|Elizabeth, 16, has had a tough time dealing with her parents’ divorce, among other family problems. Born to immigrants from Ukraine and raised in Ashkelon, a city in the south of Israel, Elizabeth is a talented athlete who runs track, but has always struggled with schoolwork. She was homesick when she first came to Hadassah Neurim, a boarding school that is one of four youth villages managed by The Jewish Agency for Israel and funded by Federation Annual Campaign dollars.|
Located along the Mediterranean coast of Israel near Netanya, Hadassah Neurim was originally established to serve students who had been evacuated from their homes during the 1948 War of Independence. As waves of settlers immigrated to Israel, the school expanded to accommodate teenage European refugees. Now the high school has about 400 students from 17 different countries, both boarders and day students. Most of these students are kids who have not known previous academic success, many from low-income families.
“Until they got to this village, they didn’t have the right or the appropriate chance to succeed,” says headmaster Natan Biton, who came to the school after a successful career in the corporate world. One of six children and the veteran of a troubled youth himself, he has a very personal connection with his students and a knack for recognizing exactly what each one needs to succeed. He understands the work these teenagers have to do at the Youth Village: they must transform their negative emotions and their views on society. “Every student in this village needs emotional support,” he says. “We are doing our best to show them that everything is possible. We give them a full range of emotional and strategic and social support.”
“At Hadassah Neurim, I can forget about the problems at home,” says Elizabeth. She can discuss her feelings about her parents’ divorce, as well as any other problems she may have, with her teachers and with other students who have similarly troubled personal lives. “The youth village, this is family.” “They teach me values. They teach me love,” Elizabeth adds. “I don’t feel alone.”
“It’s my second home,” agrees 19-yearold Samir, who came to Hadassah Neurim from Azerbaijan and studies engineering.
The Youth Village is not only a therapeutic center—it is an academically rigorous high school. For students like Samir who are recent immigrants, it’s also a path to integration into Israeli society. “We start to learn Hebrew, and then we earn English,” says Samir, who is hoping to have a career in Israel’s high-tech sector.
Thanks to partnerships with companies like Siemens and with Israel’s National Union of Athletics, Hadassah Neurim is able to offer its students very special opportunities. Samir works with a robotic smart car, an automobile that can maneuver itself without a driver. “I want to work with electronics and robots,” he says. Elizabeth and other budding athletes have access to stateof- the-art facilities to nurture their talents. And, says Elizabeth, she has also received the help she needed to finally conquer her fear of math.
In Israel, an important measure of success for young adults is whether they serve in the Israel Defense Force and in what types of units. Hadassah Neurim prepares its students well. “We’re really proud that 92% of our graduates are going to army, 62% of them to fighting units, which is a rare success.”
Natan emphasizes that the Youth Village does not just help its students, but it strengthens an entire community. “If you fix the weakest parts of society, the society of Israel becomes stronger,” he says. “Over 64 years, we have created a beautiful country and we are connected with the same values. You may be over the ocean, but we have so much in common, all speaking the same language.”
The programs of the Jewish Agency for Israel, like the one that helped Elizabeth, are funded in part by the generosity of the Tidewater Jewish community through gifts to the UJFT's annual campaign. Every dollar we raise makes a significant difference to real people like Elizabeth—at home, in Israel, and in 70 countries around the world. To make your gift, click here.
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