Lights of Israel #1 – Yemin Orde Youth Village and Abraham’s Orchard

May 15, 2017

So much of media attention about Israel focuses on the negative. But there is overwhelming creativity, productivity, and goodness occurring daily that the world just does not see.

I have led five congregational missions over the past eighteen years and introduced two hundred individuals to Israel so as to understand Israeli lives, dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

I returned this week from the latest such trip and in this and the following entries, I will tell stories of people and projects that moved us deeply. I express gratitude to everyone we met and ARZAWorld Travel (i.e. Daat Travel in Israel) whose staff worked with me in putting this special itinerary together.

Our concerns transcended politics, though we met members of the Knesset, journalists, scholars, and activists who spoke to us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beyond them, we met leaders who are helping to create a shared society between Jews of all kinds and Israeli Jews and Israeli-Arabs. We visited schools for Jewish and Arab Israeli children studying together. We spent time with Orthodox women, Muslim Arabs, and Bedouin leaders striving to educate their community’s women so they can assume their rightful place in the workforce and lift them and their families out of poverty. We toured the seam-line on the Gaza border with kibbutzniks who have suffered thousands of mortar attacks. We met four extraordinary leaders of Israel’s Reform movement who are building communities all over the state and advocating a liberal, pluralistic, inclusive, and democratic society. We met with one significant Palestinian leader in Ramallah and with the head of the Yesha Council of Settlers over the Green Line in the occupied West Bank. We took a tour with the top expert in what is occurring in East Jerusalem.

To begin, in this blog I want to shine a light on two organizations that deeply inspired my group of synagogue leaders:

Yemin Orde Youth Village is located in the Carmel mountains and is named in memory of British Major General Orde Wingate who trained Palmach troops (the advanced striking force of the Haganah before the establishment of the State of Israel) including Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yigal Alon.

Established in 1953, Yemin Orde has welcomed thousands of children from North Africa, Iran, India, Yemen, Ethiopia, the nations of the former Soviet Union, Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, and France.

Most of the children came to Israel on their own without family. Some are Israeli-born who grew up in tough drug-infected and violent neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and development towns. At Yemin Orde they learned that they could live differently. There they found a home and a family that cared about them and consequently have been able to chart their own positive and productive futures.

Yemin Orde graduates have succeeded in the elite units of the Israeli Defense Forces, as university graduates and leaders in hi-tech, as mayors of towns and villages and as  Members of the Knesset, in business, the arts, and education.

There are 465 students (ages between 14-18) living at Yemin Orde and the youth village has a waiting list of 100 children. The staff gives each child emotional and psychological support so they can build their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, achieve academically and be productive Israeli citizens and leaders.

Yemin Orde receives two-thirds of its budget from the Israeli government and the rest comes from foundations and individual fundraising.

The second is The Orchard of Abraham’s Children – I visited this Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian Nursery School (ages 2-6) in Jaffa in February 2016 and blogged about it then. See https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/the-orchard-of-abrahams-children-towards-the-creation-of-a-shared-society/.

The story of the beginnings of The Orchard of Abraham’s Children is among the most inspirational stories we heard. A fine fiction writer could not have made this up.

Ihab Balha (a 47-year-old Muslim Sufi Palestinian-Israeli) and his wife Ora (a mid-30s Israeli Jew) met in the Sinai, fell madly in love, married each other the next day, transformed their families, an entire community, and the future of thousands of Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Now in its 7th year, The Orchard has 80 Jewish and Palestinian children and families. (photo is of Ihab and Ora)

There are many more positive and uplifting stories to come. Stay tuned.

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