JLife’s Elaine Bermitz explores Manchester’s newest youth charity, Aliya.
The tragic death of Sarah Goldman in 2019 caused a wave of sorrow and outrage at the waste of a young woman’s life, and other incidents since have made many in Manchester’s Jewish community very much aware of our young people’s vulnerabilities. Mental health, abuse, alcoholism, and drug abuse – once taboo topics – are now recognized threats to some people’s ability to adjust to adulthood. Institutions like JAMI, AA, and other addiction support groups are available, but can’t always fill the needs of those who “just don’t fit.”
Sometimes it takes a much less formal approach, one which has had success before in New York and Melbourne, where the community provides a safe place where young people who would otherwise be on the streets can go, and which is staffed by professionally qualified people who allow these youths to
come in and feel protected. Gradually, some of the youngsters will open up to them in these informal surroundings. Sometimes they might simply need a home-from-home to let off steam, play loud music, or express themselves in any of the hundred appropriate ways which help them accept an often intimidating world. Not every problem can be pigeonholed, but if there is one thing the trustees of the project have learned, it’s that ignoring or dismissing negative emotions can mark a young person for life.
For this and many other reasons Aliya, Manchester’s newest youth charity, has been welcoming around 200 youths and young adults a week for the last two years. The group is run by Mendel Yaffe, who returned from Melbourne to run Manchester’s version of the scheme.
The aims of Aliya are simple: “To provide an emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual support for the youth of our communities and their families.” Noble aims, and ones which require help from people with widely differing qualifications, as well as patience, empathy, and a desire to see these youngsters thrive.
Trevor Friedman, an eminent psychiatrist with a sound background in mental health research and practice, acts as Aliya’s Clinical Advisor, and every volunteer and paid worker is trained in suicide prevention as well as safeguarding. Volunteers will, if necessary, provide a safe place to stay for those who feel unsafe in their own homes and there will soon be provision for 24-hour care in order to offer more permanent refuge for some of the more in-need clients.
That’s not to say that all of the activities are downbeat. While dealing with very serious problems, Aliya has a whole raft of projects, counselling, advice, and seminars on how to safeguard yourself, how to maintain wellbeing and self-esteem, on job hunting, career paths, and on safe ways of interaction. Men and women attend on different days, and many are there from early evening until 2am – an indication of how valuable this trusted place can be to them.
Creative projects, outdoor adventure trips, arts and crafts, music, and computing all feature heavily, as well as cooking, eating, and celebrating festivals. These activities complement the support, as well as helping the members form connections and friendships – all vital to personal growth and confidence.
The patient and qualified assistance is paying off. Many youths who arrived in desperation have been able to share their fears and have found a path out of depression, suicide, or self-harm. Others have been signposted to professional help, but still return for the time being, because they feel comfortable.
“Some people who first came here say it’s not what it used to be or that they don’t know anyone here now,” says Mendel. “For me that means we are succeeding. No-one wants to be in need for ever.”
After 18 months of hard work, it is time to expand, and for this Aliya will need considerable funds. 15 members will be entering the Manchester marathon to raise funds for the charity, and the group also took part in a skydive in March. Alongside the fundraising attempts held by some of the Aliya members themselves, there will be a small dinner on 3rd May in order to raise more.