Wednesday, September 17, 2014

AFYBA Rosh Hashana Appeal Letter, 5775

Dear AFYBA supporter,
Over 400 YBA Hesder Yeshiva soldiers fought in this summer’s Operation Protective Edge, as well as the hundreds of YBA alumni reservists, putting into practice one of the core values taught at all YBA schools – to serve the Nation of Israel and protect the Jewish State with conviction and pride.
At YBA schools we don’t measure success by scholastic achievement alone. We strive to help every student become the best person that he or she can be: a person who leads a value-driven life; a life dedicated to giving of one’s self to help repair the world. Just consider these few examples:
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Aftamo Yosef arrived in Israel from Ethiopia with his parents in 1991 when he was five years old, as one of 13,000 Olim in Operation Solomon.
Aftamo Yosef
“The first few years were hard. At first, the Jewish Agency put us in a hotel in Arad that they used for an Absorption Center. Then we lived in a caravan camp in Beer Sheva. In 1993 my father found a job with the JNF and we settled in the Negev town of Ofakim. I remember that I desperately wanted to become an Israeli, even if my parents couldn’t help me to reach that goal.
At the end of 8th grade, I heard about a new yeshiva that would open in Ofakim in the fall, and I signed up. At Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Afikei Aretz I was one of six Ethiopians in in the first class of 30. It felt natural being there – I was no different than the other students. I became active in the Bnei Akiva youth movement and was even chosen to became a counselor. At the yeshiva I learned that whatever I do, I should go for it all the way; to dare to challenge myself; to set high goals and to work hard to achieve them. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Adi Falach, took special interest in the six of us and made sure we got tutoring when we needed it in order to complete our matriculation exams.
After graduating, I postponed enlisting in the IDF in order to join the YBA Mechina of the Northern Negev, in Kiryat Malachi. The Mechina helped me mature both physically and spiritually, and to develop leadership skills. I enlisted in the IDF Paratrooper Brigade and eventually graduated officer training school with the rank of Lieutenant.
While serving as an IDF officer, I came to realize that many of the soldiers in military prison were Ethiopian recruits who had little motivation to serve as soldiers. I personally made sure that the Ethiopian soldiers under my command would be proud of their heritage and to be serving in the IDF.
After I was discharged I founded “Tzeida Laderech” (Provisions for the Road), a program to empower Ethiopian teenagers and motivate them to do a substantial service in the IDF. We provide counseling and work to remove barriers so that they will succeed as combat soldiers in the IDF. Being a good soldier is the best stepping stone to becoming a good citizen.”
Lt. (res.) Aftamo Yosef was recently awarded the Moskowitz ‘Spirit of Zionism’ Award, recognizing his leadership role in ensuring the successful integration of the Ethiopian community into the fabric of Israeli society. He was called up for reserve duty at the start of Operation Protective Edge and led troops into combat in Gaza.
* * *
Noam Donda made Aliyah from Ukraine without her parents in 1997 through the Jewish Agency’s Naale Program, at the age of 16. Luckily, she landed at Ulpanat Bnei Akiva Neot Avraham in Arad.
Noam Donda
“I spent three of the happiest years of my life at the Ulpana in Arad.  These were three years of living as part a huge family, some 240 girls, with Rabbi Shmueli, the head of the Ulpana, as the father, and the Matron, Bluma, as the mother.
I grew up in the town of Saki, on the Crimean peninsula – a town with no organized Jewish community, no Jewish schools or Jewish social life.  My friends were local Ukrainians and it never crossed my mind that I would one day be studying in a religious boarding school in Israel.
My parents, both of whom are university-educated construction engineers, had a relative living in Israel and in 1995 the hot subject of discussion among Jews in Ukraine was the question of immigrating to Israel.  So, when I was 14, I came on a trip here with my father. This trip to Israel opened new horizons for me and my first thoughts of living in Israel began to develop.
In 1996 I managed to find the representative of the Naale Program and asked him a lot of questions.  In the end it was decided that I would go to a religious Zionist school, without my having a clue where on earth I would end up. That fall I arrived together with a group of girls at the Ulpana in Arad, on the edge of the desert. The extraordinary scenery around Arad, the amazing road down to the Dead Sea, and the hills and gullies of the desert were totally different from the landscape I grew up with in Ukraine – brown replaced green. 
The break from home was difficult. The other 15 girls came from different parts of Ukraine and I didn’t know any of them. But our counselor was very understanding and we were wrapped in a cocoon of caring – the amount of love that I was showered with was totally overwhelming. We were able to call home, send emails and write letters, but our time was mostly taken up with our intensive studies, field trips throughout Israel and the full social life that living in the dormitory involves.
After a year, when I went to visit my parents in Ukraine, I found that I really missed the Ulpana and couldn’t wait to get back again. I wasn’t used to this type of school, with its combination of fun activities and a top level educational challenge.  The open atmosphere, the warm-hearted people, and the genial and refreshing talks with the teachers and the head of the Ulpana left me with the feeling that these three years were both the most enjoyable and the most important in my life. My thanks go to the wonderful staff of the Ulpana – a place which for me is like a family in every respect.”
After graduation Noam served for two years in the National Service as the counselor of a new group of Naale girls at Neot Avraham. Today she is an Occupational Therapist living in Tel Aviv with her husband.
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Haim Weisberg was eleven years old when he suffered through his parents’ very traumatic divorce. Due to his mother’s extreme hardship at the time, the court placed Haim in a group home in Afula until he was old enough to attend a residential high school. At the start of 9th grade, Haim transferred to Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Beit Shmuel in Hadera, and his life began to look up.
Rabbi Haim Weisberg
“By the time I got to high school, my record was so bad that no school wanted to take me. I had all kinds of behavioral issues because of my difficult childhood. I thank Hashem that Rabbi Elyashiv Hacohen, the Rosh Yeshiva of Beit Shmuel, agreed to give me a chance.
My arrival at the yeshiva was like landing on a pile of pillows. Rabbi Elyashiv took me under his wing and treated me like his own son. For the first few years my mother was barely functioning, so I more or less lived at the yeshiva full time, including weekends and vacations. In the homes of my teachers I witnessed a level of love and caring that I never knew in my own family.
I remember that before I came to the yeshiva no one believed that I would ever amount to anything. But I felt that Rabbi Elyashiv had faith in me, and that gave me faith in myself. I did everything I could to earn his praise, and for the first time in my life I began to study in earnest. I finished high school with full matriculation and was accepted to the prestigious Hesder Yeshiva in Yeruham – not out of pity, but because I had earned it!
I did my IDF service in the Chaplaincy Corps, and I was chosen by the Jewish Agency to go to the FSU for six months to teach and lead Jewish youth groups. After my discharge I went to the Hesder Yeshiva in Kiryat Shmona to study for rabbinic ordination. When I got engaged I asked Rabbi Elyashiv to officiate at my wedding. Even nine years after their divorce my parents still refused to speak to each other, so I asked Rabbi Elyashiv and his wife to walk me down the aisle in their place. It felt right to me because they really were my adoptive parents.
After I finished my ordination I enrolled in the training course for IDF Chaplains, and during that time I published a book on Hilchot Avelut (Laws of Mourning), which earned me the rabbinic equivalent of a doctorate degree.”
Major Haim Weisberg lives with his wife and four children in Kiryat Shmona, and has served as a commander in the IDF Chaplaincy for the past six years. As the Chief Chaplain for Yehuda and Shomron, he was actively involved in the search for Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, who were kidnapped from Gush Etzion and found murdered near Hebron.
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Elinor Fabian was raised in Givat Olga, a working-class neighborhood in Hadera, and came to Ulpanit Bnei Akiva Mevaseret Baruch in Hadera in 7th grade with a track record of poor grades due to undiagnosed learning disabilities.
Elinor Fabian
"In my first year at Mevaseret Baruch, a substitute teacher sent me to the office for disrupting the class. I knocked on the door of the Rosh Ulpana, Rabbi Danni Diner, and he asked me, ‘Elinor, what are you doing here?’ I was surprised that he knew my name! I told him that I was thrown out of class. I remember that he led me back to the classroom, took the teacher aside and said, ‘Listen, whatever happened doesn’t matter; you have to let her back into the class.’ In some way, I think that incident had a lasting effect on me. I said to myself, ‘This place is different; they aren’t going to abandon you here.  They’re going to keep you and fight for you here.’ I felt like I was worth something!
The school sent me for testing and I discovered that I had Dyslexia.  Soon after that, the school changed the way I was taught and tested to fit my special needs and my grades began to improve. In 10th grade, for the first time in my life, I was awarded a citation for excellence for the amount of progress I had made. I remember hearing my name announced and WOW! My heart skipped a beat! I was so proud that I framed the award, and I still have it hanging on the wall to this day.
That was the turning point of my life. From that day forward I felt like a different person. Really! I felt like I have someone who believes in me, and I began to believe that I could become whatever I wanted to be."
After graduation Elinor enlisted in the IDF and served for two years as a logistics officer with the Golani Brigade. Today, she is enjoying a successful career in marketing and public relations for a telecommunications company in Israel. She lives in Hadera with her husband and two children and volunteers in her free time as a motivational speaker.
* * *
In the summer of 2005 Gershon Ganz, then 16 years old, was one of 15 students at the YBA Sussya High School for Environmental Studies whose families were expelled from their homes in Gush Katif.
Gershon Ganz
“The months leading up to the disengagement at the end of ninth grade weren’t too bad. The real crisis began after the summer of the disengagement. My family was bounced from hotel to hotel, my parents couldn’t work, and there were tremendous pressures and chaos in the family. Each student from Gush Katif was assigned an advisor to help him get through the crisis.
I remember that I could barely concentrate on my studies that entire year because I felt so confused and anxious.  My family didn’t know from one week to the next where we would be. All our stuff was put into storage and we were living out of suitcases. Sussya really became a substitute for home that year. My teachers gave me private tutoring so I wouldn’t fall behind, and when winter came and I couldn’t get to my winter clothes, the school provided me with new clothes. They even gave me pocket money because my parents couldn’t afford to.
At the time, I took everything for granted. But now I realize how lucky I was to be at Sussya. I could never have made it through the Bagrut (matriculation) exams without the extra help and support I got there.”
After graduation Gershon enrolled in the Hesder Yeshiva in Otniel and served in the IDF Artillery Corps. He was called back to active service this summer to serve in Operation Protective Edge. He plans to begin studying for a degree in Social Work at Bar Ilan University in the fall, with the goal of living and working professionally in the southern region of Israel.
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These are the true stories of five genuinely impressive individuals, whose lives were changed for the better because they had the good fortune of studying at one of the 73 schools in the YBA educational network. There are, without exaggeration, thousands of stories like them among the over 82,000 graduates of YBA schools who actively contribute to the building of Israel today, in virtually every field of Israeli society.
YBA’s open enrollment policy means that no student is ever turned away due to financial hardship in his or her family. Each year our schools provide tuition reductions to nearly half the students in the network – that’s over 10,000 needy students like Aftamo, Noam, Haim, Elinor and Gershon.
All this would not be possible without the support of thousands of donors like you, who care deeply about the future of Israel. We are counting on your support this year! Your gift to the AFYBA Scholarship Fund will enable our schools to continue providing the kind of value-laden education that leads each student to realize his or her maximum potential.
Please use the enclosed return envelope to make your contribution to the AFYBA Scholarship Fund today, or visit our secure donation page at www.afyba.org.
May this Rosh Hashana bring Hashem's blessings of health and happiness upon you and your family, and a year of peace and prosperity for all Am Yisrael.
Sincerely,

Marvin Bienenfeld      Joel Schreiber               Arthur Alexander        Menachem Bar-Shalom
Chairman                    Vice Chairman              President                     Executive Director

P.S.        When making your pledge, keep in mind that your gift will not only ensure that students like Aftamo, Noam, Haim, Elinor and Gershon continue to receive the top-quality education that YBA schools have become famous for – it is an investment in Israel's future as well. So please, give generously!

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