I love the
feeling I get when I visit the Neve Hanna youth village in the center of Kiryat Gat.
The village offers a safe, loving, and nurturing home environment for children, ages 6 to 18, who have been removed from their biological families by welfare authorities. Some of the children who call Neve Hanna home have suffered violence and child abuse, while others had been forced into prostitution or criminality. None of the children have been blessed with "normal" childhoods.
But the village nurtures its children in a way that they never before have experienced. At its core, Neve Hanna conveys this message to the children who live and visit there: You matter.
Through Partnership2Gether, JUF has been supporting Neve Hanna since 2010. The village offers its residents the opportunity to grow, learn, and develop the emotional strength needed, through therapy and other methods, to prepare for life as independent and responsible adults.
Eighty children live in the children's home, while an additional 50 children--divided into groups--visit daily for extra-curricular activities. One group is a mix of Jewish and Arab participants from nearby Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in the country.
Within the village, the kids live in a family-like setting organized by age. Each home houses 12 to 14 children together with a "den mother," a counselor, and two young volunteers. Each family unit provides residents with positive adult role models who help them with their homework, serve them with a warm meal, and attend to their emotional needs.
Aside from the six homes, Neve Hanna boasts a small petting zoo, an animal enclosure where the children care for animals and participate in animal therapy. The zoo is home to goats, reptiles, parrots, and more, providing the children with an opportunity to spend time with animals whenever they feel the need for some quiet comfort. Tending to the animals endows the children with a sense of responsibility.
Other opportunities at the village also foster a work ethic in its residents. For instance, Neve Hanna operates a self-contained bakery called
a Hebrew nickname for "kids"--which employs students from the village.
The residents also earn a monthly allowance which teaches them about financial responsibility and autonomy. In addition, older residents volunteer in various capacities, including at the JUF-supported SAHI, in which teens from at-risk communities deliver food packages to families in need.
Affiliated with the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel, the youth village offers a traditional religious after-school training. The entire village celebrates the bar and bat mitzvahs of each of the children.
Every time I visit Neve Hanna, I see hope. I see children who were dealt a poor hand in life, but found their way to a place that turned their lives around. With the support of a dedicated staff and thoughtful programs, this special place helps change the lives of dozens of children giving them a chance to flourish.
Ofer Bavly is the Director General of the JUF Israel Office.
JUF's Partnership Together (P2G) is a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel that links communities in the diaspora with communities in Israel. Chicago's P2G region of Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir is located in Israel's northern Negev. Through P2G, nearly $1 million of funding from JUF's annual campaign supports projects that promote the region's development, improve the quality of life for its residents, and connects them with Chicago Jewry through "people-to-people" programs. This story is one of a 2021 series titled "25 stories," celebrating 25 years of partnership between JUF and Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir.