Every time Ruth Bar-On stands on a new family’s doorstep, she stops, and realizes she has no words. The family on the other side of the door has just endured a devastating tragedy, and each time, she is overwhelmed by a feeling – not of fear – but of awe. “Before entering, the awe forces me to clear myself of any expectations, in order to understand what I’m about to encounter on the other side of the door: a grief like no other, a pain like no other.” “You might think this feeling of awe makes me feel weak, but it doesn’t. I derive strength from it.”
“Selah is there to help put life back together after the harshest tragedies. We are the hope.”
“Many years ago, I learned about a young immigrant woman who was hurt in a terror attack. I came to the hospital, followed the directions to her room, and found a crowd of young people pouring out of the room – smiling, crying, hugging. I went back to the nurse’s station to double check I was in the right place. She said I was. Again, I went to the room, poked my head through the crowd, and only saw a young man surrounded by his family and friends. Confused, I asked the nurse to escort me directly to the young woman to help me find her. The nurse led me back to the sea of people, pushing our way to the other side of the hospital room, and pulled back a curtain to reveal a bed with a 20-year-old girl lying there injured, all alone, and scared.
“She was from Russia and had no family in the country. This was before cell phones, and I asked her who I could call for her. She said there was no one to call.”
“For me, the disparity between the two hospital beds painted a clear, bleak picture of the immigrant experience during tragedy. This was the need Selah would meet.”
“Imagine finding yourself as an immigrant to a new country facing an emergency situation,” Ruth reflects. “You don’t know the language and you may not have any friends or family to rely on. You are frightened and vulnerable. Without immediate intervention, the impact could be devastating – and things will quickly spiral down.”
Around the same time, Ruth remembers hearing about a new family from Ethiopia with several children – the smallest two – a baby and a toddler. Both parents had died suddenly. The children – now orphans – were alone in this country.
“I came to the apartment with the intention of assessing the circumstances and coordinating resources. But the situation was so fragile and desperate I simply couldn’t leave.
“There was no one to hand the baby to. There was no way to leave. We had to help.”
Over the course of her career, Ruth has been a leading voice in Israel’s trauma and immigrant communities. “Ruth Bar-On’s power of intellect and emotional understanding are the heart of Selah. Ruth meets tragedy daily but exudes the calm, good humor of a mother who knows she has done well by her family. She has five grown children but, in a sense, her family is numbered in the thousands,” wrote journalist Len Ashton in his interview with her for The Argus, years ago.
Her matter-of-factness, humility and empathy enable her to identify people’s most urgent, unmet needs – often before they know that these needs and dreams could be fulfilled: A clothes dryer for a widow with a newborn in a damp winter, dental work for a young woman with deformed teeth who couldn’t smile, eat or speak without covering her mouth, a new dresser to make an orphan feel they have something to call their own in a foster home, a specialized hearing aid to advance a student previously thought learning-disabled, or money for a child’s tombstone for a mother without closure.