His story begins with a single educator: a fifth-grade homeroom teacher. When he was 10, having observed that most individuals around him solved their social problems with physical violence, she said to him, “You can use your hands to express yourself without using your fists.” Adir Leiba, now 27, a graduate of Mechinat Melach HaAretz and winner of a 2020 Joint Council of Mechinot graduate award, recalls: “When I had trouble expressing myself at a young age, that teacher helped me understand that I wasn’t a criminal, but an artist.”
Every year, a Joint Council committee examines the work of mechina alumni in all areas of life and a wide range of social projects. Inter alia, Leiba was honored this year for his work as an educational entrepreneur. The common denominator of all his initiatives is the idea of combining education and art.
Painting a bomb shelter. Photograph courtesy of Adir Leiba
“I founded Adir Wall Art a little before mechina, and thanks to mechina I learned how to combine education and art. I learned that everyone has a color that he just needs to learn how to express. I’ve founded Bein Adam LaMakom, a training program for mural artists and community empowerment through murals and graffiti; Ani Tamid Nishar Ani, a workshop that teaches caricature as a tool of personal expression for adults and children; HaTzeva Sheli, a joint painting workshop for individuals and couples; Lo Rak Tzeva Adom, in which participants paint indoor and outdoor bomb shelters; and other workshops and training programs featuring education and art.”
Leiba was born and grew up in Gedera. As a problem child, he spent a lot of time wandering the streets. Thanks to the encounter with that teacher, today he affirms that his brush is his weapon. With it, he fights for all the children and teens the system has written off, and empowers them with leading social programs as part of the community.
It started with drawings that he worked on during class, developing his painting and technical abilities. In high school, he immersed himself in art even more, and at Mechinat Melach HaAretz he developed instructional abilities while doing hands-on crafts with at-risk youth. “My mechina went along with my initiative. They gave me a whole room to develop my ability and pass it on to teenagers,” Leiba says, recalling the opening shot for his serial initiatives. After the army lowered his medical profile, he went to volunteer in civilian service, where he resumed working with at-risk youth while studying at Yeshivat Torat Emet in Rechovot.
“There were teens who took part in the project, became counselors, and got the police to close their criminal files. At the end of the day, it also contributes to reducing crime”
While in civilian service, Leiba devised his first project, Bein Adam LaMakom, and formed a partnership with the Eshel HaNasi youth village, where he went to high school. “I suggested a painting project for the guys that would improve the place’s appearance. That’s how it all started. People came to join me as counselors, I saw that the project had potential, and sure enough, the National Insurance Institute and local governments took interest,” says Leiba. “There were teens who took part in the project, became counselors, and got the police to close their criminal files. At the end of the day, it also contributes to reducing crime. The goal is to give them a way to arrive at an occupation through the experience, and through the city beautification, community work, commitment that are part of it.”
Bein Adam LaMakom. Photograph courtesy of Adir Leiba
Does everyone really get to the end of the project? Do they all develop those self-expression abilities and create artistic graffiti?
This, says Leiba, isn’t the main goal. “Not everyone knows how to paint. I believe that to paint is to feel. If a person can feel, then he can paint. There’s no person who can’t paint and can’t give. When you help a teenager discover that he has something to give, suddenly, when he gives of himself in a community project, even if he just kept an eye on the blue paint to make sure it wasn’t wasted, even if he didn’t hold a brush in his hand, he feels effective and confident that he’s needed. The story about the blue paint actually makes the point very well, because that guy was the representative of the group that presented the creation to the mayor when it was finished.”
Dan Ariely writes in his book Predictably Irrational that Ikea became a success because it made people put effort into getting a piece of furniture to stay upright. Leiba explains, “If people put their chair together themselves, they feel as if they personally had a part in the building process. Personal involvement in a communal process actually makes it possible for people to feel the belonging and significance of giving.” During long projects, he says, participants definitely develop their abilities, learning the best techniques and putting them into action themselves. Over ten training sessions, participants learn how to prime a wall for painting, the correct order of steps, and how to paint like a professional. “For me, painting is a tool for dealing with emotional difficulties. If I want a protest painting, I choose bolder colors. For example, when we paint outdoor bomb shelters on the Gaza perimeter, the colors need to be pastoral and delicate, to facilitate a sense of calm and security. Through painting, we help the young people develop a feeling of significance, that hey, I’m doing something meaningful with myself.”
“Making it possible for people to feel the significance of giving.” Photograph courtesy of Adir Leiba
A paramedic in the pandemic
Leiba lives in Ofakim with his wife, Nofar Naomi, and will soon become a father. He is in the process of finishing a master’s degree in educational management and organization while also studying coaching and NLP. For the past eight years, he’s been volunteering as a Hatzalah paramedic, working as a teacher for the Ministry of Education, and volunteering for Nefesh Yehudi, an organization that works to develop Israeli postsecondary students’ Jewish identity. Reflecting on his volunteer work for Hatzalah, Leiba recalls, “I missed working with my hands, so I decided to become a paramedic. We get calls around the clock.” Hatzalah operations are restricted at the moment because of the coronavirus outbreak, since a lack of protective gear prevents volunteers from entering the homes of patients with breathing difficulties or a temperature. “There are lots of calls. Some are heartbreaking. A friend of mine was outside the house of a resuscitation call and couldn’t go in because no protective gear was available. In the case of accidents, God forbid, we still go out and try to give aid as quickly as possible.”
Adir Wall Art. Photograph courtesy of Adir Leiba