June 20, 2024
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Raritan Valley Hadassah Event Views Current Status of Youth Villages

The Raritan Valley chapter of Hadassah discussed the status of its youth villages at its recent annual brunch meeting, held virtually this year.

Ruth Fineberg introduced the keynote speaker, Marcie Natan, co-chair of youth aliyah and past national president of Hadassah, who discussed the challenges the youth villages faced during COVID and expectations for the future. Natan noted that while she has visited many places in the world, she is most proud of having been to Israel more than 100 times and being a “fourth generation Hadassah family.”

Natan began the presentation by thanking the supporters of the two youth villages: Neurim and Meir Shfeyah. Hadassah’s founder, Henrietta Szold, founded the youth villages in 1934 to provide young immigrants and at-risk native Israelis a full spectrum of help—shelter, food, counseling, education and other supportive services. Natan noted that Szold would greet each incoming group of youth when they arrived by boat at the port in Haifa. One day during an intense storm, Szold was encouraged to remain safely in her home in Jerusalem rather than make the hazardous trip. Advised to greet the children at another time, she replied, “If these were your own children arriving, would you postpone greeting them?” Treating each student as her own, she made the trip.

The children at the villages come from a variety of backgrounds: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, from the former Soviet Union, and from countries where it is no longer safe to be Jewish.

Nearly a third of children in Israel live in poverty, and almost half a million suffer from high-risk situations such as abuse, learning disabilities or a lack of basic needs. The Hadassah-supported Meir Shfeyah and Neurim Youth Aliyah Villages help put these children on a path to success. From Hebrew lessons and classes on Jewish heritage to athletics and art, young people get the care and attention needed to become productive members of Israeli society.

Villages offer vocational training in addition to the standard school curriculum. Classes in producing olive oil and wine are taught at Meir Shfeyah on land given to Szold by the Rothschild family. Programs in high-tech auto repair and precision tool making are also offered. A new dog rehabilitation program at Neurim provides animal therapy for students in addition to socializing abandoned dogs and preparing them for adoption.

COVID presented some specific challenges for the villages. Students were quarantined and unable to leave their villages for time with their families. Teachers and cooks stayed in the villages to continue the mission.

Another COVID difference was the cancellation of the annual Poland trip—to view and learn from the concentration camps—for the first time since 1975. In preparation for the trip, students would be introduced to survivors in Israel to learn about the Holocaust firsthand. With trips outside Israel cancelled, the students had more of an opportunity to bond with the survivors. The students were worried about the COVID safety of the elderly survivors, but it was the survivors who provided comfort and strength to the students who were unable to go home to see their families.

Natan also showed videos and slides of current events at the youth villages. A recent outdoor practice for a 12th-grade graduation ceremony had enthusiastic participation, despite the ongoing rocket fire nearby. The “Joys of Judaism” program was highlighted, showing how young women from the former Soviet Union learned about the beauty of their religion after arriving in Israel knowing nothing about their faith. There are also shabbatons where children from difficult home environments can reconnect with their families.

For more information about the Youth Aliya Villages go to https://www.hadassah.org/how-we-help/youth-at-risk

By Deborah Melman

 

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