In 2006, after finishing a master’s degree at Tel Aviv University, WIZO volunteer Racheli Mangoli was sitting in her somewhat run-down office space at WIZO’s humble Pardes Katz Community Centre, of which she had recently been made the chairperson. The space, building and surrounding area, filled with garbage and neglected city infrastructure, reflected the sad reality of the neighbourhood, Pardes Katz, long known as one of Israel’s most difficult neighbourhoods, both in terms of crime and economic depression.
Suddenly, in front of her office, appeared a group of Ethiopian children, who after, losing their gathering place at a Bnei Brak youth club where a water pipe had burst, were roaming the streets, barefoot, looking for a place to play. That serendipitous meeting of underprivileged children with a motivated leader led to what is now a wellspring of help for the Israeli kids of Ethiopian descent in the Pardes Katz neighbourhood, thanks to Racheli and WIZO.
Racheli realized a dire and glaring need of the Pardes Katz neighbourhood: activities and support for the children of Ethiopian immigrant families, who were lagging behind educationally and socially, in an economically depressed area suffering from a lack of adequate municipal and state services. Through personal initiative, word of mouth marketing, the help of volunteers and sheer resourcefulness, Racheli quickly developed an after-school study programme for 100 local Ethiopian children.
A new space
The programme, which evolved to include English language and mathematics lessons as well as additional enrichment classes, workshops and trips, soon outgrew WIZO’s tiny, outdated facility in the middle of the Pardes Katz marketplace. "The children were doing homework in the kitchen or on the floor," says Racheli. She found a nearby building that was eventually renovated and inaugurated as a WIZO club in 2011. Today, the wide array of WIZO Pardes Katz programmes include workshops for parents of the children they initially attracted. Local mothers study for driver’s licences and improve their Hebrew language skills. The initiatives have also garnered tremendous support not only from WIZO federations in the UK, Israel and private donors, but also from corporate sponsors like Deloitte Israel, Perigo, Elbit and faith groups like the Christian Friends of Israel.
Aside from and perhaps more important than the technical details of Racheli Mangoli’s Pardes Katz operation, is her own passion and dedication to one of the country’s weakest populations. She speaks passionately about the dark side of the Ethiopian immigration: racism, the community’s neglect by government agencies and the resulting crisis of integration. She tells countless stories about incidents where she felt obligated to help immigrants who were cheated by service providers, scared to approach doctors for dental care, or so poorly integrated that, because of folkloric African beliefs, were scared of interacting with people with blue eyes, fearing that they were cursed.
Racheli spared no expense in becoming attuned to her adopted community’s needs, taking months of courses in Amharic at Tel Aviv University. When asked where she draws the line between her work for WIZO Pardes Katz and her personal life, Racheli answers, “There is no line.” She comes to the aid of the neighbourhood’s Ethiopian Israeli residents with personal, educational, social and family problems, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. “There’s nobody else here to do these things for them,” she claims, without a hint of self-aggrandizement.
Ten years after that initial meeting between Racheli and the dire reality of her surroundings, Racheli is a recognized star within the ranks of WIZO, thanks to the wonders she has achieved. On International Women’s Day 2016, Prof. Rivka Lazovsky and the WIZO executive committee hosted and honoured Racheli and two other women who had participated in WIZO’s Women’s Leadership Programme and whose social-activist achievements stood out. "I truly thank WIZO for the opportunity I was given: to be the head of a local branch," said Racheli, at the event. "I had no idea of my own capabilities until I was chosen for the job. Now I am able to move mountains - thanks to what I learned through WIZO. I've succeeded in attracting numerous volunteers who work with great dedication in order to help the Ethiopian community's children. Thanks to WIZO, these kids see the beautiful side of Israeli society."
In 2015, at WIZO Israel’s conference, Racheli was given a lifetime achievement award recognizing her dedication and achievements. She has been singled out as both a role-model for other WIZO volunteers, a reflection of WIZO’s values, and an example of what women’s empowerment can produce in Israeli society.