Saving Lives, Changing Lives at Hadassah-Neurim Youth Aliyah Village

March 13, 2019

Saving Lives, Changing Lives at Hadassah-Neurim Youth Aliyah Village

Henrietta Szold was the mother of Youth Aliyah. The first young Jews who came on their own in the mid-1930s were fleeing Hitler. Many never saw their parents again, and they called her Ima. She met their boats, welcomed them, and became their staunch advocate in the no-frills pre-state Israel.

Refugee from Eritrea Finds Success in Running
He still has the smile that won the heart of the Hadassah-Neurim village director when he first saw Louis. His real name is Tekleweyn. No one could pronounce it, so his teacher offered him either Moshe or Louis. He chose the latter and it stuck.

Back then he was a skinny refugee from Eritrea, who tried to convince Israeli officials that he was 18 and old enough to work and send money to his family. They weren't fooled. He was 14. Avoiding conscription as a boy soldier and not knowing where he would wind up, he had run away on a treacherous journey from Eritrea.

Now he’s 21, tall and slim but fit looking. He still lives at Hadassah-Neurim, which accepted him and 11 other Eritrean refugees as students after they crossed illegally from Sinai into Israel and were apprehended by the IDF. He’s a champion runner, practicing three to five hours a day. His latest first-place finish was at the popular International Tiberias Marathon, where he won the 21-kilometer run.  

Turning His Life Around in a New Environment

Sergei Schiller, 18, didn’t like to be told what to do, even when he was a kid. He and his sister were often seen wandering through the city of Poltava, Ukraine. His father was frequently abroad, where he drove trucks across Europe. He argued with his mother. He skipped school to go hiking.

The only area where he excelled was swimming, and he was a champion in butterfly and free style. But that wasn’t enough for him. Though he was a popular rascal, inside he was deeply disappointed in himself.

“I would organize parties where we would rent a dacha and all get drunk,” he said. “I liked to be the center of attention.”

At the monthly meetings of Jewish youth organized by the Jewish Agency in Poltava, he heard about the program Na’aleh, where teens could come by themselves to Israel. “I thought that it might be a chance to change my life,” said Schiller.

His grades were so poor that his first-choice youth village rejected him. “I didn’t know any math,” he said. But at Hadassah-Neurim, the new village director, Ami Magen, decided to give him a chance. “I learned Hebrew from aleph bet,” Schiller said. “At first, that went slowly because I hung out with Russian-speaking teens at the village. Then I made an effort to make friends with kids who didn’t speak Russian, so I had to learn Hebrew.”

The minute he heard about the surfing program on the glorious Mediterranean coast on which Hadassah-Neurim is located, he wanted to join the surfing club. “A lot of kids wanted to sign up, but I knew from my swimming that it takes persistence.

“Through the surfing I became an Israeli. More than that. The freedom I was looking for in the wild life I led in the Ukraine was misplaced. I found freedom out on the waves.”

Not only is he a champion surfer, but he also teaches younger children to surf.

He scored 100 in math, too, and will be finishing 12th grade with a full matriculation certificate, the key to higher education. But before going to college, he wants to serve in the IDF, and not just any unit. He’s aiming for the Sea Commandos, Israel’s Navy Seals.