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Everyday Heroes
Nancy Love in action. We've all heard the cliché a million times but there's something about the way Nancy Rivard says it, that it reverberates in your heart for days to come. Maybe it's because she actually walks the walk, or ... more  ]

Everyday Heroes 

Yaniv Cohen -- 'The Rebel Who Found A Cause'
-- by Pavithra Krishnan

'Service used to be an idea to me; now it's Life. I'm not very good at it, but I've got some great people around to help me out'.

That's Yaniv Cohen. A guy whose generosity of heart is matched only by his humility of spirit. He is a CharityFocus project coordinator who came on board in 1999 and in his own words has been "swept away by the continuously expanding joy of service, ever since."

There's a lot you can say about Yaniv. He collects incense and scented oils. He has a drawer full of choice tea (vanilla spice is especially good). He plays a whole bunch of different instruments, he's sincere, sensitive, exceedingly gentle, and he makes great toast.

He's traveled a long way to get where he is today. From Tel Aviv to San Francisco, from confusion to compassion, from loneliness to love. A physical, emotional and spiritual journey. Yaniv's story is unique. And because he is who he is, he tells it like it's perfectly ordinary.

Born into a privileged, paradise-perfect childhood in Tel Aviv, Israel, Yaniv remembers a garden with a fishpond, turtles, dogs, a peacock and cheerful days spent plotting escape from kindergarten.

When his grandfather died, life changed drastically. His family moved to New York. The uprooted, unhappy seven-year-old decided then that there was no God. "In that turning I lost my God, and I lost myself," says Yaniv. It would be a long and difficult while before both would be found again.

The child who bitterly refused to fit in, grew into a high-school rebel-without-a-pause. It was an intensely lonely period, but when he stumbled upon his passion for Physics and Mathematics Yaniv finally began to come into his own. He applied to Cornell University and was accepted. He majored in Computer Science.

"I wasn't interested in the stuff I was told I should know," he says. He was looking for answers to questions of his own. The restlessness of his search led him through a series of powerful and mixed experiences. It took him cross-country in a blue van named- Steve, clear into California where he found a house and a job and lost both. Five months later at a meditation retreat, homeless and broke, he found the space for brutal introspection. "I found out that there was still this holding on within me to what 'I' wanted, to how 'I' wanted things to work out. And at that moment, I cut the cord. I jumped. I let go completely and put my faith in the universe."

That night he received an email for a job interview for a job he hadn't applied for. The following week he interviewed and got the job. "A happy ending or a happy beginning?" he asks.

Last year Yaniv left his job at an S.F. based organization that manages non-profits to explore his roots in his birthland of Israel and his wings in India.

"Through compassion and the reality of service I feel the moment coming alive," he says, and it's impossible to miss the excitement and gratitude with which he looks to CharityFocus. "In CF, I really see a revolution occurring. I've never encountered such goodwill and pure motives anywhere else. Not a day passes by that I do not count my blessings and feel an indescribable happiness that something like this exists."

He counts Paramhansa Yogananda as a major influence in his life and has found continued inspiration in his teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga. Other influences? "My friends," he says instantly. "Every single one of them. They keep me up."

What is he glad for? "I'm glad for all that's happened, for all that's happening. I'm glad for right now," he says, "Every day leads up."

At 24, he's only just begun and is aware of how much there is yet to be done.

Says friend James O'Dea, "Going out to serve thinking the problem is out there, your work can't be transformational the way it is when you realize there is always work to be done within. I think Yaniv understands that. He's an admirable person."

In deed he is.

[ email yaniv ]

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