Fifteen-year-old Rachel’s mother is a drug addict. From birth age five, Rachel was raised by two aunts and moved around frequently. At age six years she was relocated to an ultra-Orthodox orphanage/boarding school, which proved trying. At the age of 14, Rachel started rebelling in school and turned to the streets.
Today Rachel is part of a community that accepts her as she is and helps her to achieve her goals. She receives therapy, counseling, academic tutoring and life skills training. She knows that she can have a future of promise, love and security.
There are thousands of underprivileged Israeli children in Jaffa, South Tel Aviv, Holon and Bat Yam. They live in poverty-stricken neighborhoods where many parents are unemployed and feeling hopeless. These children are physically and emotionally undernourished and often neglected and abused. Their futures are bleak, with the prospect of violence, crime, unemployment, poverty and drug and alcohol abuse lurking in the home and in the neighborhood.
“Unemployment is 10 percent in Israel, but in these areas, it’s as high as 40 percent,” said Reuven Meir, executive director, North America, for The Jaffa Institute, which provides various kinds of intervention for these children, as well as their families and communities. “We try to save these kids by taking them out of the vicious circle, nurturing them and changing their lives.”
The Jaffa Institute’s programs services also encompass the child’s family and community to provide a network of continuing support. Using a holistic therapeutic approach, the programs provide tools to allow each child to develop and flourish. “From food and tutoring assistance to emotional counseling, art therapies and preventative health care,” the Jaffa Institute provides “the necessary elements for a safe and secure childhood,” according to the organization’s literature. The Jaffa Institute works closely with Ministry of Welfare officials to target, provide assistance and assess the progress of those in need within our service areas, but the waiting list in Jaffa alone is 20,000 people, Meir said.
“The Jaffa Institute is now entering its 29th year of serving the children of some of Israel’s most disadvantaged communities,” according to its founder, Dr. David J. Portowicz, an American-born rabbi, social worker and lecturer in the School of Social Work at Bar Ilan University since 1975. “Beginning in May 1982 with three programs that served 50 children, the Jaffa Institute now runs 35 different programs and activities which assist over 4,000 children annually.”
Dr. Portowicz, who did his doctoral studies at Brandeis University, wanted to make a difference in the Jaffa area, but the programs now serve other areas of Israel. Most are after-school programs that include transportation, lunch, homework help, social activities, social worker/psychologist/dentist visits and dinner, serving children from 1 to 8 p.m., when they go home and go to sleep. Programs include:
Bet Shemesh Educational Center. Dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged boys and helping them to reach their full potential, the Bet Shemesh Educational Center was founded with bare essentials for 16 students. Today, the center has been established as an autonomous nonprofit organization in Israel and the United States, enrolling more than 200 children from some of the most destitute areas in the country. It uses a holistic approach, including a comprehensive Jewish and secular education, extracurricular activities, education-focused integration and a summer program, to help the students overcome their problems. All students receive three hot, nutritious meals per day, as well as counseling, dental care, optometry, clothing, school supplies and additional welfare services as needed.
Beit Ruth. An educational village dedicated to helping at-risk girls, the Beit Ruth Hostel serves girls between 14 and 18 who display self-destructive behavior, including drug and alcohol abuse, anorexia, bulimia, running away from home and suicide attempts. Now reaching more than 200 girls who might otherwise have “fallen through the cracks,” it provides a small group setting in an attractive and supportive environment while meeting physical needs, such as food, clothing, shelter and health care.
The Neve Ofer House. A residential facility that provides a solution for children whose home situation severely inhibits their development because of poor parenting, the Neve Ofer House exposes children to a warm family environment and provides emotional support and educational therapy. Each child participates in two of the following: art therapy, cognitive-behavior therapy or play therapy. The center accommodates 12 children at a time, keeps them until a long-term solution can be found and operates 365 days per year.
Bet Metsuba. This after-school program for children with special needs in East Tel Aviv addresses children with attention deficit and behavioral disorders. Targeting as many as 45 children between the ages of 6 and 12, the program runs five days per week from the end of school until 6 p.m. It includes an individualized education plan, one-to-one emotional counseling therapy, group therapy activities, academic plan coordination with the child’s school, family therapy assessment and recreational activities.
Musical Minds. This arts education program has grown from 15 to 500 participants since it started in 2001. It helps children from some of Israel’s most impoverished communities to grow and develop through musical education, and it includes a broad spectrum of art education. The program helps children from diverse cultural backgrounds to develop cognitive, performance and communication skills through the study of music and the arts.
Summer Camp. Because summer is a dangerous time for children in the Jaffa Institute’s care, the summer camp program provides a community of caring adults who nurture experiential education that results in self-respect and appreciation for human value. It targets 200 at-risk children annually at four sites in Jaffa.
360◦ Scholarship Program. Giving youth from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to get a full education, this program provides full assistance for higher education. The Jaffa Institute awards 200 of such scholarships every year.
In addition, the food distribution center helps needy families, and another program distributes 900 sandwiches to children each day. Another program provides vocational training to long-term unemployed women.
These and other programs for educational enrichment — to fill the gaps in student education, provide extracurricular activities to keep them in a healthy environment after school, make sure they have adequate nutrition and keep them on track to matriculate into higher education and be prepared for society by being part of the army – cost money. The private, non-profit agency is looking for individuals and foundations to save Israel’s children.
For more information, contact Reuven Meir, executive director, North America, The Jaffa Institute, at (972) 527-085-707 in Israel, (858) 539-5589 in the U.S., firstname.lastname@example.org or www.jaffainstitute.org.