On the day of the opening of the 26th WIZO EGM conference, a group of South African and British women who had only recently landed in Israel, made their way to a modest-looking house in the city of Herzliya. While from the outside one would not be able to distinguish this house from another, behind its doors, miracles are happening. The seemingly commonplace home is actually the fifth home to be included in the Neve WIZO foster home program, through which WIZO changes the lives of children at risk.
Neve WIZO is a community of foster families. In 1982, the program was established, consisting of four homes meant to answer the distinct problem of child neglect and abuse in Israel. These cases very often result in the removal of the affected children from their homes by the Israeli welfare authorities.
WIZO was determined to provide these at-risk children with whatever they need in order to overcome the difficult circumstances of their lives, above and beyond what the government's welfare system could. Neve WIZO was designed as a unique, comprehensive long-term foster program for children aged 4-18. Children enter the WIZO program by court order, undergo extensive testing to assess their needs, and receive a multi-faceted package of care: therapeutic, educational, extra-curricular, medical, etc. In Neve WIZO foster homes, married couples create a stable and normative environment for children to grow and develop, with the constant help of a professional team: a psychologist, social worker, and therapists. Neve WIZO stands out among other programs in Israel in that it commits to providing for its foster children in any and all fashions: emotionally, financially or otherwise, including anything from surgery to piano lessons - until the child reaches adulthood.
Since its inception, WIZO's South African Federation has funded the Neve WIZO program. Now, after 33 successful years, a fifth home is finally being brought into the fold. The newly participating home, located in Herzliya, alongside the other four, houses eight children aged 6-12, under the care of Tami and Boaz Sharabi.
Tova Ben Dov, the outgoing president of World WIZO, from the beginning of her executive career in the organization, had a special place in her heart and a special devotion to the Neve WIZO project. She oversaw the foster care program from its beginning, and worked tirelessly with WIZO South Africa and other donors to realize the inclusion of a fifth home in the program before the (upcoming) end of her tenure as World WIZO president. Thanks to her efforts, the fifth Neve WIZO house, which has been operational for exactly one year, was renovated and outfitted through the donations of WIZO South Africa, and WIZO UK donor Lady Beryl Steinberg, who generously filled in any financial gaps after fundraising efforts for the project were completed.
At the dedication ceremony of the new foster home, the delegation of South African and British chaverot, accompanied by WIZO staff and administrators, including Janine Gelley, Chairperson of the WIZO Organization and Tourism Division, who was instrumental in organizing the event, toured the home itself and unveiled a "tree of life" plaque in honor of the projects most significant donors. Some of the home's resident children gave an artistic performance as a show of thanks. Alongside light refreshments served in the home's backyard (courtesy of the bakery at WIZO's Beit Cariera rehabilitation facility for youth) the various personalities deeply involved in the project said a few words.
Tova Ben Dov, the "mother" of the Neve WIZO program spoke eloquently, sometimes on the verge of tears, describing how the program began (in the wake of the closing and sale of the South-Africa-sponsored, now-legendary WIZO Mothercraft Training Center in Tel Aviv) and how she maneuvered the business aspect of the project at its outset, "I didn't want these homes to be dependent on the municipality nor the real estate to be owned by them; I wanted this to be entirely WIZO. So, we privately purchased the homes." On a more emotional level, she recounted stories of individual children who were part of the foster home program, "cases so difficult that I can say that we are literally saving lives," and shared some of the views which shaped WIZO's unique brand of foster care, "I believe in giving rich facilities to poor children. We have to show them that they are worth it!"
Tova went on to thank WIZO South Africa, WIZO UK, and particularly, Lady Beryl Steinberg, for their invaluable donations to the program. Tova didn't fail to mention the prized work of Yardena Nof, Director of the Neve WIZO program, Dr. Naomi Moreno, Director of the WIZO Early Age Division, and all of the relevant WIZO staff. "Neither the first nor the fifth house would've been possible without you," exclaimed Tova.
Lady Beryl Steinberg, a major donor to the Neve WIZO project, said, "This is the project I speak the most about throughout England. It's the project that, when you see it first-hand, fills your heart. I am so thankful that Tova and WIZO South Africa asked me to participate in it."
The gathered crowd went on to hear words of thanks and recognition from WIZOuk Chairperson Michelle Pollack, World WIZO Aviv representative from South Africa, Laurienne Baitz, who presented a plaque in honor of outgoing WIZO South Africa President Tamar Lazarus, to be hung in the new foster home, Betty Crystal, Honorary President of WIZOuk, and Moyneen Castle, new president of WIZO South Africa, who cleverly summed up the efforts of three of the WIZO leaders who were most responsible for the new foster home, "WIZO cares, WIZO shares and WIZO dares. We are all inspired by the caring of Tova Ben Dov. Sharing is the essence of Lady Beryl Steinberg, who generously gave for this project. Daring is personified by Tamar Lazarus. These are three exemplary women that we are proud to call our sisters."
Before leaving, all the guests made sure to meet and congratulate Tami and Boaz Sharabi, the "parents" of the newest Neve WIZO foster home, who became a part of the program quite unexpectedly, as recalls Tami, a mother and welfare worker of some 30 years. "One day we got a call from WIZO. Apparently, somebody had submitted our CVs for the jobs of foster parents. To this day, we don't know who it was." Despite their fateful arrival, the Sharabi family has made a triumph of the first, difficult year of fostering in the new home, thanks to their ideals and commitment. "We both were educated at home to give back to the community, and we passed on that education to our own children, who always volunteered, with organizations like the scouts and the paramedics. In fact, our biological children were the ones who helped convince us to become full-time foster parents and help us regularly."
We tip our hats to the Sharabi family and all of the individuals involved in the Neve WIZO program, as well as wish them all, and the new foster home, continued success.