Meet Mariuma Ben Yosef, The Woman Behind Israel's Shanti House

Photo of Sarina Rofe
31 January 2018

Caring for an average of 100 young adults on any given day is just one characteristic of the Shanti House that makes it unique. The Shanti House welcomes runaway kids off the streets of Israel and offers them a tranquil, loving support system when they have nowhere else to turn. Meet Mariuma Ben Yosef, the incredible woman behind the inspirational movement that takes in lost young ones and leads them to a better path.

Shanti House Tel Aviv Courtesy of The Shanti House

The Shanti House was created in 1984, when Mariuma Ben Yosef turned her attention to the troubled youth in Tel Aviv, since nobody else would. With a problematic past of her own, involving homelessness in her early teenage years, Ben Yosef knew the horrible reality so many others experienced. Ben Yosef welcomed youth off the streets to share in her Shabbat (Sabbath) meals. Those who came through the door were all different but had all escaped some sort of mental or physical abuse, drug use, crime, or unhealthy relationships at home. No matter what their backgrounds were, those who came to Ben Yosef’s home were never turned away regardless of race, gender, religion, or nationality.

Shabbat at Shanti House Courtesy of Shanti House

Based on a care-giving model created and developed by Ben Yosef, the Shanti House operates on the belief that a loving and caring home is necessary for all individuals, especially in the crucial stages of development. By providing the children with tools to change their lives on both practical and emotional levels, the Shanti House’s method has greatly impacted many lives. Over 40,000 youth at-risk have come seeking a meal and a bed during the organization’s 31 years, yet they have received much more. Using the rehabilitating methods of Shantherapy, the youths are offered and encouraged to take part in horse riding, hydrotherapy, art therapy, and individual therapy sessions. The Shanti House experience provides those who choose to accept the help with a stable environment, an education, security, responsibility, comfort, love, and a sense of belonging that they have never had before. The lost and misguided individuals are taken care of and given a new track in life, which leads them to further opportunities in education, the army, and jobs, all through the help of the incredible staff at the Shanti House.

Family shabbat at The Shanti House Courtesy of The Shanti House

Today, Ben Yosef manages two homes with her husband Michael: the original in Neve Tzedek and the other in the Negev desert (which opened in 2009), both serving those aged 14-21 as temporary and long-term support systems. The Desert Shanti Village, situated close to Sde Boker, was constructed with an emphasis on green building to ensure an environmentally friendly way of life. Decorated with a Moroccan touch, this desert oasis is inspired by the Shanti House Tel Aviv’s beliefs and foundation. The village was formed with an emphasis on the community through agricultural and social involvement to ensure that the value of appreciation and giving back is passed on. The Ben Yosef duo continues to create and maintain a place of refuge for those in trouble. The Ben Yosef duo continues to create and maintain a place of refuge for those in trouble, opening up new worlds of opportunity they may never had gotten without their help. While the couple remains humble, their never-ending guidance and innovative vision has been so successful that rehabilitation centers internationally have implemented the same model. While the Ben Yosefs’ actions have already had such an immense impact, they never cease to work tirelessly to improve the future of the Shanti House.

Desert Shanti Village Courtesy of The Shanti House

How do ensure the kids get a balance of independence as well as family time?

The essence and the whole concept of the Shanti House is a family atmosphere and a home that embraces its children. The therapeutic staff gives the children quality time, joint dinners, joint Friday dinners, family trips, and more. During this family journey, each child is going through individual therapy and preparation for an independent life.

What do you take away from everything you have created, and from what you have been able to give to Shanti House kids?

Mostly I can say that those children save my life from the difficult and painful things that I went through. Since the beginning of Shanti House to this day, I get the fact that this life is a train of choices, and those children are choosing life every day.

What future do you see for Shanti House?

I wish that both houses will have economic stability so we can open houses in Jerusalem and in the north of Israel. That way we cover the parts of Israel for youth at risk and in danger.

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