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March 21, 2014 9:23 am

The Real Prize

avatar by Chas Newkey-Burden

Chas Newkey-Burden at the WIZO Ahuzat Yeladim School. Photo:

Last summer, on my 40th birthday, two significant things happened. I started studying Zohar, and I found out I’d been nominated for an award.

I didn’t realize at the time how connected these things were.

The news about the award came out of the blue. I got an email from the charity Wizo, telling me I had been nominated for an award called Commitment to Israel and that I had been shortlisted as one of three finalists.

A month later Wizo told me I had won. They presented me with the award at a posh gala dinner in London and told me I’d be getting a free trip to Israel as part of the prize.

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I was excited at the prospect of another Israel trip, and I felt so happy and proud to win the award. Then, my ego got to work. I had won an award. I was an award winner. How thrillingly important I must be!

When they took me to Israel, all that came crashing down In a really good way.

We visited Wizo projects, starting with the Rainbow House in Haifa. For over 40 years the House has helped women from less privileged backgrounds to help themselves launch careers as beauticians.

Two women in particular, an Ethiopian called Goodei Abar and a Holocaust survivor called Ruth Galiliee, blew me away with their stories. Not just the stories. Their smiles made me cry.

Then we went to the WIZO Ahuzat Yeladim School, which is a therapeutic haven for children who suffer from behavioral or emotional problems. This magnificent institution saves and enhances the lives of vulnerable kids.

We met the project’s manager Yossi Saragossi, a magnificent man with the wisdom of an elder, the spring (and hair) of a youth and the love of an angel. He’s a dude, and he’s fifth from the left in this photo.

And so to Jerusalem, to Wizo’s flagship project, the Rebecca Sief Center for the Family. This phenomenal institution serves thousands of people in a variety of ways including day care for hundreds of toddlers and children, skills training for teenagers and support for victims of domestic violence.

As we were shown around the building, a group of children smiled at us as they sang and danced to a Purim tune.

The volunteers and staff who run these projects are the ones who show commitment to Israel. I was humbled in the presence of the shiny, smiley faces of these beautiful beacons. They kept repeating the same message: to give is to receive.

Here is the connection. Two of the messages I keep taking from my Zohar study are how vital it is to deflate your ego and that to give is to receive. How fitting that on the same day I had begun studying Zohar, I received an email about an award that would ultimately whisk me to Israel where my ego would be battered and where I would see, over and over, that to give is to receive. That was the real prize.

And then, having visited these projects where the Zohar lessons were brought to life, I went to Tzfat, the home of Kabbalah, for the first time. And I felt reborn that day.

So life didn’t so much begin at 40 for me – it restarted. Thank you Wizo. Thank you Israel. Hugs and admiration to you all.

Visit Chas’s blog here.

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