An Agent of Change in the Haredi Community

Yitzchak Levin, CEO of Achiya – grew up in Bnei Brak, attended yeshiva ktana  and yeshiva g’dola, married at age of 22, studied in kollel for five years, had three children and then….

In May of 1993, Yitzchak was approached by the Va’ad Menahalim, the committee that oversees Talmudei Torah (religious elementary schools) in Bnei Brak.  They wanted assistance with two problems that they were facing: children who were dropping out of school and an acute lack of trained professionals able to deal with the children’s problems.

After studying the issue, Yitzchak determined that two things were needed: One, to train male teachers in special education and two, to help children who were having difficulty studying gemara.  Achiya started with a single class of male teachers studying in the Ministry of Education program to become certified special education teachers, and with twelve children receiving individual assistance in studying Talmud.

Yitzchak quickly discovered that there was a huge need for formal training of male teachers in the Haredi community, more than he ever expected.  Over the years the demand to add additional training tracks – elementary school teachers, kindergarten teachers, diagnostic testing,  and school counselors continued to grow.  A number of these tracks are now taught as combined BA programs with Bar Ilan University.

For the children, there was a need for a holistic approach to their development, both educationally and health wise.

Today, Achiya provides educational and developmental intervention for learning-challenged children in the Haredi community who study in mainstream classrooms. Achiya provides targeted therapies for children from infancy to adolescence, and has established Child Development Centers staffed by speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, music therapists and social workers, ADD/ADHD centers devoted to the evaluation and treatment of learning challenged children, community outreach programs, developmental kindergartens and more.

Yitzchak, did not have any kind of formal training when he started Achiya; he was simply a social entrepreneur and visionary.  He collected around him a group of professionals and he received a lot of free advice. Despite starting with no formal training of his own, it was always important to Yitzhak that the organization maintain high professional standards.  When suitable academic tracks opened, almost 10 years after he started the organization , Yitzchak decided that he needed to have professional certification and obtained a BA from Bar Ilan University  in educational counseling.   He is now studying towards an MA.

Over the years,  teacher training has expanded to 13 cities, from Safed to Netivot, and treatment programs are now available in Bnei Brak, Elad, and Holon.

“There are two big changes between now and 20 years ago:  parents now understand that it is ok to take care of their children and people are now much more willing to make use of our services.  This is a huge change in Haredi society. The other change is that when a job is available in a Talmud Torah, there are  5-6 teachers applying for the position and they are all Achiya graduates.

“Achiya is unique in that work with learning disabled children and with those who have developmental delays take place in one building. People come from all over the world to see our work.  Thanks to generous philanthropists we have been able to develop new programs and ensure that our programming is evaluated regularly by respected institutions such as Bar Ilan and Hebrew Universities.

“Oh, and by the way, my children do not have learning disabilities or developmental delays!”.

About the Author
Pamela Deutsch is an independent marketing consultant who specializes in non-profit organizations. She began her nonprofit career more than 20 years ago as a volunteer in her children's schools, and today works on fundraising strategy with a wide variety of organizations. In her spare time, Pamela writes about Israeli nonprofits disseminating the good news about their work, enjoys all kinds of handwork, cooking, baking, and entertaining, and keeps track of her four children and husband.