The Ogen Club for At-Risk Youth continued to galvanize its important and growing role in the neighborhood this year through a special community project on Yom Kippur.
The high holy days are a unique time in Israel. During the Hebrew months of Elul and Tishrei, a special atmosphere settles over the country as Israelis from north to south prepare to take stock and bring in the Jewish new year. No holiday captures the spirit of this special season quite like Yom Kippur. On this most solemn and holy day in the Jewish calendar, entire cities shut down as individuals and communities take the time to reflect on what was and what will be.
Even for the secular and non-observant, Yom Kippur is a special time where all shops are closed and there is no traffic on the streets. The tranquility of the day provides a rare opportunity for children of all faiths and backgrounds to take to the streets and highways on bicycles, scooters, skateboards and rollerblades. Any to witness the singularly unusual and uplifting spectacle of a joyful wheeled parade of children rolling carefree through the city’s deserted main streets, is unlikely to forget it.
Sadly, not all of Akko’s children are fortunate enough to have access to a bike or scooter to join their friends on the streets on Yom Kippur. That’s where the members and staff of the Ogen came in. Using the club’s bike workshop, young members of the Ogen assembled and distributed six bikes to needy kids in the neighborhood so that they too could have the opportunity to participate in the annual national custom.
“It was something that we wanted to do because riding a bike on the streets on Yom Kippur is a really fun thing that every kid in town should be able to do. Since we started the workshop with Zak at the Ogen almost a year ago, it has become a sort of center for kids in the neighborhood. It was a natural decision for us to hand out bikes to the little kids who needed them,” Lev, 13.
For the past year, led by youth counselor Zak Greenwald, members of the Ogen have been running a free bike maintenance workshop for club members and children from the neighborhood. Salvaging spare parts, repairing old and broken bikes, and assembling new ones has had the double impact of teaching club members valuable life skills and giving them a platform to give back to the community.
“An important part of the underlying message we want to convey to the members who come to the Ogen is that they are more than just ‘at-risk kids’ in need of help and services. They are also strong, capable and independent young people with the capacity to take responsibility upon themselves and give something back to the community. This is a key part of our educational philosophy. The bike workshop is an empowering and beautiful expression of that,” Zak Greenwald, 31, Ogen youth counselor.
Before handing out the bikes, the Ogen staff made sure to meet with the parents of the kids who would be borrowing the bikes and to provide important safety instructions.
“We were a little concerned that not all of the bikes would come back, but they all did, promptly and without exception. I really think that everybody involved, the Ogen members who worked on this and the parents of the neighborhood kids who took the bikes, as well as the kids themselves, really understood what this little project of ours means for the community. It added something very special to this very special day,” Zak concluded.