The word Shanti, in the Indian language, means peace, rest, calmness, tranquility, or bliss. The poet T.S. Eliot, in his poem ‘The Waste Land,’ where he spelled the word Shantih, translated it as “The Peace which passeth understanding.”
Growing up, lacking the stability of a home, daily meals and having experienced violence, sexual abuse and abandonment, Mariuma understands youth in similar circumstances. Her dream was to have a warm home for youths at risk and thus provide them what she lacked in her growing-up years. Mariuma named the home Shanti, which she operates. In fact there are today two Shantis, one in Tel Aviv and one, sitting on 500 acres in the South, in the Negev desert, neighboring the tomb of the man who called to settle the Negev, the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion. Mariuma is achieving Ben Gurion’s dream, she is settling the Negev.
For the past 30 years, since 1984, Mariuma, then 20 years old, first single handed, later with the help of staff, has been providing a home where youths at risk feel most protected and safe. They receive love and care and a warmer corner, something that thousands of children in Israel do not have. The idea of a home did not come right away. Mariuma first rented an apartment in Neveh Tzedek, then a slum suburb of Tel Aviv and a hub of drugs and crime. The idea was to host homeless people on Friday evening and holidays, the worst time to be alone. Shanti House started with Friday night dinner and receiving the Shabbat and has evolved over the years according the needs of the State.
The story of Shanti House as told by Mariuma:
In 2014, like any other country, Israel is facing many challenges. Youth at risk is one of these challenges. The Shanti House takes in, indiscriminately, everyone from the ages of 14-to-21 and it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year; 80% of the youth that pass its front door were abandoned by their parents or they are runaways. When you enter the Shanti House you need to answer two questions: 1) Do you want to be here? And 2) Do you have a dream? The follow up, the Shanti House, one can equate to a colorful and warm cover, helps them to accomplish their dream.
Many of Mariuma’s followers and supporters are Israelis who live abroad and have the means to give back to the community. Also others who are avid supporters of Israel and rise to any occasion to fulfill the needs of the Jewish State.
When Yechiel (Yechi) and Sary Yogev from Los Angeles first visited the Shanti House they heard their calling and upon their return home they founded Friends of Shanti House in Los Angles. At the new posh home of Yosi and Alisa Simsoly, its doors they opened as a gesture of Tzedakah – good deed, organized by Hanna Benrosh and Lirit Rosenzweig of bentop (www.bentopevents.com), the community got together to help the youth of Shanti House. And so they did, because when you see the optics and the results of Mariuma’s many years of hard labor, devotion and belief, remember she is for, “if you will it, it is not a dream,” you cannot remain apathetic.
Every time I meet Mariuma, I am energized and inspired. A bubbly, red headed woman, rough edges at times and passionate, who speaks about her enterprise from the depths of her heart. Her words resonate: “To accomplish a dream you have to believe it and live your dream.” That is the purpose of Shanti House, which is to help accomplish the dreams of youths who, way too often, dream of taking their life rather than daring to dream about meaningful purpose.
The Shanti House in the desert, for youth in distress, is one and only one in the world and is a model which people from all over the world come to visit and learn about, perhaps even emulate.
Growing up in nascent Israel there were no Shanti Houses I was aware of, nor did I know of youth at risk. Perhaps there were youth at risk but having a home, food and a comfy bed, I knew no such phenomenon.
Zionism can be enacted in many ways, even by children and youths. You can say it in many languages:
- In Hebrew: Im tirtzu, ein zo agada-אִם תִּרְצוּ, אֵין זוֹ אַגָדָה
- In English: If you will it, it is no dream
- In German: Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Marchen (Herzl wrote it in German)
- In Shanti House language: Do not ever forget from where you came and to where you go.
Since the idea blossomed, 35,000 youths passed through Shanti House; 2,500 pass through this home away from no home each year. With 8-10 Board Members, the annual budget needed to maintain the house is $3.5 million and the government of Israel provides half of this budget. With 13% of the budget being used for the day-to-day operation, it is a Zionist enterprise that never ends, even though the Zionists are homeless youth in distress.
Shanti House is a lighthouse in the darkness.
To choose to fight is to be a leader. The youth of Shanti House chose to fight and they are all leaders. Mariuma chose to fight for them and with them and she is a leader. Anyone who opens his heart and pocketbook is helping these leaders, who are fighting back to become a productive member of the State of Israel; he or she is also a leader who is fighting the youth of Shanti House’s fight.