In life, when you hear about something, you can’t fully appreciate its value until you experience it first hand, up close and personal. Last year, a friend of mine began volunteering at the same time I was volunteering in the hospital. We’d often discuss our experiences in our respective locations. Sarra Horwitz volunteered in Susan’s House in Talpiot, Jerusalem. She has since turned it into a full time job because of how much she loved and gained from being there. And then she gave me the greatest gift- an invitation to come visit Susan’s House, so that I can truly appreciate this gem in Jerusalem, Israel.
If you’ve ever gone out in any city late at night, you may see things that aren’t so kosher- binge drinking, drugs, gangs, violence. The types of things you don’t want for your own children to witness or ever end up being involved in. But these things are happening by children. Teenagers. Many of them may not have a safe home or any home at all to return to. Many have run away and are living on the streets. No longer enrolled in school. Without hope. Without real love. Without family to depend on.
Then Susan’s House came along in 2002. Susan’s House is a unique workshop and community center that empowers at-risk teens to find their place within society by encouraging them to explore their creative and personal talents. But it’s not merely an art work space. It’s an involving and stimulating environment where artists and craftsmen share their knowledge and experience to help young adults express themselves creatively, learn practical skills, and make new friends.
-providing tools to enable entry into normative work routine
How did this vision begin? Who was Susan?
Susan Kaplansky was born in 1964 to Ellen and Al Grant and grew up in Westchester, NY. Her grandparents hosted a family from Eilat whose son, Yuval, was born with a serious heart defect and had come to the US for surgeries. Susan and Yuval became best friends. Eyal Kaplansky was Yuval’s older brother’s best friend. After finishing his IDF service Eyal moved to New York. Ofir, Yuval’s older brother, introduced Eyal and Susan, and they found their soulmates in each other. They married and moved to Jerusalem.
Susan was an artist, and she believed that art had a healing power. In her home, she helped many teens one-on-one through art, but she dreamed of setting up an organization to help many more. When Yuval passed away, Susan decided to start an organization in his name, but before she could, she was diagnosed with cancer and died the next year. At her shiva, Eyal decided to see her dream through, and spoke to Avital Goel about setting up the at-risk center. Officially named the Yuval & Susan Foundation, Susan’s House was established.
While I listened to Avital Goel speak to a group of 35 women from JWRP- Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program that flew to Israel from Chicago, my heart was aching for these at-risk teenagers. But as he continued to speak, my ache turned to joy, to hope. I had chills, I smiled. I was completely inspired, in awe, of what is accomplished through Susan’s House.