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On a warm, beautiful Sunday afternoon, April 22, friends and families from Great Neck's Temple Beth-El, Temple Israel and Roslyn's Temple Sinai came together to celebrate the second annual International Mitzvah Walk of Hope to benefit the Tikva Children's Centers in Odessa, Ukraine, and the Jewish children they serve.

For hundreds of Odessa's Jewish children, considered to be some of the poorest Jewish children in the world, living in "unsanitary and inhumane state orphanages," and those "who suffered from abuse and neglect at home, or who had no home and were living on the streets" was a way of life for these innocent children. And today, although much progress has been made, young lives are still being "rescued" every day.

Tikva means hope in Hebrew. And 14 years ago, back in 1993, one extraordinary man with a vision, Rabbi Shlomo Beksht, an Israeli native and educator set forth on a spiritual journey with much hope in his heart and perseverance to "revitalize" Jewish life in the once bustling port city of Odessa." With his strong will, the rabbi succeeded in realizing his plans creating the Ohr Dessa Project offering educational programs focusing on religious and cultural identity. Then, one year later, Rabbi Beksht founded the Ohr Sameyach Boys School. And in 1995, he founded a girls' school.

It was during this time in Odessa the rabbi learned of the dangerous living conditions hundreds of Jewish children experienced in the Odessa region of Ukraine, and with an unwillingness to turn his back on the children and the devastation he saw, Rabbi Beksht set out to free Odessa's Jewish children from a life of profound sorrow - to a life filled with hope and promise.

And in 1996, Rabbi Beksht established Tikva Children's Home. The Children's Home and the Ohr Dessa Project were united into one organization, Tikva, in 2001, and today, Rabbi Baksht serves as Tikva's principal religious and program director, and continues to lead fundraising efforts and outreach to Jewish communities worldwide.

For Yonni Limmer Wattenmaker, a 1989 Great Neck South High School graduate, working at Manhattan's Tikva office has been an invaluable experience. And in addition to Ms. Wattenmaker's dedicated work at Tikva she has visited Odessa on several occasions. "There are new buildings going up, buildings are being renovated, there is a day-care center ... it is just incredible the progress that is being made in Odessa," Ms. Wattenmaker proudly shared in a telephone conversation. Ms. Wattenmaker implemented the Mitzvah Walk of Hope several years ago and today the walk is held internationally to benefit Tikva.

Yes, one man had a dream to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of Jewish children, and today, the light of hope shines brightly on Tikva's children; children who now experience childhood, have goals to set and dreams to share. The outreach project has grown to meet the community's needs, and has improved the lives of more than 3,000 men, women and children through Tikva's educational, cultural and social services. Tikva serves boys and girls ages 4 months to 16 years.

Year 2007 marks Great Neck and Roslyn's second annual Mitzvah Walk of Hope to benefit Tikva. And, although there are approximately 4,000 miles between Odessa and Long Island, the spirit of one man, Rabbi Beksht could be felt by those youngsters, teens and adults who came together on April 22, where today, hope springs eternal for Odessa's Jewish children of the Odessa region of Ukraine.

Tikva's core mission is to care for the homeless, abandoned and abused Jewish children of the Odessa region of Ukraine. Tikva provides a loving home; essential social services; a first-rate education in the environs of a revitalized Jewish community, and an opportunity for a brighter future through immigration to Israel.

Tikva is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Tikva relies heavily on contributions from generous individuals, corporations, foundations, and government agencies to support its activities. Tikva welcomes monetary gifts, donations of property, sponsorships and bequests. One hundred percent of your donation is tax-deductible.

For information about Tikva, or if you wish to organize an event to benefit Tikva, please call the New York office at 917-262-1818 or visit the Tikva website at www.tikvaodessa.org.


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