Sari Revkin – CEO, Yedid
“How long are we going to stay?” asked Sari. “Till we win,” replied her father
Sari was born and raised in Brooklyn, attending an all girls yeshiva through 8th grade, followed by attending the first Solomon Schecter High School ever established. Her father was a lithograph operator, who was very active in the union and her mother taught in NYC public schools. Sari’s father was an activist; active in the protest movement and in the civil rights movement. Once of Sari’s earliest memories is attending regular Friday protests at a local ballpark where they would not allow Afro- American ball players to participate in the game. Sari would always ask, “How long are we going to stay?” To which her father would reply, “Till we win.”
It is this kind of devotion to a cause that has driven Sari for the rest of her life. After 10thgrade, Sari attended camp Ramah in the Berkshires and while there volunteered at a hospital for the mentally ill – it was after that experience she decided to study social work. The elementary school Sari had attended was very Zionist; it felt that it was the role of the school to instill the Zionist dream in each of its students. As a young child, Sari often dreamed that there was bridge leading right from Brooklyn to Jerusalem. As a graduation present from 8th grade in 1968, her parents’ gift was a trip to Israel. This was a very big deal for her family and Sari and her parents (her two older brothers did not accompany them) saw Israel in its most glorified moments. All Sari wanted to do was comeback to Israel. After 11th grade, she spent summer on kibbutz and did not want to come home. Her parents promised her that if she came home and finished high school, they would send her back to Israel for college. However, Sari’s college experience in Israel did not turn out as expected. At the time, there was a rule that you had to be 22 in order to study social work, so after a year studying English, Sari returned to the states. In 1976, she came back to volunteer on a kibbutz , and ended up practicing her novice skills in psychology with a kibbutz member suffering from PTS from the Yom Kippur war. The intensity of that visit made her believe she had had enough of Israel.
Sari chose to study social work and psychology at UMBC Baltimore County. Her field placement was in a community mental health clinic in south Baltimore where she worked as a clinical social worker, providing psychotherapy for anxiety and depression. Through her work, it became clear to her that underlying these conditions was the urban removal/renewal that was going on in south Baltimore in order to build the new Orioles stadium. These were not personal issues, but rather community issues, and their impact had Sari turning her career towards community organizing and attaining a masters from the University of Maryland at Baltimore. This time her field placement was at the Baltimore Welfare Rights Organization, where she was mentored by Bob Cheeks, a seasoned civil rights leader in the Baltimore/DC area, and whose picture Sari still has on her office wall. Sari continued to work at this organization for a number of years after graduation, organizing the first rent strike in public housing and training welfare mothers to represent themselves in appeals processes
It was during graduate school that Sari met her ex-husband, who, from the beginning was very clear that after graduate school he really wanted to move to Israel. When they decided to marry, they made a deal; they would spend – 2-5 years in the US, followed by 2-5 years in Israel, and then would decide where to live.
They moved to Israel in 1983; first to kibbutz, and a year later to Jerusalem. At that point, having only been in the country for a year, but with tremendous experience in grass roots organization, Sari was hired by the New Israel Fund to begin Shatil – Capacity Building for Social Change organizations. Sari was the CEO of Shatil for fourteen years. During that time, the organization was able to seed a strong nonprofit sector, ensuring that activists understood that there are professional needs in running nonprofit organizations, and that skills need to be acquired in order to run these organizations. Shatil offered opportunities for those who needed to acquire these skills working both by skill and by sector.
By 1997, Sari was ready to take her experience and skills to a new level. Most of the Jewish Israeli organizations Shatil was working with were from major cities, and Sari felt that those living in the periphery were lacked the ability to take their life into their own hands. Yedidwas founded in order to empower people living in the periphery and to help low income people understand what is in their interest and have the ability to apply that interest when they vote or when they put their support by behind a particular group or particular people – to get people civically involved.
Today, fourteen year later, Yedid’s mandate is threefold:
One, to this day people do not understand how to access their rights vis a vis, the government, municipality and as consumers. Often, people give up because of the difficulties in pursuing their rights and this is where Yedid is there to assist them. Two, there is a growing phenomena of increasing individual /family debt in Israel; debt that begins at a young age. Cell phone bills that run up while young people serve in the army, easy access to lines of credit through credit cards , increasing number of young people taking upon themselves their parents debt – co-signing on loans, parents putting liabilities in their children name, etc. Many of these people lack economic literacy, have few budget management skills, and are either unemployed or underemployed. Yedid often sees young people who because of economic distress lose their ability and motivation to cope. Along these same lines are women who drop out of the workforce when they raise children, and then not only have to deal with the loss of income, but find it difficult to re-enter the work force. For these populations, Yedid provides assistance in terms of both empowerment and skills for re-entering the job force, in budget management and much more. The third area were Yedid is active is in Housing. Yedid focuses on economic empowerment for those in public housing and those who want public housing.
For those who are unable to pay their mortgages due to sickness or other catastrophe, Yedid provides budgeting skills and negotiates with the bank and for those with no other choice, assists them to come to the realization that if they need to sell they should do it rather than let the bank repossess their property. Furthermore, on a policy level, Yedid addresses the lack of available affordable housing and works towards instituting reforms that address issues such as what the banks and financial institutions can demand from those whose homes they repossess.
Yedid, which began with one branch in Haifa, today has 16 branches spread throughout the country from Safed/Hatzor in the north to Rahat in the south. Two of these branches are located in Arab communities – Rahat and Nazareth. Each center is staffed by volunteers and a paid director who supervises and trains the volunteers. Volunteers are a mix of ex-clients, professionals – lawyers, accountants, hi tech professionals, social workers, social work and law students, and students on scholarship that require community service. The centers work on three levels – individual assistance, policy change, a unique response to issues raised by the client base, which includes developing legislation, lobbying and empowering activists, and community based projects – economic empowerment, financial literacy for high school students and adults, helping women rejoin the work force and more.
Yedid’s Legal department is directly involved in cases that determine people’s fate. For example, the employment practices of temporary employment agencies and their affects on workers’ pension and severance pay, and a class action for home health care workers, mostly women who are afraid to come forth because they fear losing their jobs. In the latter, Yedid is the plaintiff being represented by a private lawyer against the nonprofits and for profits which employ the health care workers. These workers are not compensated for their travel time between clients, yet are expected to travel between multiple clients each day. Ultimately, Bituach Leumi (the National Insurance Institute) is responsible for this lack of pay.
Needless to say, Sari’s life is kept very busy, supervising the operation of this organization and ensuring continued funding. Sari lives in Jerusalem and has two sons. The oldest, 24 is finishing a degree in Business Management, and the younger is in 12th grade at the Jerusalem Democratic School.