At a special workshop in Jerusalem, elderly artisans craft handmade items for sale to visitors that come from around the world to their gift shop. Yad LaKashish, or Lifeline for the Old, employs 300 crafters, ranging in age from their 70’s to their 90’s, each who focus on producing unique items for the shop.
As Hanukkah approached in November, the crafters were busy cutting and curling metal for menorahs and making dreidels out of recycled paper. Now that the holiday has ended, the shop is filled with other handmade items, some designed by the crafters themselves and all intended to be a cooperative venture.
“We try to come up with items that give work to as many people as possible,” explains Nava Ein-Mor, the non-profit’s executive director. “For example, to produce beads of recycled paper, one person makes the paper, somebody else makes the beads, somebody else paints the beads, and then someone puts the lacquer on the beads. So by the time it becomes a finished bead, several people have worked on it.”
Every person who works at Lifeline earns the same income and receives dental care and lunch. Most of those who attend are elderly immigrants from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and many lack the support of family to help provide what they need.
“What we give them fills in the gaps from welfare but doesn’t make them feel they are getting charity,” said Chava Brown, a guide at Yad LaKashish.
Brown stressed that each participant comes expecting to work, not to receive a handout, and is paid for their efforts. “They are making things that people buy, and they’re getting paid, just like in a regular workplace,” she stressed. “But as a non-profit, our main purpose is not to put them to work but to allow disadvantaged seniors to remain active, productive members of society for as long as possible.”
One of the keys to the program’s success is that guides help each senior find tasks that they can perform successfully and contribute to a project that is completed as team. The non-profit also enlists the help of artists from Jerusalem’s renowned Bezalel Academy of Art and Design to help work with the seniors and design products they can create.
“We focus on each person’s ability—what they can still do–to make an item that will really be used and they can feel proud about,” Brown said.
The popular workshop also regularly hosts tour groups who learn about the program’s mission, giving Birthright groups and other visitors a chance to meet the crafters and learn about their work.