ICEJ Assists Israel’s Elderly to Gain Meaningful Employment Through Creativity
By: Laurina Driesse

Growing elderly in a land that you have immigrated to may be daunting and far from a comfortable thought.

Many of the Jewish immigrants arriving in Israel from such lands as Ethiopia, the former Soviet republics, South America, and Iran, are already advanced in age, and come only with their suitcases! They need to begin rebuilding their entire life from scratch, often facing significant economic and social challenges.

While retirement is often referred to as the ‘golden years’, many of these immigrants have not built up enough savings to see them through the fast-approaching retirement years, nor do they have a personal pension to sustain them for the rest of their lives. They soon find themselves in the dire situation where they need additional income simply to survive.

Here at the ICEJ, we have a heart for these low-income elderly Jewish immigrants and believe in restoring their dignity. When the occasion arose to give ‘a Future and a Hope’ to these senior citizens by empowering them through meaningful work opportunities, the Christian Embassy was quick to respond!

For nearly 300 low-income elderly people, mostly aged 80+ years, life can now look a little brighter when they get up in the morning.

Arriving by bus and train to an artisan workshop center in Jerusalem, they meet up with friends in a room full of chatter and look forward to a productive day of creating a wide range of Judaica and gifts from ceramics, jewelry, metalwork, papier-mâché and textiles. One by one, they head off to the respective rooms to perform their specific skills, to the highest quality of artisanship. The unique items produced by hand are sold on-site, as well as on-line.

Marsha is so grateful for this artisan center, which is a lifesaver for him. Arriving in Israel from Ethiopia along with his wife and their six children at the age of 67, he had no savings or trade. Speaking very limited Hebrew, he struggled with adjusting to a new way of life and for several years did odd jobs to earn an income. This was extremely difficult for him, as he was used to working in the fields to support his family.

He began working in the ceramics workshop at the artisan center at the age of 72. Although he knew how to paint, he found it quite challenging to paint dainty motifs on the ceramic items despite his determination to learn. However, his ceramic instructor noticed his unique patience for repeating abstract patterns. Soon she developed a new home décor product line to suit Marsha’s skills, and he now takes great joy in painting beautiful ceramic pieces with black dots and sparkling 24K gold accents!

Sixty-five percent of these elderly artisans have survived the Holocaust and others have walked across the Sudan to save their families from war and famine.

In addition to having a sense of purpose and creating a beautiful item of value, each artisan receives financial benefits which improve their standard of living by enabling them to pay for their housing, food and medication, and enjoy a little treat too! They also receive a travel pass, a nourishing hot meal each day, and a holiday bonus. For some, an annual day trip outside of Jerusalem is a definite highlight of the year!

Another artisan, Dinka, who is 87 years old, happily goes about fulfilling her duties in the bookbinding workshop. “This is the first time I am earning my own money. I am so proud and happy to be able to help my family in this way”, expressed Dinka.

Dinka was born and raised in a small agricultural village in the northern region of Ethiopia. She made Aliyah in 2004 along with her husband and their nine children. For a year and a half, they all lived in a crowded absorption center and later moved to Jerusalem. Although Dinka’s husband, Yosef, was so grateful to be in Israel, he found it a challenge to support his family and after five years, they desperately needed help. Hearing about the artisan center where there was an opportunity to earn an income, his journey as an artisan began, and he was later joined by Dinka. In the bookbinding workshop, Dinka has been trained in crafting recycled paper into beautiful greeting cards, notepads, and placemats.

“Not one of these elderly immigrants is excluded, even if they have limited skills in manufacturing or art”, explained Nicole Yoder, ICEJ’s Vice President for AID and Aliyah. “The centers offer professional training in many fields and develop new products and practices, enhancing their capabilities and diversifying their interests. The goal is to help the elderly to help themselves, and in this way empower them to be productive, earn money and live out their senior years with dignity.”

On average, the seniors participating in the artisan workshops come for an average of 10 years. With each passing year, tasks that were once easy to do may slowly become more difficult for the elderly artisan. As this occurs, new tasks are found to suit the artisan’s abilities, thereby maintaining their dignity and sense of worth. And, with a daily attendance of 85%, it is evident that these folks are motivated and love what they are doing!

Please join with the Christian Embassy as we support the grandmothers and grandfathers of Israel who struggle with few resources – whether they are immigrants or Holocaust survivors – and help restore their dignity, enabling them to have ‘a future and a hope’. To assist each elderly artisan costs approximately $180 per month. Your giving of any amount makes an enormous impact in their lives.