Bringing healing to Rwandan orphans

Bringing healing to Rwandan orphans

Two years ago, Will Recant, assistant executive vice president of the Joint Distribution Committee, received an urgent appeal.

The Wyckoff resident, who has extensive experience leading JDC’s nonsectarian humanitarian programs, was approached by a South African woman who had just heard about the plight of Rwandan children.

Learning that 15 percent, some 1.2 million youngsters, were orphans as a result of the 1994 genocide that claimed 800,000 people in 100 days, Anne Heyman urged JDC to respond to this crisis.

Nancy Recant

“I couldn’t let go of this notion,” Heyman told JTA at the time. “There was really no future for Rwanda.”

Heyman’s determination paid off. JDC took up the challenge, and in 2007 the group broke ground for the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwamagana, Rwanda.

The village – which will contain living quarters, a medical clinic, and a school – will ultimately serve 500 orphans and is scheduled to receive the first group of 125 youngsters on Dec. 15.

According to the ASYV Website, “The youth of Rwanda – the future of their country – have faced unfathomable violence, devastation, and trauma. Having irretrievably lost their parents, family members, communities, and homes, many now face a loss of hope for a viable future, for their country and for themselves.” The village, it is hoped, will restore the children’s “rhythm of life” while cultivating a strong sense of self and of social justice.

Nancy Recant has followed the project closely since first learning about it from her husband, Will. The documentary filmmaker and healing arts practitioner has been raising funds to facilitate training for the staff in the self-help art of jin shin jyutsu. She plans to go in February.

According to Recant, the practice uses “gentle touch” to balance the body’s energy flow, helping to restore an individual’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance.

“I’ve been practicing this healing art for 18 years,” she said, noting that the philosophy underlying the work resembles that of kabbalah.

Recant said she is particularly interested in the idea of integrating Jewish themes with the concept of healing. In January, she will teach a session at an American Jewish Congress gathering, focusing on healing from a Jewish perspective.

In addition, for the past two years, she has led a monthly “sacred circle” for Ridgewood’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center, combining breathing, stretching, and jin shin jyutsu self-help with discussions on Jewish themes.

In 2001, she produced a documentary about jin shin jyutsu. After she shared it with her then rabbi, Gil Steinlauf, he pointed out its kabbalistic connections, bringing her, she said, full circle back to her rabbinic and chasidic roots.

The child of Holocaust survivors, Recant said she has successfully used the technique with “skeptical survivors to help them release things that otherwise they couldn’t let go.” She is confident that jin shin jyutsu can benefit the orphans of Agahozo as well.

“You can do just so much with psychological therapy,” she said. “Jin shin jyutsu overrides the mind to let healing take place. It facilitates the release of trauma in the body.” Recant is raising money from friends, family, and members of the community toward her trip.

According to Recant, Agahozo is modeled after Israel’s Yemin Orde youth aliyah village, which was founded in 1953 and initially housed Holocaust orphans. ASYV teachers and staff have traveled to Israel for training, and the Israeli facility will send Ethiopian Jewish graduates to work as mentors with the Rwandan orphans.

In addition, the Jewish National Fund will plant trees around the village.

In a letter to potential donors, Recant wrote that her idea “is to bring the art of jin shin jyutsu to the village and conduct self-help training for the staff and children.”

“Children in crisis often feel abandoned and develop more physical symptoms than the average child,” she wrote. “JSJ has the potential to relieve the burden of emotional trauma and its psychosomatic effects. Since it requires nothing more than the breath and hands, its power and simplicity make it ideal for use in the field.”

She noted that she is particularly concerned about the “mothers” who will live in the village with the children.

“Many of them lost their own children, sometimes their whole families, to the genocide,” she said. “Now they have an opportunity to help others.”

To learn more about ASYV, visit For further information about Recant’s project, e-mail

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