The daughter of former Jewish Communal Fund President Larry Zicklin, Yudit Zicklin-Sidikman has forged her own professional and philanthropic path. Nearly a decade ago, she founded the Israeli nonprofit El HaLev (“To the Heart”) with the goal of combating violence against girls and women, enhancing their personal safety and promoting economic advancement. In an exclusive interview with JCF, Sidikman – who has lived in Israel since 1984 – talks about the importance of teaching our children (and ourselves) self-defense, her philanthropic upbringing, and how she uses her JCF fund to make a real impact.
Jewish Communal Fund: What inspired you to start El HaLev?
Yudit Zicklin-Sidikman: One-third of women will be physically attacked in their lifetimes globally, according to the World Health Organization. El HaLev teaches valuable resistance techniques, which can help 70 to 80 percent of women stop an attack. These basic tools we can teach in just one and half hours! In a nutshell, if a woman is attacked, we encourage her to run if she can, yell or use her words to state clearly what she wants, and to hit if need be – in that order. Really, before that the first technique is to think, to realize what is happening. Also, keep in mind, it’s harder to hit back when the attacker is a guy you know, whether it’s a boss, your husband’s best friend, or an ex-boyfriend. We teach women to use their voices to set boundaries. My inspiration was also very personal – I was a 28-year-old mother of four in an emotionally abusive relationship.
JCF: How did you find inner strength during that difficult time?
YZS: I started taking Judo at age 28. I was living in the Old City of Jerusalem at the time and my next-door neighbor encouraged me to join the women’s Judo class she was organizing. Within six months, I was the only woman left; everyone else had quit. I continued training alone with my teacher for more than two years. I got my yellow belt when I was seven months pregnant with my fifth child and my black belt eight years later.
JCF: What message would you send to parents about the importance of teaching their children self-defense?
YZS: We teach kids to be safe around water, safe as drivers – why don’t we teach them to be safe around other people? Many people tend to think that if you teach children or teens about self-defense, they will have nightmares for months. My experience is that this isn’t the case especially when you teach from an empowerment model, the way we do at El HaLev. If you think about it, my body is the only thing that is with me 100 percent of the time, so I need to learn to use it to defend myself against an attacker.
JCF: You grew up in a very philanthropic family. Your father, Larry Zicklin, is a past President of UJA-Federation of New York and Jewish Communal Fund, and you have had a fund at JCF since 1999. How has that impacted your own personal giving?
YZS: I am a second generation philanthropist. Giving in the Jewish community has always been in my blood. I grew up serving coffee for Super Sundays and accompanying my father to zillions of meetings from HAIS, to Federation, to Temple Board Meetings. I am also a proud Lion of Judah Israel and daughter of a Lion. Shakespeare wrote that “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” As a second generation philanthropist I sort of see myself as having had greatness thrust upon me. My job now is to use it to affect change in a significant way.
JCF: You named your JCF fund “The Tzemach Fund.” What is the meaning behind that?
YZS: It’s about planting the seeds for the future [tzemach is the Hebrew word for plant/sprout]. I use the concepts of Tzmichah, Meuravout v’Hinuch – Growth, Involvement, and Education to assess nonprofits in which I might want to invest time or money. I have personally witnessed many little seedlings – participants in El HaLev trainings – grow into amazing young people, officers in the Israeli army, black belts, instructors and leaders of social change.
JCF: El HaLev will celebrate its 10th anniversary this October. Tell us about the impact the organization has had in Israel and beyond.
YZS: El HaLev touches the lives of nearly 6,000 women and girls every year. We also teach children, people with disabilities, at-risk populations and the elderly in co-ed groups. Our impact extends beyond our participants and also includes our staff of 40 martial arts and self-defense instructors, most of whom work part-time. Some of them are single moms. Others work to lift themselves out of poverty or to supplement their income. Our program model is particularly sensitive to the needs of young instructors and/or working mothers, which in itself is a model for empowerment. In addition to our work in Israel, I visit the United States a few times each year in order to teach, lecture and run workshops because violence and abuse are both a global problem and a Jewish community problem.
JCF: How do you believe philanthropists should measure success?
YZS: I think one of the mistakes being made is to assess a program solely on its budget. By only looking at the administrative costs versus program costs, you get a very narrow view of the program’s efficacy. Also, we miss something when we tell non-profits “we won’t fund overhead.” To me this seems like saying, “Sure you can stay with us and eat, but no showers.” The most important step before assessing a program is to define what you, the philanthropist, want to achieve. My goals for El HaLev are to empower those who are at risk vis-à-vis violence/abuse (domestic, emotional, verbal, or sexual) and to reduce the prevalence of violence/abuse through para-formal education. I think that for a philanthropist to really understand the power of their contributions, we need to come up with a system of analysis that goes beyond the CEO’s salary and the administrative costs, but truly looks at the impact the particular non-profit asking for funding is making on individuals and on the community. Due diligence is not just about a simplistic look at the bottom-line, not if we really want to make a difference. At El HaLev I know that it really is all about asking questions. It is about being part of an ongoing search for solutions to the questions that fuel our organization. Can we imagine what our society would look like if 700 fewer women and girls had to recover from the trauma of rape? Or 7,000?