With the closing of Israel’s schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Amos (not his real name), a student at the Hadassah Neurim youth village, has gone home. But his home is a crowded apartment with a dysfunctional family. And that crowded apartment has empty cupboards. His parents, at the lowest end of the employment ladder, were among the first to lose their jobs as businesses shut down. In fact, his family is in such dire financial straits that village staffers had been delivering Shabbat food packages to them even before the pandemic struck. Once the shutdown began, they began sending vouchers good for food and supplies.
While at home Amos is in constant contact with his teachers and village staff, receiving instruction, assignments, and support. Unlike remote learning opportunities for the children of well-to-do families, however, his schooling was only possible once we purchased computers and installed internet service in his home.
Amos is just one of hundreds of kids in Hadassah youth villages in this situation.
While Amos and some of his fellow students are sheltering at home, 135 students from Hadassah’s Meir Shfeyah and Neurim youth villages cannot leave the country to be with their families. That’s because these Na’ale (we will go up) students have come to Israel—alone—from countries where life as a Jew is precarious. Their villages function as their Israeli family. Now they’re unable to leave their villages, and visitors aren’t permitted to enter, but the students continue to learn and receive services. They’re also helping with the village’s agricultural work, including animal care and vineyard maintenance.
This situation will continue until the Israeli Ministry of Health determines the threat of contagion has passed.
Youth Aliyah was founded in 1933 by Berliner Recha Freier who, recognizing that things were going to get very bad for the Jews, convinced parents to send their children to relative safety in Palestine. The Jewish Agency adopted Youth Aliyah and chose the inestimable Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, to head it. Even though she was already in her 70s, Szold made it a point to be on the dock to meet the children on every ship that made it to Palestine. Virtually none of these children ever saw their families again, but due to the care they received, they grew up to become outstanding citizens of the new nation of Israel.
Today, Youth Aliyah continues to rescue children from poverty, abuse, and neglect, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.