It’s not often I meet someone whose life has taken a 180-degree turn for the better. But thanks to my involvement with Federation, I recently had the privilege of meeting Eli.
In April, I joined dozens of my fellow emerging philanthropists on Federations’ National Young Leadership Cabinet (NYLC) annual study mission. We traveled from the emotional sites of Holocaust atrocities in Berlin to the fresh air and revitalization of Israel. As my cohort and I saw firsthand in both countries the overseas work Federation supports, one program in particular personally stood out: SAHI (Sayeret Chesed Yechudit, the Special Grace Unit), an Israeli nonprofit founded in 2009 that empowers disadvantaged teens by teaching them to be givers.
SAHI’s premise is profoundly simple: help at-risk kids help their own communities. In 21 locations throughout Israel, teens meet weekly with trained youth counselors and create a safe and positive social network, developing their own self-worth and independence. At night they deliver food packages anonymously to community members they identify as most in need. It’s their way of taking ownership, of uplifting everyone.
Eli, who turned 16 the day we met him, is one of those teens. He used to skip school, had been arrested several times and feared his record would prevent him from one day entering the IDF. SAHI helped him completely turn his life around. He’s back in school, babysits and even helps elderly neighbors carry groceries.
His mission now? Help others any chance he gets. He even wears a bracelet engraved, “The greatest thing in life is doing good.”
In my 5 years in Cabinet, I’ve never met anyone quite like Eli, or seen a program change lives quite like SAHI. They embody exactly what we in NYLC strive to be every day: true Jewish community leaders.
A light went off in my head: SAHI and Federation could join forces on an even more personal level. I asked Avraham, the group’s founder, if there was a SAHI chapter in my Federation’s Israeli sister city. He said there wasn’t but he’d love to start one. With just one email, we connected Avraham with local Federation staff. Other NYLC members are doing the same with their Federations' sister cities. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
This is the beauty of Federation. Our global network helps improve the lives of so many, weaving a giant safety net for Jews around the world. It’s why I got involved in NYLC—where I’ve found my Jewish community and my philanthropic home, where I and my peers can make help fellow young leaders like Eli imagine a better tomorrow.
Because, as Eli taught us, the greatest thing in life? Doing good.
Michelle Hirsch is the senior vice president of Brunswick Companies, the third-generation family-owned insurance and risk management consulting firm in Akron, Ohio. She is the proud mother of two and resides with her husband, Evan, in Cleveland. Michelle is involved locally serving on the boards of Cleveland’s Jewish Federation, World ORT, Jewish Family Services, and University Hospital’s MacDonald Women’s Hospital Leadership Council. Michelle was most recently named co-chair designate of JFNA’s National Young Leadership Cabinet, the premier leadership philanthropic program for Jewish men and women ages 30-45 across the U.S. and Canada.