Beth Israel Synagogue High Holiday Campaign
I am standing before you today to talk about one of the stops we made while on our visit to Israel this summer. Before I get into that, I want to thank Rabbi Bruce and Terri for making this trip possible and for planning such an incredible experience for those of us lucky enough to have made this journey.
Aside from Yad Vashem, and especially the Children’s Memorial, there was one aspect of Israeli life that we saw that was the most touching for me, and most relevant to my professional life. And what I was asked to speak about today.
Thirty years ago, I began my formal education to become a psychotherapist.
In my final year of school, I did an internship and was eventually hired at a residential treatment facility for boys and girls, ages 8-18. Most of the kids were court-ordered because of their behavioral problems, brought on by years of neglect, physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse, often at the hands of their caretakers, who were also neglected and/or abused.
While we believed that a residential facility offered the best possible results for these at-risk children, the key to their success laid in the homes to which they returned. The 6-18 months that kids were then allowed to be with us, turned into 6-12 before I left two years later.
This facility is no longer in existence, as residential treatment is generally being phased out in favor of providing services directly to families in their homes. This issue is very complicated and I remain concerned as to the long-term efficacy of such programs for children who come from homes that are so compromised.
There is a place in Israel, a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth, called Neve Michael. And it’s so different from the treatment that our kids are getting here or even elsewhere in Israel.
Originally called the Children’s Home, it is located on a 7-acre campus and was founded in 1943 as a place for kids who were alone either because their parents were fighting in the Hagana, or they were otherwise separated from their families.
With the establishment of the State of Israel in ‘48, and after a visit - and substantial donation - from a prominent Jewish industrialist and philanthropist named Jakob Michael, the Children’s Home became Neve Michael and its mission and direction changed.
Neve means oasis, haven and abode. From my eyes, it is a fitting name for the kids who are court-ordered from the Israeli Welfare system to Neve Michael, who come from homes much like those homes kids came from where I worked.
But there are three major and significant differences between residential treatment elsewhere and that at Neve Michael. One is that Neve Michael takes kids as young as 5 years old and they will take in siblings and not separate them; two, they don’t have to have behavioral problems to have come to the attention of the state; and three and perhaps most significantly, most kids at Neve Michael stay there until they are 18 years old. So some kids will go in at 5 and stay until they are 18, if necessary. If they’re there until their 18th birthday, they will then go into the army or National Service.
If a family is not safely available for them to go home to…and most of them are not…the children who enter through their crisis center will move into homes located on the property and run by a married couple, whose biological children will be with them, and young woman who is in the National Service. The children become part of and learn what it is to be in a family that is functional, healthy and loving.
All the while there, these at-risk kids receive all of the services they need to recover from their histories, including and especially, the long-term nurturing and love that is so lacking in their young lives.
While there, Marcy Thomaswick and I, with the approval of the children we visited, had the privilege of going into the inner sanctum of the crisis center, where the current group of boys and girls who lived there were having a good-bye group for 3 kids who were moving into the family homes.
The kids and a few national service women were sitting in a circle. The kids were brown, black and white, and what struck me was how intently they were sitting, listening to who was speaking.
In this good-bye group, the kids were instructed to tell the kids who were leaving what they appreciated about them, and then they offered each of them a prayer of their own making.
Being both a giver and a receiver in a group like this is a very powerful experience and we could tell how seriously each kid took the significance of what was happening.
While the Israeli government helps to subsidize a portion of Neve Michael’s programs, there is so much more that is needed to make these kids’ life as normal as possible.
In particular, children arrive at Neve Michael with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
This year, with our new connection to Neve Michael, Beth Israel will be spearheading a fundraising effort to provide this very deserving community with the opportunity to experience what we so often take for granted…and that is new clothing.
I well remember how special it was, before the High Holidays, to go shopping with my mom for a new outfit - or two - and to wear them for these special services. Never mind the new clothes that were just bought for the beginning of the school year.
The Israeli government gives Neve Michael $28 per child per year for clothing.
According to Neve Michael, $60 - $180 will provide a child with clothes for the high holidays and/or Shabbat. $270 will provide a child with clothes from Sukkot through Pesach and $360 will provide a child with clothing for an entire year.
If you would like to participate in our efforts, the easiest way will be to bring in your donation on Yom Kippur; there will be a donation box set downstairs at the door. Shortly after, Rabbi Bruce will send what we hope will be the first wave of tzedakah to Neve Michael.
And if you want to also bring your Yom Kippur pledge that day, simply put them in separate envelopes, label them and we’ll take care of the rest.
Approximately fifty kids are admitted yearly to Neve Michael. There are 250 – 300 kids living at Neve Michael at any one time, who are continually growing. Their needs are great.
Any amount will be greatly appreciated and you know your donations will be put to good use and ultimately, will put smiles on the faces and in the hearts of those who most deserve it.
Thank you and Shana Tova.
To learn more about Neve Michael, go to https://nevemichael.com/