.”


Harry Glazer, an award-winning journalist (how about that?!?), is the Middlesex County Editor of The Jewish Link. He can be reached at [email protected].

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