Welcome to the Path to Peace program at Neve Hanna Children’s Home

NEVE HANNA Children's Home in Kiryat Gat, Israel.
Children and young leadership at Neve Hanna Children's Home in Kiryat Gat, Israel.

The NEVE HANNA Children’s Home is privileged to cherish a Shared Community of Jews, Muslims and Christians. We keep on furthering our communal life characterized by tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence and consider our Shared Community as a source of light and hope for peace for all the people and peoples of our country.
– Rabba Liron Rosensaft Levy, Neve Hanna Children’s Home

These beautiful words of unity and understanding are the vision and promise of the NEVE HANNA Children’s Home in Kiryat Gat, Israel.

30 years ago, Dudu Weger, President of NEVE HANNA met with Muhammad al-Gharnawy, Director of the School of Peace in Rahat. Yael Posner, the Founder of Community Centers in Israel, who introduced them, said “you have to meet someone with a passion for coexistence, like you have in NEVE HANNA.”

Path to Peace. Photo: Staff at Neve Hanna.

They immediately decided to set up joint groups, one from Rahat and one from NEVE HANNA, gathering together every two weeks, interchanging between both communities. In September 2004, Path to Peace, the Jewish-Muslim Day Care Center was established and opened at NEVE HANNA Children’s Home for Jewish and Arab youth from Kiryat Gat and Rahat.  Path to Peace is the first co-existence project for a weakened population at the margins of society. Both Hebrew and Arabic are spoken at the daycare center. The children are cared for by a Jewish educator and Muslim educator. Integral parts of daily life at Neve Hanna Children’s Home are the youth meetings with Jewish and Muslim-Bedouin teenagers and staff.

Basem al-Gharnawy, social worker said “I was a trainee in a coexistence group, the first group established in the Bedouin sector that was in Rahat and Kiryat Gat. We succeeded with great effort in recruiting children and even enlisted key people from within the community.”

The youth meetings take place at the joint Jewish-Muslim-Christian theater group and Path to Peace, an interfaith daycare center for Jewish and Muslim-Bedouin children from troubled family backgrounds. Some are socioeconomically weak families struggling to make ends meet to ensure their existence. The Daycare Center for Jewish and Bedouin children offers educational activities and also aims to assist families in economic, social and emotional distress. This venture, based on cooperation with our Bedouin partners from the city of Rahat, aims to empower children who have to deal with multiple social problems and empower socially underprivileged sectors of society, offering equal opportunity to all and promoting international understanding.

There are no politics involved in any of the projects. The common dream and vision is for the children to become Goodwill Ambassadors of Peace. They build bridges from a young age on, shaping the current generation and the ones that follow — the future of our society. It is not about blurring identities, which is what many think. On the contrary, it involves learning about one another and becoming self-aware. A Bedouin boy will ask a Jewish boy “Why do you wear a Kippah on your head?  A Jewish boy will ask a Bedouin boy “Why do you fast on Ramadan?” This establishes dialogue, mutual respect and understanding while strengthening their identities.

Our vision for the NEVE HANNA Children’s Home is education for tolerance and the acceptance of the different. These children are often treated by normative society with prejudice and suspicion and generally experience difficulties to integrate socially. In consequence, they consider this attitude as the normative behavior and implement it in their daily relationships. We aim to change these patterns of behavior by means of education.

The cooperation of the families is an essential factor in the success of this venture. The parents enroll their children in the daycare program as an active step toward a foreseeable change. They take part in a program designed especially for them, including joint parent-child-activities and future activities for parents only, aiming to bring together Jewish and Bedouin parents.

Neve Hanna Children’s Home President Dudu Weger and the children holding the Golden Dove of Peace Award. Photo: Staff at Neve Hanna.

“Coexistence aims to bring Bedouins and Jewish communities closer, to meet, to exchange ideas and to understand each other’s mentality — how a Bedouin thinks and behaves and how they accept Jewish society. We need this. We want to live together.” said Roum al-Kadi, a mother to girls studying at Nativ LaShalom.

The daycare program offers therapeutic treatment and scholastic assistance to children with behavioral and social problems whose families struggle in addition with a variety of different hardships. The Jewish and Bedouin participants form bonds based on mutual respect, friendship and acknowledgment of the other. It is thus that the two groups are brought closer in the purpose of fighting bias, establishing a liberal worldview based on values of international understanding, tolerance and pluralism among children as well as adults. We offer a large variety of therapeutic measures, such as art therapy, movement therapies, animal-assisted therapy, therapeutic horseback riding and psychological therapies.

We tailor a therapeutic program suited individually to the personality and needs of every teenager and parents at different stages of intervention.  The variety of therapies is an important factor in the healing process of these kids, and our success in raising funds will lead to the increase of therapeutic variety and frequency.

The children are provided with fundamental learning and behavioral habits, and assisted in order to reduce the learning gaps.  As part of the daily routine, the teens meet the professional teachers who develop individual learning programs for each child, including the remedial teaching and the acquirement of basic learning skills.  The proposed enrichment and tutoring is a critical measure to enable these children to integrate successfully into the educational system and in normative life.  In addition, as part of the therapeutic program, we established a join Jewish-Muslim Theatre group that incorporates dance, theatre and music activities that highlight the need for cooperation and mutual understanding, between the members, via methods of leisure and fun.

We provide a therapeutic framework, for Jewish and Muslim-Bedouin children from distressed and deprived families. Bridge the cultural and learning gaps through mutual learning about each other’s lives, and common aspects of the communities. Create an infrastructure for coexistence and mutual acceptance between Jewish and Muslim-Bedouin Israelis.

Two young boys, Moshe and Ahmed meet and are suspicious of each other because they know from their parents there is a conflict going on. Give these two boys a soccer ball and watch a friendship form through their common interest and love of soccer!

Bring a Jewish and Bedouin mother together and they will talk about their girls. The mothers will each discuss their struggles and problems and realize their struggle is the same — there is not as much of a difference between them as they once thought!

All NEVE HANNA members involved actively live mutual respect, tolerance and a peaceful co-existence. Especially during these difficult sensitive times, we send out to the world the prestigious prize Golden Dove of Peace, NEVE HANNA was honored with in 2015-2016.

The Golden Dove of Peace was designed by the German Artist Richard Hillinger on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 2008.

November 2015, the Golden Dove of Peace was presented to the NEVE HANNA Children´s Home. Dr. Joachim Hahn from “Alemannia Judaica” presented it to Dr. Dorit Felsch of the German Friends Organization of NEVE HANNA and the Golden Dove of Peace was immediately passed on to NEVE HANNA.

The Golden Dove of Peace Award. Photo: Staff at Neve Hanna.

The NEVE HANNA Children´s Home was awarded with this prestigious prize in recognition of its outstanding work in educating children in accordance with the principles of tolerance, democracy and love for the fellow man as well as its special achievements within the field of International Understanding between Jews, Muslims and Christians.

In 2017, NEVE HANNA passed the Golden Dove of Peace on to Casa dos Rapazes, Angola.

The Golden Dove of Peace has become a world recognized award symbolizing peace, to be passed around the world from person to person, from institute to institute. Past recipients of the Golden Dove of Peace include: Amnesty International, Green Peace, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbashev, Pope Benedict XVI., US-President Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) requires all of us to work toward fixing our imperfect world, which includes reducing conflict, hatred, and violence, and bringing peace, however difficult that is or how long it will take.

“As far as I can see, there are no difficulties because of language or prejudice. The feeling here is that differences, such as skin color or language are irrelevant,” said Hoodna al-Kamlat, a mother to girls studying at Nativ LaShalom.

The vision of love, friendship, mutual respect, understanding and peaceful coexistence is a source of pride and hope within our shared community and family at NEVE HANNA.

Visit us at www.afnevehanna.org to learn more about our children and the remarkable programs and projects that we continue to establish at NEVE HANNA Children’s Home. 

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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