Oct 03, 2022
JERUSALEM WEATHER
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When school lets out at 1:30 pm and the summer evening stretches out before them, the troubled children of Safed are faced with the dismal choices of an empty house, a dysfunctional caretaker, or the dangers of the street and poor influences that entails. Colel Chabad, Israel’s oldest charity organization, provides a different option.

Nearly ten years ago in Israel’s holy city of Safed, Colel Chabad started a life-saving youth club for pre-teens and teens from difficult backgrounds. Today, many of their graduates have succeeded in Israel’s army and are happily married, productive Israeli citizens.

“We are a home away from home for these children,” smiled Tzippy, Colel Chabad’s youth house mother, to Breaking Israel News. “We are open every day from 2:00 pm – 7:00 pm for the younger kids and until 8:30 pm for older teens who need help with their high school graduation tests. The children are served lunch, dinner and snacks, receive help with homework, extra-curricular activities, psychological counseling, showers so that they can go home ready for bed, and lots and lots of love.”

Some of the boys take a little time to sit on couch and read. (Photo: Tsivya Fox/Israel Media Network)

Some of the boys take a little time to sit on couch and read. (Photo: Tsivya Fox/Israel Media Network)

The youth center has room for 15 girls and 15 boys and is always full to capacity. In fact, in the past few years the program has become so well-respected that children from mainstream homes are begging to become part of the activities.

“We recently received a letter from a local school principal praising Colel Chabad for the outstanding job that we do with these students,” shared Tzippy as she showed Breaking Israel News an impressive video of a youth club graduate speaking to a large crowd in English about the Israeli army. “He taught himself English,” she said. “Once he finishes the army, he hopes to go into politics.”

Colel Chabad Youth Club Sfat14

Natan Avraham of the Colel Chabad youth center in Safed proudly stands next to the artwork created by the children. (Photo: Tsivya Fox/Israel Media Network)

Though all of the children appeared happy, self-assured and well dressed, Tzippy explained to Breaking Israel News that the center fills in many gaps which the children have from their homes. “If we see that a child has ripped or inappropriate clothing for the weather, poor fitting shoes or lacks anything they need, we get it for them,” she said. “We also teach discipline and proper behavior as they do not receive this kind of care in their own homes.”

Both boys and girls are taught how to cook and bake. There is a rotating schedule for chores. Every child takes turns making dinner, setting and cleaning the table, straightening the center and more. Music, art and ceramic lessons are given. In addition, hiking trips are organized where children learn survival skills and how to recognize edible plants in the wilderness.

On the center grounds, the children were proud to show Breaking Israel News their thriving vegetable garden which was grown from seeds. The vegetables are picked by the students and used in the center’s meal preparation. Students are also proud to bring some of their harvest home to share with their families.  

Two of the boys explore a little horticulture. (Photo: Tsivya Fox/Israel Media Network)

Two of the boys explore a little horticulture. (Photo: Tsivya Fox/Israel Media Network)

The head of the boys division is Natan Avraham, a trained special education teacher who is clearly held in high regard by his students. “Though many of these children have ADHD and come from problematic homes, all of the children get along,” he proudly shared with Breaking Israel News. “We emphasize the way to behave and speak properly, especially when angry. The children spend a lot of time outdoors gardening, playing team sports and caring for our youth club animals. These are healthy outlets to burn off excess energy.”

Two of the boys learning at the youth club in Safed with an educator. (Photo: Tsivya Fox/Israel Media Network)

Two of the boys learning at the youth club in Safed with an educator. (Photo: Tsivya Fox/Israel Media Network)

The center runs like a well-oiled wheel. Half an hour a day is put aside for quiet, enjoyable reading time. Individual student interests are nurtured as well. For example, thirteen-year-old Shmuel wants to be a reporter and Eli is interested in photography. They are now responsible for writing, creating and laying out the club’s weekly newspaper, which includes word games.

“The club has also taught all of the boys how to play the drums. They have become so proficient that we have created a marching band and perform in city parades,” shared Avraham with Breaking Israel News. “All of this has taken a lot of hard work but we see great results.”

Some of the boys enjoy a delicious lunch at Colel Chabad's youth center in Safed. (Photo: Tsivya Fox/Israel Media Network)

Some of the boys enjoy a delicious lunch at Colel Chabad’s youth center in Safed. (Photo: Tsivya Fox/Israel Media Network)

The youth club works together with the Board of Education, doctors, psychologists, social workers and parents. Weekly meetings are held to discuss the most productive ways to help each child succeed in life.

“I love this place,” Eli stated to Breaking Israel News. “Without this youth club, I’d be on the street. We all cry when it’s closed for vacation.”

Avraham pointed out to Breaking Israel News, “Teachers often don’t know what to do with kids like this and society pushes them aside. We teach them how to give and get. ‘I can’t’ is never an accepted statement from the children. We love them and teach them how to love each other.”