By: Sara Cohen  | 

If Not Me, Then Who? Tehila Bitton and Ben-Adam

Punch. The sound of fighting echoes in the air. Tehila Bitton (SCW ‘24) stands in a black shirt and skirt, matching the bulky boxing gloves she wears. With a fierce expression of determination and persistence on her face, she is easily singled out from the mix of other women in a kickboxing class as she displays her newly acquired moves. Tehila exudes a general air of resoluteness and a take-charge kind of attitude. These are some of the qualities that make the twenty-two-year-old Uruguayan native a natural-born leader. 

Although she was born in South America and later grew up in Great Neck, New York, Tehila has long considered Israel her home. “My connection to Israel has always been very strong,” she said as she sat in the courtyard outside her dorm building, legs outstretched. As she discussed Israel, Tehila’s love for the Jewish State and its people became visible. “Sometimes as a source of conflict, sometimes a strong source of happiness and comfort; I was always a Zionist, ‘rah-rah’ Israel type of girl.” 

This is evident even at first glance. One quickly notices the silver Star of David hanging around her neck, a charm of a broken heart with Hebrew lettering, as well as a “BRING THEM HOME” pendant she has worn since the October 7 massacres. 

Like many others, Tehila was shattered and devastated after the terrorist attack this past Simchat Torah that resulted in the deaths of over 1200 people and the kidnapping of over 240 civilians and soldiers. “I think it sounds dramatic, but a big chunk of my soul was left behind,” she said. In her grief, she remembered what her mother had said to her after the 2019 attack in Monsey, “Whenever there are hard times we bring more light, we do something good and actually make a difference.” 

This concept inspired Tehila to create her organization Ben-Adam, which connects American college students with kids and teens in Israel. After participating in Operation Torah Shield in November, a YU mission to Israel, Tehila saw a need among Israeli children. “Their dads are all off in the army,” she said. “A lot of their moms, too.” She continued, “There’s so much instability. They have no idea what tomorrow will bring.” 

When Tehila returned to New York, she felt driven to take action and to create something that would foster connections between different Jews. She spoke to her father, Rabbi Yosef Bitton, rabbi of Congregation Shaare Rachamim in Great Neck, about this issue. “One of us mentioned tutoring, and he had connections with a yishuv in Israel called Kida.” This led to Tehila contacting the spokesperson for the yishuv, Moriya Jacobs. She then sent out a Google form to different group chats, and in one night, 30-40 American students expressed interest. 

   Photo caption: Tehila with Israeli children in Tekoa (November 2023)

  Photo Credit: Tehila Bitton

The name, which in Hebrew means “between people”, encapsulates the message Tehila was trying to convey: the connection that humans have to each other. With the overarching goal of assisting Israelis with their English language skills, Ben-Adam provides a source of conversation and connection between individuals from two sides of the world who have little in common, besides the fact that they are Jewish. 

“There’s a really big interest and there’s a thirst for connection for Jews across the world.” However, it is more than that, especially for Israeli children. “They need 40 minutes when someone is just paying attention to you and wants to hear about you and how your week has gone, and everything else stops for 40 minutes.” That is exactly what Kammah Lichtman, a seventeen-year-old high school student from Gitit, a town in the Jordan Valley, expressed over a Zoom call. “I love it,” she said in her accented English. “It’s a nice hour in the week and stop our lives and hear about something else and I start to know more. I got a great person to talk with. It’s fun and it also helps me.” 

Miriam Bluth (SCW ‘24) is one of the tutors for Ben-Adam. She meets weekly with a ten-year-old boy named Eldad Yehuda from Gitit and feels that working with Ben-Adam has been a most positive experience. “This has been such a meaningful and enjoyable way to connect with my fellow Jews in Israel during this difficult time; it can be hard feeling so far away from everything going on in Israel sometimes and this definitely brings me closer.” 

Balancing a rigorous academic curriculum and managing an organization can sometimes be challenging for Tehila, a Judaic Studies major and an English Literature minor. “If you sit behind me in class, you’ll see my computer and you’ll probably get a little bit freaked out.” This is due to the organizational system that Tehila created for Ben-Adam. She mainly works with Google Sheets, Google Forms and WhatsApp. She is in frequent contact with a network of people, primarily Tal Yehuda, the Israeli liaison for Ben-Adam. “I spend at least fifteen hours a week on this, but thank God it’s been so incredibly rewarding.” 

Tehila has circled back and enlisted Operation Torah Shield (OTS) and their resources to help grow her project further. OTS board member Bentzy Klarfeld (YC ‘25) said, “What Tehila has done is what OTS is all about — empowering YU students to make contributions they are uniquely suited to make to help Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.”

Ben-Adam currently has almost a hundred pairs of participants and volunteers, and is only growing by the day. It is expanding from not only Israeli children but to adults as well. Tehila said that the phrase “If not me, then who?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14) has long been her mantra, something that has prompted her to enact a meaningful sort of change especially in troubled times. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once said, “Time and again, in the wake of tragedy, the Jewish people renewed itself in a burst of creativity.” 


Ben-Adam is looking for more volunteers and has options to work with kids and adults who want to learn English, as well as wounded soldiers who want to tell their stories in English. If you are interested in volunteering, please reach out to Tehila Bitton or fill out the following form:


Photo Caption: The Ben-Adam logo (November 2023)

Photo Credit: Tehila Bitton