30 September 2009

Israeli Orphans, “Portraits of Compassion"

Local Program Helps give Israeli Orphan Children Personal Treasures

Yon Zlalo is 7 years old, living in Beit Elazaraki Orphanage in Netanya, Israel. Like his counterparts (over 180 in this one orphanage), Yon has few precious possessions, including not one personal photograph of himself. When Yon is 18, he won’t have a single piece of photographic evidence of what he- or his friends- looked like as a child.

Every day, we take for granted our photographs- treasures that Jewish children living in Beit Elazraki Orphanage in Netanya do not have. These children, many whom have been abandoned, neglected, abused, and/or orphaned, lack the personal keepsakes that provide them memories of their youth and connection to their heritage and identities.

In response, one local community member-Kathy Kanter-has helped to create a new program under the Federation’s Partnership 2000 (P2K) Steering Committee that will give these children a visual record of their childhood.

The program is called “Portraits of Compassion.” Kathy was inspired by Ben Schumaker’s successful Memory Protraits program (run by the Memory Project) that he began as a way to help orphan children in Guatemala. In this program, advanced high school and university-level art students create original portraits for children living in orphanages around the world. Once finished, these paintings are given to the children.

Barbara Miller, Director of the Partnership, had read about Schumaker and recommended that Kathy get involved with this kind of project in Netanya. Kathy, a phenomenal scrapbook artist herself, wanted our community to do the same for the Netanya children living in Yehuda’s orphanage, to- as she put it- “hold in their hands something all their own.”

During her last visit to Netanya in October, 2006 during the Partnership 2000 steering committee visit, Kathy took photos of 30 children in Beit Elazraki and collected their personal profiles. These profiles would be used by the artists to incorporate the child’s individuality into the paintings.

With the help of the Federation’s P2K committee, the participation of local schools and the JCC, beautiful, personal portraits of the children were created by artists. These include many done by three remarkable local artists :Blessing Sivitz, Carl Deutsch and Ruth Levinson from the JCC’s Senior Adult Art Class. An interesting note: despite her being partially blind, Blessing Sivitz’s portraits are amazingly detailed.

Also remarkable were the portraits created by Teri Hiudt’s local, non-Jewish public-school students. Her students made sure to incorporate the children’s personality by adding in pop culture, Israeli and Judaic symbols. In this way, the art project became a cultural lesson about Jewish children half-way around the world.

At the time of this article, Kathy is in Netanya with the Sycamore High School trip and is delivering to the children their personal keepsakes. Upon her return home, Kathy will have more photos of other children in the orphanage- more portraits to be made. And, of course, she will have her own personal photos of the joy brought to the faces of the children who, thanks to her and the artists, now have a precious childhood possession.

For more information about the Portraits of Compassion Program or the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s P2K program, please contact Barbara Miller at 513-985-1528

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