Every day inside Yad LaKashish’s building in the heart of Jerusalem, Bracha makes ceramics, laughing and kibitzing with Yusef, who sculpts black clay into figurines similar to those he admired as a boy in Ethiopia. Lev paints onto silk, recalling the wall hangings his father made in Belarus. Husband and wife Daniel and Mana work side by side, she embroidering challah covers while he crafts paper using an ancient Egyptian technique. Most everyone who visits Yad LaKashish — and there are 300+ participants who come for daily programming — are immigrants, live alone and are 70+ years old. They turn to Jewish Federation-supported Yad LaKashish (“Lifeline for the Elders”) for the nourishing powers of friendship, purpose and making art.

Enriching older adults’ lives through arts and crafts, Yad LaKashish helps to empower those who deserve it most. Though very few participants arrive with any formal training, with peer guidance they quickly advance from amateur to artist. Each specializes in one of Yad LaKashish’s workshops, including ceramics, metal, paper, sewing, silk, textiles or the bookbindery, which was Yad LaKashish’s original studio in 1962 when Myriam Mendilow hired six indigent older adults to fix old library books. She believed the greatest form of tzedakah was to help others help themselves, a philosophy which remains Yad LaKashish’s guiding principle to this day.

As more and more older adults discover Yad LaKashish, its output soars. In 2017 alone, participants created nearly 24,000 handmade crafts and Judaica, which are sold in the adjacent shop. All proceeds help provide basic necessities for the artists themselves, most of whom would struggle without the additional income. Every craftsperson at Yad LaKashish earns a monthly stipend, along with an additional gift at Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover. They also receive a free monthly bus pass, medical subsidies, and daily morning snacks and a hot lunch, a program supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Yad LaKashish enhances its participants’ lives holistically, offering development opportunities such as daytrips and Hebrew language workshops. The artists have even formed a multilingual women’s choir.

“This the only place where so many people are welcomed with love, joy and respect,” says 75-year-old Ora Yerushalmi. 80-year-old Yehudit Zaltstein agrees, “I’m hooked on Yad LaKashish, body and soul.” To find out more about Yad LaKashish’s mission to provide Jerusalem’s older adults with dignity, community and empowerment, click here.