Meet Osher, an Orr Shalom House Mother

By Idit Cohen

Report to the Danish Jewish Friendship Association, January 2020

Osher is the House Mother of an Orr Shalom Home in the Center of Israel, which is home to nine adolescent boys between the ages of 13 and 17. Osher began as a National Service volunteer with Orr Shalom eight years ago. At the end of her National Service, the house mother left and there was a vacancy. Now, Osher is completing her seventh year as the Home’s House Mother! Osher is fully dedicated to “her” children, investing all of her energies and love in their successes. When you visit the Home you see how the boys flock to her, each one wanting to tell her about their day, show her a treasure they found on the home from school, share their latest report card, tell her about the book they are reading or show her their new soccer moves…

“A Day in the Life”: In Osher’s own words

I wake up every day at 6.30 am and then start to wake the boys up. As you can imagine, it can be hard to wake up nine teenage boys! By 7 am everyone is downstairs and eating breakfast, and I start making their lunches. I try to have at least three different lunch options for them – they pick the “main” and pack their own “sides” – like chips, or pretzels, cut up fruits and vegetables. I obviously want them to enjoy their lunches!

They are all teenagers, so they walk themselves to school. By 8.15 am the house is empty (usually – though obviously sometimes someone is not feeling well and they need to stay home). I use this time between 8.15 and 1 pm to do shopping, to clean the house, to have meetings with the staff in the home including tutors and the psychologist. Sometimes I have to go to meetings in the kids’ schools. Sometimes I just rest for an hour! My phone is always ringing throughout the day – you have to understand that each boy has a whole “support group” of people around him. I am in constant touch with biological parents, social workers, teachers, and psychologist. So I am the main contact person for all of the components of the “support group” and I interface between them and the boys all the time. The boys themselves will often call me throughout the day too! To ask me for rides to or from somewhere, tell me they’re going to a friend’s, or to ask me what’s for dinner!

The boys come home from school between 1 – 2.30 pm, and unwind a little before lunch. At 2.30 pm we sit down to eat a nice hot lunch together. Between 3 – 4 pm is “room time,” which is time without phones, TV, or any other screens. By this time, the tutors arrive and help the children with their homework. The National Service mentors help the older kids study for their matriculation tests. If there are kids without homework I play informal educational games with them to practice skills like English and math.
From 4 – 7 pm it’s free time, and each boy does something different. It’s also a time for therapeutic support. The boys go to friends or have friends come over – some even have girlfriends and they come over and hang out in the living room. Some boys like to play video games, others have afterschool activities or clubs (soccer is very popular!). Each boy has his own interests and I try to make sure that each one can explore their passions. For example, one of the kids is interested in becoming a DJ and we made him a sound proof mini studio in the basement – where he spends almost every afternoon. Another of our newest boys loves to garden, so we let him take over the side yard, where he started growing vegetables!

It can get pretty hectic but this is the time of the day I love the best. The house is really alive and full, and I’m always busy, driving the kids to friends or home, or to their clubs, or grocery shopping. After free time we all make dinner together and then we sit down to eat between 8 – 8.30 pm. After that the boys shower and get into bed between 9.30 and 10.30 pm depending on their age.

That’s the basic order of the day, though some days are more hectic and some days are calmer. Did I mention we also have a dog?! That definitely adds to the craziness, but also the love – the boys have all developed individual connections to her, love her and there’s always *someone* to walk her.

In terms of my personal life….well, my home life and my work life are obviously intertwined – I live where I work. I’m a really social person and my friends are really important to me, and they come and visit during the week and especially on Shabbat. My brothers also like to come visit when they can. They know my kids and they know my life – and my boys also know my friends and family too! We’re like one giant family.

Culture is really important to me – plays, and concerts. I try to include the boys whenever I can, because I want to expose them to the finer things in life, to show them art and beauty, and what is possible in the world.

Volunteering is also incredibly important to me and I try to do at least six projects per year with the boys, like selling chocolates to benefit kids with terminal illnesses; organizing hospital visits and stuff like that. It’s really important to me to show my boys that they are capable of giving – that just because they need a lot of support doesn’t mean that they can’t also give support to others who are worse off than they are.

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Osher is just one- albeit incredible- example of the dedicated and loving professional staff we employ at Orr Shalom. With enormous thanks to the Danish Jewish Friendship Association’s ongoing investment, Osher, and other house mothers like her, have the support, equipment and training required to give Orr Shalom’s children a real chance to succeed.

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