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Danita and Michel Aziza

Danita Aziza : LESSON # 32: Do Good: Tali Aziza and Classmate start Israeli branch of Strong Women Strong Girls

by Danita Aziza, July 14, 2011

The need to give of my time without remuneration to help someone or lend assistance to an organization or a cause has been a part of my being from the moment I was born.  My Dad wasn’t present at my birth because he was at a Moose Jaw School Board meeting.   My Dad, according to my Mom’s version of the story, drove her to the hospital en route to his monthly scheduled meeting.  When he got to the hospital he felt comfortable continuing on with his routine as everyone was ever so certain that my birth was many hours away.  The doctors were a bit off with their timing and I was born while my Dad was sitting around the table in the teachers room of a local school giving of his time to improve the quality of public education in Moose Jaw.

My parents and my grandparents before them put much emphasis on giving to others and donating their resources in terms of time and abilities to better their community both general and Jewish.  My Gram and Granddad served on the boards of many nonprofit organizations and my parents were always actively involved in a number of causes that both captured their interest and had a need for their input.  As such, I caught the volunteer bug at an early age and always believed I had an obligation to give to others in some way.

I’ve had many role models who have taught me all about giving.  Just this past week I was speaking with the mother of a close friend who welcomed me into her home and treated me as one of her own when I was living in Toronto attending university.  I told Batia that all these years later I have never forgotten her kindness and how her family’s generosity in opening their hearts and their home to me was a major influence on Michel and I opening our home to young men and women who are in Israel studying, visiting or serving in the army.  Batia told me in our conversation that her father was known never to eat a piece of bread when he was in the Ghetto in Poland without first offering a piece to others. What Batia did for me, she believes, was nothing out of the ordinary and her propensity for kindness, in part, was something she inherited from her parents.

While I’m afraid that I’ve passed on some of my less than desirable traits to my children, my passion for volunteerism is something that I’ve tried very hard to instill in all three.  Our eldest daughter, Tali, began volunteering when she was very young and has carried on with gusto through high school and now into university.  One day last year she called me all excited about a program her professor spoke about in class called “Strong Women Strong Girls”.  The program was developed at Harvard and involved university students teaming up with young girls aged 10-12 who came from disadvantaged backgrounds.  She told me that it sounded amazing and that she wanted to start it here in Israel.

Never tell an idealistic young woman that something is not feasible, because in a very short time, Tali along with another classmate started an Israeli branch of Strong Women Strong Girls and have just finished their first semester of mentoring 10 young girls who live in a boarding school in Netanaya.  The goal of the program is to foster growth in girls from difficult backgrounds by educating them about extraordinary women in history while simultaneously providing them with strong female mentors for them to look up to.

The program aims to raise these girls’ self esteem and show them that they too exemplify the traits that many of the strongest women in history possessed.  These girls have benefited from the program already in immeasurable ways and Tali has grown as a person and developed a number of skills in kind.  Her contribution to others has also been a gift to herself.

I just got off of the phone with Myrna, one of my Israeli heroes.  Whenever I have a bad day and think that I was dropped on my head and that’s how I ended up living here, I pick up the phone and call Myrna who, with her husband Don and their then three very young children, made Aliyah from Edmonton some 30 plus years ago.  Myrna has spent the past 30 years doing amazing things in Israel, and her latest dose of goodness involves accompanying Ethiopian children from a local school to swimming lessons.  An Ethiopian boy from a school in Netanya drowned because he didn’t know how to swim. While pretty common for many middle-class kids, most Ethiopian children haven’t had the luxury of taking swimming lessons due to their parent’s financial restrictions. In order to prevent future tragedy, a friend of Myrna’s set out to raise funds ($100 per child) to provide swimming lessons, complete with all the necessary equipment, for students from the same school as the boy who drowned.  Myrna has lent her enthusiasm, terrific Hebrew and extreme warmth to the cause and serves as the cheerleader and sideline coach while the kids are in the water, helping them dry their hair when they get out of the pool and joining them in the cab for their ride back to school. Eight students just completed eight lessons and another eight are just starting. Something like a swimming lesson that so many take for granted is enhancing the lives of these kids in such a significant way. It’s people like Myrna, who make the unlikely suddenly possible through their initiative and desire to do good.

Israel has no shortage of people in need (one in four children here is living in poverty) or projects that require a helping hand.  People travel from all over the world to come to Israel to volunteer in the army, in Kibbutzim, hospitals, ambulances, food distribution organizations and boarding homes. These “ do good “ driven people enrich the Country through their unselfish acts, but they also enrich their own lives with a big dose of personal growth and self -satisfaction.

The ability to “do good” is granted to those who are not merely in a position to do so, but more importantly, who have the capacity of heart and motivation to impact, in a positive way, the world around them.  I have always believed that when you do something that is good for others you are actually doing something even more beneficial for yourself.  The taste of a delicious meal, the thrill of a new purchase or the magnificence of a great vacation for me fades in time, but those things that I do without the expectation of anything in return permeates my soul and provides a sense of fulfillment that is hard to replicate.

There have definitely been days since I moved to Israel when I felt like I somehow got really REALLY lost driving on the Trans Canada Highway.  When I hit that deep Winnipeg- like pothole in the road, my best remedy is to find some good that needs to be done.  For me, it’s a good thing to do.

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