We hummed and tapped our fingers as the attractive young songstress belted out the familiar tune from The Sound of Music. It could have been a run-up for "A Star is Born" but the venue was a modest coffee house in the lobby of a rather drab industrial complex on the outskirts of Rehovot.
We are the ESRA Rehovot board on a tour of the local branch of MESHI, the acronym for the Hebrew name Mercaz Shikum Yomi. This is a sheltered workshop and rehabilitation center for about 60 adults with various mental disabilities, supporting them toward resumption of their places in a regular working community as well as providing them with a small income. Although MESHI is supported by the Ministry of Health, through the years the ESRA Rehovot branch has earmarked some of its funds to provide additional benefits.
Lynn Bortz, an occupational therapist and the Professional Manager of Rehabilitation for the NGO Organizations for Public Health (MESHI is one of 15) and a former South African, described the overall framework and goals of the MESHI organization. Ranit Aloni, the Manager of MESHI Rehovot and ESRA board member Joyce Lasovsky, who visits every week, guided us through the premises. The participants in the program engage in piece-work activities under contract from small businesses and companies, structured according to their skills and level of rehabilitation.
Recently, the participants in the program have opened a coffee house for employees in the building. Word of mouth about the yummy home-made pastries, to which we can testify, has led to an expansion of a catering project which now provides lunches for local businesses as well as outside events.
Through the years Joyce and the late Sylvia Arvatz have served as the link between ESRA Rehovot and MESHI, identifying ways to improve the quality of life of the participants and staff. This is often manifested by small personal attentions and treats for the holidays. In the last year ESRA contributed seed funds for the coffee house project. Joyce is also the liaison with Applied Materials, a major high-tech company in Rehovot which provides funding for a yearly outing. This year's trip to Jaffa was greatly enriched by ESRA's contribution funding a professional guide.
The highlight of our visit was the talk by the charming 20 plus songstress (let's call her Ninette). In excellent basic English Ninette described her struggles with mental disease and the important role of the dedicated professional staff and structured framework of MESHI in helping her to get control of her life. At the urging of the staff, she concluded our visit with her melodious song. We were inspired by her joie de vivre and moved to tears.