COVID-19 Did Not Stop Neve Hanna Children’s Home

Rabbi Liron Levy-Rosensaft and the children at Neve Hanna celebrating Hanukkah in December 2018. (courtesy)
Rabbi Liron Levy-Rosensaft and the children at Neve Hanna celebrating Hanukkah in December 2018. (courtesy)

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights and miracles, reminds us of the importance of family and friends, a time for solidarity and community, a time for redemption and rededication. These sentiments hold more meaning as we look back on this year. Life as we knew it dramatically changed and with it came challenges and obstacles. Ten months into the COVID1-19 pandemic, we find ourselves dealing with additional restrictions in every sphere of our lives.

At Neve Hanna Children’s Home, in Kiryat Gat, Israel, the staff and children retreated from almost any public life. Significant changes in the children’s daily routines kept the campus virus-free. NEVE HANNA relied on the resilience and tenacity of its staff to keep everyone well and safe.

We came out of the first lockdown strengthened as a community. Our 80 children residing at NEVE HANNA and our 40 daycare-center children were able to experience joyful weeks at summer camp, but then with the ease of restrictions, the Coronavirus began to spread again. With the harsh situation in all parts of the country, COVID-19 also came closer to Neve Hanna Children’s Home, but thanks to an incredibly careful and circumspect management of contacts and work arrangements, the virus remained outside NEVE HANNA in the surrounding area. Tighter restrictions were necessary. Major staff moved to NEVE HANNA and family groups are kept separate from each other. Nonetheless, a strong sense of solidarity and communal life was maintained and actually tightening the family units.

Not only are the children receiving extra support but NEVE HANNA is reaching out to their parents and families, while trying to keep best care of all the staff and volunteers, including 6 Israelis serving a year before the army, 3 serving National Service as well, 2 IDF soldiers and 6 young adults from Germany.

At Neve Hanna Children’s Home, Shabbat, Jewish holidays and simchas including B’nai Mitzvahs are celebrated regularly, introducing Jewish heritage to the children. Activities related to the Jewish holidays enhance the sense of solidarity, cooperation and creativity, as children stage special performances in the spirit of the holiday. Due to COVID-19, NEVE HANNA needed to adjust and make changes to our celebrations in accordance to restrictions. We found new ways to celebrate life as normal as possible in the middle of the pandemic.

During the Tishre holidays, Rabbi Liron Levy-Rosensaft wrote:

The Coronavirus brings quite a lot of challenges, though also new opportunities. Bottom line, it brings a new kind of creativity and opens up a door to new learning experiences. With respect to this, I would like to share the highly exciting very special unique festive celebration NEVE HANNA had for Simchat Torah. We decided to hold our celebration on Isru Chag, the following day, so that we could enjoy playing instruments and dance to joyful music. 

We arranged our synagogue to have a Bima, for each family to gather around, giving every individual the change to actively participate. The children prepared posters with names of the Five Books of the Torah and with the Parashat HaShavua as well as other festive decoration items. Each family had a pre-set time to gather in the synagogue and enjoy learning about the Torah and this special and unique holiday. At the end of this exciting experience, we as part of the Minhag Am Yisrael, danced around with the Torah–each round dedicated to a different blessings.

We are eagerly anticipating having future celebrations with the new Sephardic Torah Scroll being written for the children at NEVE HANNA, sponsored by the American Friends of Neve Hanna. Please visit www.afnevehanna.org/torah-project to learn more about the Torah Project.

Torah Scroll Writing Opening Ceremony, December 2019. Photo: Ilan Besor.

Even with the pandemic restrictions, Hanukkah festivities were joyful and meaningful. Our staff and children celebrated with love and laughter, arts and crafts, music and songs, scavenger hunts, games and presents. Fun videos were prepared by the Israeli and German volunteers, the staff and children including this year’s B’nai Mitzvah children. And speaking of — NEVE HANNA is proud to welcome 12 children (6 boys, 6 girls) up to the bimah when they become B’nai Mitzvah in 2021.

NEVE HANNA continues to make the necessary adjustments to help the children better deal and cope with the lockdown. Neve Hanna Children’s Home continues striving to meet all the physical, emotional, mental and educational needs of its children. Our children are enriched with a wide variety of individualized therapeutic programs and extracurricular activities — thus providing a nurturing and supportive family environment. We continue our extended therapy programs and emphasize outdoor activities. We built a Ninja Parkour with more sports trainers’ present. Sports, games and play are important to keep physical health and strengthen our mental health as well. Our children look forward to the challenges and fun games.

Schooling is a big concern, since our children started off with huge educational gaps, due to their previous circumstances. Internet-based learning is even more difficult for them than for other children. Therefore, NEVE HANNA has increased face to face home schooling. Despite these circumstances, NEVE HANNA is proud to mark new educational achievements–Eight former children are now regular staff members and six of them took on higher academic studies. Throughout the years, there have been many successful alumni born out of the Neve Hanna Children’s Home. Many go onto building successful careers and raising healthy families.  They – and we – are justifiably proud of their accomplishments.

Janet Tobin, Co-President of American Friends of Neve Hanna, said:

COVID-19 DID NOT STOP US. We have been working diligently, providing the funds to help the venues for teaching, activities and projects functioning and continuing to feed every child’s self-worth and fulfill their needs for creativity, freedom and fun.

In the face of this new reality, our Buy a Book, Build a Library campaign was born. The Neve Hanna Children’s Home library will serve as an educational project and a self-support project. There will be a professional Librarian to supervise and educate the children and offer on the job training for our teens. This will give the teens the education, experience and job skills to pursue a career in Library Science. At NEVE HANNA, we instill many values in our children including the love of reading, education, study and learning which is essential to their success. We look forward to an exciting grand opening of the new Library, planned for World Book Day on April 23, 2021. We thank all our friends who continue to support this exceptional ongoing project. Visit www.afnevehanna.org/library to learn more about the Library.

Neve Hanna children and staff. Photo: Volunteer staff member.

May the light spread even more sense of solidarity while we must continue keeping our safe social distance. On behalf of the children and staff of Neve Hanna, we extend our best wishes to you and your families for good health, hope, happiness and peace. Stay well and safe.

Please visit www.afnevehanna.org to learn more about our children and the remarkable programs and projects at Neve Hanna.

About the Author
Lisa Pollack is Director of Business Development and Social Media Marketing for American Friends of Neve Hanna, a non-profit organization for the Neve Hanna Children's Home in Kiryat Gat, Israel. Neve Hanna provides a warm and loving home for children from disadvantaged families. With its successful therapeutic programs and projects, Neve Hanna Children’s Home strives to meet all the physical, emotional, mental and educational needs of its children. Lisa is the former synagogue newsletter Copy Editor and Publicity Associate for Congregation L'Dor V'Dor, Little Neck, New York. Lisa has organizational relationships and ties with Masorti, Aepi, StandWithUs, MERCAZ-USA, Women's League for Conservative Judaism, and the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs. She is also a Public Speaker, Israel Advocate, Activist, Photographer and Writer.
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