How does one summon love for the stranger?
At a place called Love (Ahava), the stranger offers love, creating a safe space for the vulnerable; the stranger receives love, and the reassurance that they will not always be rejected; and we are inspired to give enough love to effect a slight change for the better in our world.
My first visit to Kfar Ahava was in 2007. And even in my eleventh year I am so deeply moved and inspired by the experience. Perhaps more so because once again I got to see this remarkable and unique place through the eyes of the newcomers.
After our annual reintroduction to Ahava by Executive Director Yoav Apelboim, the group gathered in the memorial corner we created in memory of, and dedicated to, Danny Klein and Rob Katz. We remembered, cried, and blessed together. Today was Rob’s birthday, so the moment was particularly poignant. We dedicated today’s acts of love to their legacies.
Next, I gave our newcomers—Ellen, Sharon and Andre—a tour of the residential facility, the school and the emergency shelter. The bright skies, cool breezes, colorful mosaics, peaceful gardens and quiet grounds belied all the brokenness and pain that lay behind so many of the closed doors around us.
But what could not be hidden away was the love. The newcomers saw it in the way the 17-year veteran social worker talked about the children she received in the emergency shelter. Every child brought in through her doors, she explained, deserved to be love, especially considering the conditions they had suffered at home, the one place that was supposed to guarantee love.
At lunch, Amy Nelson and I witnessed an eight year-old boy trying to bond with us by insisting that his father was a professional soccer player who played in New York. He just wanted to be loved. A twelve year-old oppositional girl challenged him to stop lying, so clearly lashing out in the pain of her own brokenness. An eighteen year-old doing his year of national service at Ahava subtly shook his head in disapproval of her insensitivity, and her anger was quieted. The foster mother overseeing their care, in her first year of service, turned to us to offer that she was here to change the world for the better in some small way.
Tonight, first-timer Sharon, a stranger to Ahava, reflected to the group that the experience of Ahava stripped away her armor. With the permission to be vulnerable, she felt more authentic. And the more authentic we are, the more capable we are of giving and receiving love.
Rabbi Craig Scheff
We introduced nine newcomers to Ahava this morning, including 4 Israelis. Yoav, our good friend and executive director, proudly led the group around the grounds of this residence for at-risk children. The group met one of the foster families that cares for thirteen children between the ages of 6 and 17, and was warmly welcomed by a group of Israeli lone soldiers who have come to live at Ahava for life-skill counselling. They somberly walked through the rooms of the emergency shelter, where fifteen children are given intensive therapy to address their traumas. They met one girl who only weeks ago witnessed her mother’s murder at the hands of her father. These are the harsh realities, they learned, that serve as the motivation for the loving and supportive framework that Ahava attempts to provide. Finally, they saw the many projects of OJC’s past mission participants and financial supporters.
Meanwhile, the rest of our group was getting started on the projects that would occupy us today and tomorrow. In addition to painting the playroom and stairwells of the emergency shelter, we created “Rob’s Corner,” an outdoor meeting and relaxation area to be dedicated in memory of Rob Katz, z”l. Using large tires covered in a metal netting, we poured and plastered cement around the tires to create a seating area. We fashioned tile mosaics that will be set into the cement structures tomorrow.
In the evening, the children’s band and choir entertained us in song and dance, and board members and staff expressed their appreciation for our ten years of service. In truth, we owe them so much more for the opportunity to give a bit of ourselves to their herculean–make that Godly–effort. It is so humbling to be in the presence of these teachers, counselors and civil servants who are saving lives and repairing damaged psyches.
Tomorrow, we finish our tasks, and we are off to Jerusalem. May we leave a little more peace in our wake, and may we arrive in peace to our destination.
Rabbi Craig Scheff