The city of Safed, located in Israel’s northern mountain range, is credited as the home of Jewish mysticism. Yet there is nothing mystical about the small city’s struggling families and their at-risk children.
Seeking to stop the cycle of poverty and domestic troubles, Colel Chabad, Israel’s oldest charity, actively aids impoverished and dysfunctional families and runs at-risk youth programs in Safed. This assistance is credited with literally saving many lives in fulfillment of the Jewish law (pikuach nefesh) that values preservation of human life over all other religious considerations.
Recognized by social workers and government welfare organizations as the go-to charity in even the most difficult circumstances, Colel Chabad regularly receives requests for help.
“There is a family with six children, two of whom are autistic, who were living in a drug and crime infested area of the city because that was all that they could afford,” Yorum Mauda, Director of Programing for Colel Chabad in Safed, told Breaking Israel News. “Though they get some money from the state of Israel because of their disabled children, it is hardly enough to live on. Colel Chabad found them a different place to live in a better neighborhood and subsidizes the rent.”
However, relocating this family was not enough to save them from the general dysfunction of the household, which was having negative effects on their children. Colel Chabad arranged to have volunteers come twice a week to help the mother clean, cook, and organize her home. They also taught her parenting skills.
“The children did not even have beds to sleep on,” explained Mauda to Breaking Israel News. “Colel Chabad supplied these as well. Without our help, the children would have been taken away by the state.”
The situation in some homes is so difficult that it is preferable for the children to attend an extended after-school program than go home. Colel Chabad runs programs for boys and girls in grades one through six. Called “House and Heart”, the children participate in the program during the school week, from Sunday through Thursday.
“These Colel Chabad after-school programs provide everything that youth at risk need to grow into healthful adults,” shared Sara Shlar, head coordinator of the girls program. “House and Heart is a place that gives a warm, homey atmosphere. If the children have to leave early one day, or when they outgrow the program, they cry because they appreciate it so much.”
Those who attend “House and Heart” receive two hot, nutritious meals a day. In addition, they are provided with homework help, psychological counseling, private tutors for learning-disabled students, clothing, school supplies, and more.
Colel Chabad also arranges for daily enrichment activities such as sports, art, drama, cooking, music lessons, baking, nature hikes, lessons in nutrition, gardening and growing vegetables, visits to a petting zoo, music lessons and intensive sports.
“We do everything with a full heart for the welfare of the children and families,” explained Shlar to Breaking Israel News. “When the children go home, they only need to bathe and sleep. This is really in everyone’s best interest.”
Although Israel has after-school programs to assist working parents, Natan Abraham, head coordinator of the boys’ program for the past eight years, noted to Breaking Israel News that Colel Chabad provides extended hours to assure that the children are in an environment where they can thrive.
“We are really there for these kids 24/7,” said Abraham. “I take the boys to synagogue with me on the Sabbath as well. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen through their families.”
In a moving story, Abraham shared with Breaking Israel News that one of his students was asked not to join a school trip because he has severe ADHD and would be disruptive. Abraham agreed to go on the trip to supervise the boy even though it was before youth program hours. “If teachers have a problem with one of our kids, they contact Colel Chabad because they know we will help. We give these children whatever they do not receive from their own families,” he said.
The city of Safed is replete with historic legends of the great rabbis who lived there in past centuries. Today, it is difficult to believe and understand that stories from this holy city are now about impoverishment and hardship.
“Because it is somewhat cheaper to live in Safed than other Israeli cities, many down-and-out people move here,” continued Abraham. “Colel Chabad does all that it can with limited resources to help. We pray, that once again, legends of greatness will emanate from this city about thriving people creating wonderful futures.”