How does one sum up three years of working - and living - WIZO in a short essay? It's a tough assignment, but I'll try.
When I joined WIZO, on New Years Day 2018, I had never been to a WIZO day care center, I didn't know what a youth village was, and I certainly never imagined I'd set foot in a women's shelter - let alone two! - but I got to do all that and much, much more.
My WIZO Experiences: From Fashion Models to Role Models
Through WIZO, I celebrated the Bar and Bat Mitzvah of underprivileged WIZO youth at the kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem, I joined dozens of women on a march through Tel Aviv to protest domestic violence, and I snapped photos as Israel's top fashion models visited one of WIZO's women's shelters.
I witnessed Ethiopian children at the WIZO Pardes Katz branch model clothing from the branch's bigudit (second-hand) store as photography students from the prestigious Shenkar College of Engineering and Design snapped their beautiful smiles for a school photo exhibit. I was inspired by the teenage girls in WIZO Israel's Otzma Tzeira empowerment program (including the first ever Druze group) and "Ha'nivcheret" a WIZO leadership course for Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) women.
I proudly wrote about WIZO and its activites not only for the WIZO website and Facebook page, but also for The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Post International and on The Times of Israel. To understand the organization better, I interviewed World WIZO's leadership (including the Chairperson and the President), met WIZO's amazing volunteers both within Israel and from the international federations, and made heartfelt lifelong connections with WIZO's dedicated workers across its vast network of projects.
Leading with your Heart
I think the most important thing I learned from my three years at WIZO is to lead with your heart. My late father used to say, "Do not look at Israel with your eyes, see it with your heart!" The same applies with WIZO. For 100 years WIZO has been leading with its heart. It is the heart of WIZO's volunteers in Israel and around the globe that has made and continues to make a life changing difference for children, youth and women in Israel for a century.
In my first year at WIZO on "Good Deeds Day" I joined my Chairperson Tricia Schwitzer in pitching in at a WIZO day care center in Rehovot. We played with the children, ate lunch with them and by the time they were put down for a nap, I was ready to take a nap too. At one point during playtime the children started calling me "Abba" (daddy) as they were not used to having an adult male in the center. A few weeks later I ran into Liz, the director of the center, at WIZO's headquarters in Tel Aviv, she asked when I was returning, the children loved me so much. It melted my heart.
It's the same "heart" of WIZO I experience every time I visit any WIZO project. The image of WIZO Hadassim Youth Village Director Zeev Twitto greeting me so warmly whenever I visit is just one example. When I show up to work at WIZO on a "regular" day (no day at WIZO is really "regular") and the guard at the front door is happy to see me, when coworkers and volunteers alike greet me with cries of "Yonatan!" it confirms I am in the right place - I am home. It is that "WIZO Heart" that connects us. Tricia has often reminded me that when I simply write about a WIZO topic it comes out "good", but when I really put my heart into it, it is "outstanding"! I believe that will be my challenge as I move on to my next job, to always put my heart into everything I do.
Fan or Player?
But what is to become of my relationship with WIZO? Even when I am at my new job, I pledge to remain a loyal supporter of WIZO. But after all I've experienced over the last three years, is that really enough?
Since I love sports and sport metaphors, I'll conclude with this one: The Lubavitcher Rebbe once said: ‘Don’t be a spectator; be a player.’ Don’t just sit on the sidelines and offer instructions, advice, and criticism to everybody else. Go down personally onto the field and take part in the game because you’re a member of the team that’s playing. Take responsibility for the final score. And once you are a player instead of a spectator, you will be able to make other spectators – that is, uninvolved Jews - into players, too, which is the main job of every one of us today.”
For three years I was a dedicated 'player' for Team WIZO. My challenge going forward is to not revert to just being a loyal "fan", but to remain a "player". How does one do that? All I need to do is take a cue from the hundreds of thousands of dedicated WIZO volunteers around the world. All of them are the "players" that make up "Team WIZO".
So thank you, WIZO for three wonderful years.
I will always be proud to be on your "team".