Youth Aliyah: Saving Our Youth
Youth Aliyah sets at-risk children in Israel on the path to a successful future. Since 1934, over 300,000 young people from 80 lands have graduated from Youth Aliyah.
Young immigrants and at-risk native Israelis who have survived abuse, neglect, extreme poverty, and learning disabilities receive not only shelter and food, but counseling education, and other supportive services in our youth villages. From Hebrew-language lessons and classes on Jewish heritage to athletics and art, Youth Aliyah students receive the help and attention they need to develop into productive members of Israeli society.
The Hadassah-supported Meir Shfeyah, Ramat Hadassah Szold, and Hadassah Neurim villages serve students who have been unsuccessful in other educational frameworks and are at risk of being abandoned to the streets.
Nearly a third of Israel’s children live in poverty, according to a 2014 report by the National Council for the Child in Israel. In addition, more than 450,000 children suffer from high-risk situations such as sexual abuse, domestic abuse, severe disability without access to proper resources, or a lack of basic rights.
Hadassah sponsors three Youth Aliyah villages in which we provide education, psychological support, and love -- all in a safe and secure environment that fosters independence, self-esteem, and success. Each operates a vocational training program, from high-tech auto repair to computerized precision tool-making to wine-making. Our cultural enrichment programs, including music performance and art, make for a well-rounded student. At Youth Aliyah, our sports programs provide the structure, discipline, and teamwork that help students to develop excellent lifelong habits and much-needed self-esteem.
Students come to our villages from myriad backgrounds, but with virtually no knowledge or understanding of their Jewish heritage. We are proud to offer a variety of programs that enrich their lives with the history and variety of Jewish life. Programs such as Joy of Judaism and our missions to Poland and Ethiopia help to achieve this goal. Our programs also focus on Didactic-Psychological Testing to assess areas of learning that may need special attention, music science and sports.
Youth Aliyah has had many positive impacts on the lives of our students. Our video, A Path To Success - Ramat Hadassah Szold tells our story.
The success of Youth Aliyah has been document and reported on from a wide range of media outlets. Our own Barbara Sofer wrote a moving piece for The Jerusalem Post called, "The Human Spirit: The Long Journey from Tukul to Bar".
I very much wanted to move to Israel, so I took the test for Na'aleh. I was having a hard time at home because I'm an only child and the financial situation was so difficult. My parents were afraid at first, but I convinced them to let me go. I'm very happy that I was able to convince them. Still, I missed my mother's food and my home and even the snow at the beginning. It took six months for me to adjust and feel at home in Israel. Learning Hebrew was the most important part in fitting in. I love the social life, particularly the girls I room with and our group of kids.
We do everything together. We're like family. When I graduate this year, I'll go into the IDF. My dream is to be a paramedic in a fighting unit. I'd like to integrate medicine with military service. I'm planning to stay here. I want my parents to join me, but I'd really like to be more secure financially before they do. —Irena Majons, 18, from Armenia, arrived October 2013
Meir Shfeyah is located in the beautiful Carmel Mountains near Zichron Yaakov. The village includes a junior and senior high school, library, computer labs, science labs, dormitories, dining room, gymnasium, a synagogue, staff housing, dairy, chicken farm, computerized greenhouse, an organic, experimental farm, vineyards and orchards. The Deborah B. Kaplan Sports Center includes a full-size soccer field, sports stadium and swimming pool. The Bonnie Lipton Center for the Performing Arts includes a modern auditorium seating 500, an amphitheater and the Parker-Edelstein Music Center. These facilities have become the center of the village’s activities and are the home of the Shfeyah Mandolin orchestra and music program.
The Shfeyah Winery, began in 2005, now produces 5,000 bottles of premium wine annually. Under the supervision of village staff and renowned vintner Ruti Ben Israel, the winery is run by 11th and 12th grade students who participate in every step of the process, from growing the grapes (several varieties, including Merlot, Moscat and Carignan) to designing the labels for the bottles.
About 300 students in grades 7 to 12 live in Shfeyah, including Jews, Druze, Muslims, Ethiopians, Russians, Bedouins, and Eritrean refugees. Another 300 students from surrounding communities attend the school.
About 80% of our residential students are referred by the Ministry of Education and 20% are recruited.
Our students successfully complete their Bagrut (matriculation) requirements at twice the national average, and 97% of our graduates, both boys and girls, do their army service in the IDF. Approximately 20% of our 12th-grade graduates volunteer to do an additional year of community service before their army service (שנת שרות), and a growing number pursue higher education after their army service.
Hadassah Neurim, near Netanya, was founded in 1948 as a refuge for children fleeing the gunfire of the War of Independence. Today it continues to be a sanctuary for youth from around the world and from the streets of Israel. Hundreds of adolescents, the majority of whom are from the former Soviet Union, call Neurim home.
The village's programs include sound and audio workshops, animal therapy, pre-army preparation, and carpentry. Hadassah Neurim also offers programs for special needs students and for athletically gifted youth. It's not just about the game. The sports program at Neurim provides at-risk youth a nurturing social and educational framework through which they learn teamwork and discipline. These lessons prepare them for life outside the village, as full and productive members of Israeli society.
Ramat Hadassah Szold
Ramat Hadassah Szold Youth Village, located southeast of Haifa in Kiryat Tivon, was founded in 1949 as a center to receive refugee children from Yemen and to serve as a residential educational facility for young Holocaust survivors. Today it serves both Israeli-born and immigrant youth who require intensive remedial education programs, taking in the neediest of at-risk youth. About 70% of today's residents come from Ethiopia and countries of the Former Soviet Union.
Special programs at Ramat Hadassah Szold include high-tech precision tool making, animal therapy, horsemanship, and Jewish study.
These programs combine to provide a strong foundation of psychological strength, vocational preparedness, and Jewish literacy.
The Human Spirit: The Long Journey from Tukul to Bar
Barbara Sofer, The Jerusalem Post
July 22, 2011
Given the opportunity and committed to working hard, Eli Mantson realized his dream to become an Israeli lawyer.
According to the Israel Bar Association, 1,714 men and women passed the bar examination last month.
Among them was Eli Mantson of Hadera. The Bar Association doesn’t keep records by ethnic group, but Mantson thinks he’s one of only two Ethiopian Jews who made it through the exam.
He had wanted to be a lawyer since high school. Before that, he was a school dropout, working in the Netanya market, hawking lentils. By the time he returned to school, he shared classes with teens who had criminal records.
“We hope you succeed,” they told him.
“We’re going to need a lawyer one day.”
Mantson’s life journey began in a tukul, the mud-and-straw hut where the Jews of rural Ethiopia lived. His parents, Berko and Tapach Mantson, were farmers, but as famine struck and forced conscription at age 12 threatened their sons, they left for the refugee camps in Sudan with their nine children and Eli’s grandfather. Mantson doesn’t remember the details of that journey, or the one that brought them to Israel. He was five or six – he’s not sure – but recalls being frightened as highwaymen, disease and hunger stalked them.
After the absorption center, they were assigned an apartment in Netanya. Berko found occasional work cleaning or emptying garbage. Mantson’s siblings were assigned to dorm schools, but he stayed home and started school in second grade.
In Ethiopia, there was no electricity, but there was also no electric bill to pay. He wanted to help. By age eight, he was working in the open-air market.
“Mostly I carried fruit and vegetables,” he says. “ People take advantage of child labor.
Sometimes they paid me, sometimes they lied and didn’t pay me. But when I brought money home and helped my parents buy food, I felt very good.”
By the seventh grade, he dropped out of school to work full-time in the market. Veteran Israelis knew it was illegal to hire children, but looked the other way. Mostly he worked at a stall selling beans, lentils and dried fruit. He could add up the bills in his head; he was good with customers.
“Customers would sometimes say it was a shame that a child with so much potential was wasting his life,” he says. “No one did anything about it.”
When the children of the stall owners had trouble with their schoolwork, Mantson’s bosses asked him to tutor them. “Here I was, the school dropout, helping them. I looked with awe at their school backpacks, their school supplies and their books. I was jealous, and decided to do something about it.”
His parents weren’t going to take the initiative to get him back to school. “We had a warm, happy household. When we were together, we slept head to foot, enjoyed each other’s company. But my parents had already ceded the decision-making to me.”
He went to the office of social services and introduced himself – a boy who wanted to enter the ninth grade even though he hadn’t been in school for two years. It would have to be a youth village, he insisted; “I knew I needed a place where there was a clean bed, meals, school supplies, and someone to take care of me.”
The country's remarkable youth villages were established pre-state as agricultural living environments where teens had independence.
President Shimon Peres and his late wife, Sonya, both lived and studied at Ben-Shemen, the first of these. When young people fled Europe under the aegis of Youth Aliya, the villages became refuges for homeless teens. They have remained so over the decades.
Scattered around Israel, there are still dozens of villages inhabited by teenagers who live in no-frills dormitories, on green lawns. The kids do village chores – often agricultural, like milking cows and gathering eggs – and take part in village-wide social activities. There are swimming pools, soccer fields and computer rooms.
Mantson was accepted at the Meir Shfeya Youth Village near Zichron Ya’acov, an early one that had been given to Junior Hadassah by Baron Rothschild. Orphans from the Kishinev pogroms and from Jerusalem’s Diskin Orphanage had lived there.
“I loved it from the first minute. That’s where I told everyone I was going to be a lawyer,” says Mantson, who changed the spelling of his parents’ name to make it easier in Hebrew.
“My classmates, some of whom had already had brushes with the law, invited me to join them in smoking and stealing, but I knew what it meant to be on the street and I wasn’t going back,” he adds.
The academic adviser suggested he start on a non-matriculation path, but Mantson wanted the full matriculation program. He graduated on time. He had a steady girlfriend from the village. He enlisted in the Border Police, where he was picked for a command course.
It took him three years after military service to save the money for college. He registered for the preparatory course in Kiryat Ono College, and then went on to study law.
Last year, he graduated and married his girlfriend, Einat Levy. Her Moroccan family “took a while to adjust to an Ethiopian sonin- law, but now my mother loves him,” she says. She’s expecting their first child.
He works 240 hours a month in the population and immigration department of Ben- Gurion Airport, but finds time for two volunteer activities. He haunts the marketplaces for boys like him who have dropped out of school; he’s already sent three to Meir Shfeya. And he works in an NGO that gives free legal aid to Ethiopian immigrants.
But one goal escaped him. He graduated from law school, but didn’t have the free time to prepare for the bar examination. “I convinced myself that I could make peace with this,” he said.
So he told my friend and colleague Barbara Goldstein, a longtime Hadassah activist who sits on the Meir Shfeya board.
“Simply put, she yelled at me,” he says.vGoldstein was indeed steaming. How could he give up now? A few of us listened to her rant, and then figured out that the sum he needed to prepare – three months of a very modest Israeli salary – wasn’t so great.
Goldstein made a few personal phone calls to American supporters, and the money was guaranteed. She told Mantson to take a leave of absence.
“I was very moved, but scared to death,” says Mantson. “What if I failed them now? I studied day and night. I couldn’t speak from tension sores in my mouth.”
The secrets of his success? When pressed, he admits that he knew he had inborn abilities, but gives most of the credit to his parents, who believed in him; to the supportive staff at Meir Shfeya; and to the anonymous backers in America who gave him a chance.
“I also understood what a dead end life on the street was. I was terrified that I’d never have the life [I wanted], that I’d wind up there, far from my dreams. Now my dreams have come true.”