Mazal's Story

Mazal came from Ethiopia when she was two months old, one of four siblings of a single mother. Whenever someone asked them where they were going along the journey, they said it should be with good luck, with mazal. Hence, Mazal became her name. But she did not have such good luck: one of her eyes was blind and deformed and her mother was sick and dying of AIDS.

"If you could look beyond that ghastly eye, you would see a beautiful young woman full of talent," said Maayan Borstein, a social worker who has worked in Meir Shfeyah Youth Village for 15 years. "We believed that she had hidden strengths that we could elicit and nurture."

Although she sounded crass and unsophisticated in a crowd, Mazal held her own in one-on-one conversations and showed that she had both self-respect and even ambition. "What was clear to us was the she wanted to study and needed a key to open the door into normative Israeli society." The staff began by paying attention to Mazal's school work. She was far behind her grade level, but with tutoring could keep up and is now on grade level.

In her previous schools, Mazal had been mercilessly mocked by other students." In Shfeyah we have very strong ethics against making fun of the outcast," said Borstein. "Nearly all of our kids are outcasts of some sort." For the first time, Mazal found social acceptance. She also had regular sessions with the Village psychologist to talk about her feelings. Shfeyah also specializes in all areas of music in The Bonnie Lipton Center for the Arts. Mazal began both dancing and singing, finding another avenue to succeed.

An appointment was booked with a local ophthalmologist to treat Mazal's eye so that it would look better. But just as the date of surgery came close, Mazal's mother was hospitalized in a different city, in the terminal phase of her disease. Mazal went home to clean and cook for her siblings who lived in two tiny rooms in a slum with no refrigerator, no stove and piles of clothing littering the floor.

"We were afraid that she would lose her forward momentum, but she realized that she needed to do something for herself," Borstein reported, and she was pleased to share that Mazal went from her mother's hospital to her own surgery. The surgeon thought there was a small chance that he could fix the way Mazal looked, as well as fix the way she saw. This time Mazal lived up to her name: she regained the sight in her eye. The disfigurement and blindness, they discovered, had been the result of early neglect and were therefore reversible.

Her joy was deflated as her mother soon died, surrounded by her children. Mazal was given time off from school to heal from this loss. Her fellow students and staff worried that Mazal wouldn't graduate, dropping out at the very last moment. But come graduation, she was there, looking beautiful, and singing for the audience. A song of praise and gratitude. Excused from military service because of her surgery, Mazal volunteered for National Service, and is today serving in a hospital.

To Mazal—mazal tov!

To learn more about Youth Aliyah please visit their website


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