Four years ago, when devastating forest fires destroyed part of the campus of an Israeli youth village for immigrant and at-risk youths, it deeply affected one local couple, their children, and grandchildren.
George and Harriet Blank of New Hope, Pa., had previously led missions to Yemin Orde Youth Village, located in Israel’s Carmel region. They felt a powerful connection to the facility — a school and haven for 500 children ages eight-19 from 16 countries around the world, some without parents and others coming from troubled homes.
Earlier this year, the Blanks were in Israel to dedicate the new dormitory they funded to replace the residence destroyed in the 2010 wildfire. The couple made the contribution, Harriet told NJJN, “as our 50th anniversary gift to each other.”
The new Golda Meir Children’s Home was dedicated in honor of their two children, Howard Blank and his wife, Sandra, of Livingston and Leslie Ostrin and her husband, Josh, of Highland Park and the family’s eight grandchildren.
They brought 13 family members with them to the Oct. 16 dedication, which featured a performance by the Yemin Orde children’s choir.
“It was a beautiful ceremony with many speakers,” said Leslie. Her father, she said, “spoke about his rough beginning as a child surviving in Poland through the Holocaust and the commonality he feels with the children of Yemin Orde.”
Her brother called the day “exceptional” and said hearing his father speak of his travails and his desire to give back to others in need, “was most moving to me and our family.”
The project, said Howard, was also dedicated to his father’s family members who perished in the Holocaust. “I am 51 years old and never heard my father’s story from start to finish. To hear that story of those who passed before was extremely moving.”
Howard is a member of the religious pluralism committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, a board member at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy — where his wife is director of admissions — and cochair of the youth committee at the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston.
Calling his father’s speech “amazing,” he said, “These children from broken homes, those who didn’t have homes, Ethiopians, sat and listened to a double speech as it was translated. These kids didn’t know my parents from a hole in the wall, and they showed such kavod, respect, I was blown away.”
Leslie said her father assured the youngsters they have “the power and capacity to become successful, fulfilled, and happy adults.”
Harriet said her husband’s speech was so moving that the young Ethiopian woman translating it into Hebrew twice broke down in tears.
George, she said, “talked about the miracle that helped him and his mother survive the Holocaust, and the miracle of us finding each other and getting married, and being blessed with children and eight grandchildren.”
“Being able to be there for these people at Yemin Orde is such a miracle,” she said, adding that for the young Israelis, being at Yemin Orde — “where they receive love and understanding and can grow up to be happy, healthy, responsible human beings — is a miracle.”
Two weeks before leaving for Israel, Ostrin’s twin seven-year-old daughters, Ayelet and Sigal, decided to make rainbow bracelets for every student at Yemin Orde.
“Our home turned into a bracelet factory while these two little girls crafted one after another on the loom or by hand,” recalled Ostrin. The twins enlisted the help of their older brothers, Uri and Alex, as well as friends from Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison.
Ostrin estimated the girls used 10,000 rubber bands to make the bracelets. They distributed them to the Israeli children, who were unfamiliar with the American fad but quickly slipped them on their wrists.
“I did it because it was important and it was a mitzva,” Ayelet told NJJN. “I think they were very happy to get the bracelets.”
Sigal said that she did it “for fun and because I love making them and I wanted to make them happy.”
Harriet Blank said she and her husband, who are both on the board of the American Friends of Yemin Orde, became involved after their first mission in 1990.
“It’s not a boarding school,” said Blank. “Even after high school Yemen Orde will help them. It has helped so many young people from troubled homes or without parents to lead responsible lives. One of its graduates is now serving in the Knesset. Another is deputy mayor of Tel Aviv. When we had the ability to do more, we decided to put our resources there.”