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 the Carmel region of Israel. They felt a powerful connection to the school and haven for 500 children ages eight-19 from 16 countries around the world, some without parents and others coming from troubled homes.
In the fall, the Blanks attended a ceremony in Israel to dedicate the new dormitory they funded to replace the residence destroyed in the 2010 wildfire.
The couple made the contribution, Harriet Blank 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, Leslie Ostrin and her husband, Josh, of Highland Park and Howard Blank and his wife, Sandra, of Livingston, 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 Ostrin. One of them was her father, she said, “who 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.”
Ostrin said that after telling the village children about his own traumatic childhood, he assured them they have “the power and capacity to become successful, fulfilled, and happy adults.”
Harriet Blank 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 loom bracelets for every student at Yemin Orde.
“For two weeks our home turned into a rainbow loom bracelet factory while these two little girls crafted one bracelet after another on the loom or by hand,” recalled Ostrin. They enlisted the help of their older brothers, Uri and Alex, as well as several friends from the 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.”
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.”