May 18, 2022

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Israel’s centrally located, mixed Jewish and Arab city of Lod is known for its depressed economy, dilapidated environment, and crime and drug abuse. Yet 25 young men have been granted a ticket out of this vicious cycle through a successful vocational program called “Youthbuild Israel”. This program, based on “Youthbuild International”, is funded by the Israeli government and Meir Panim charity organization.

“Participants range in age from 18-24 and are both Jewish and Arab,” explained Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim, to Breaking Israel News. “They have been thoroughly evaluated to ensure that they are motivated and capable to succeed in the program and ultimately break out of the challenging lives they have lived.”

Through providing vocational training to adolescents who have dropped out of formal education, live in areas with poor economies, have limited job opportunities, and experience negative and dysfunctional environments, this program transforms the lives of at-risk youth and rebuilds their communities.

Program participants learn gardening skills (Courtesy of Meir Panim)

Sternbuch shared with Breaking Israel News two stories about the students. Igor (pseudonym) immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine when he was still a young child. His mother made sure that he knew he was “an unwanted accident”. The only person to show him love was his grandmother, who died when he was just 11. Igor left his dysfunctional home and lived with friends, at a hostel and sometimes on the streets.

He joined a gang involved with crime and drugs.

Since joining the vocational program, Igor is working hard to acquire skills for a profession which would support him in dignity. He is very invested in the program and wishes to build a healthy, normative family which he can support and sustain. Today, Igor lives with and takes care of his father, who is sick with cancer.

Avi (pseudonym), an only child, never knew his father, who died when Avi was an infant. He was raised by several foster families because his mother is chronically ill with AIDS  and in need of support herself. He now lives in a cousin’s house, so dilapidated that they had to pass through the harsh winter with broken windows. Only at the end of the winter did the municipality give them new windows as they could not afford to fix them themselves.

Since joining “Youthbuild Israel”, he consistently works very hard to succeed and reach a point where he can support his family properly. His dream is to become an engineer, just like his father was. He is very loved among the group and has gained the positive reputation as being a person always ready to help others.

Israel’s Minister of Welfare and Social Services Haim Katz publicly stated that the “Youthbuild Israel” program would revolutionize the government’s approach to “thousands of young people who remain without the tools to build an independent life.”

“Youthbuild Israel” program participants. (Courtesy Meir Panim)

Once a student completes the course, which includes auto mechanic training, recreational sports, gardening, trauma therapy and counseling to develop self-esteem and provide life skills, Hertz Rent-a-Car has agreed to hire them. “This is a holistic program to incorporate the students back into mainstream society in a productive way,” explained Sternbuch.

“The goal is to have these youth leave the cycle of poverty, dysfunction, isolation, and their severe emotional and physical issues and give them not only tools to fix cars but also tools for life so that they may become productive members of society.”

After decades of neglect, Lod is a city under repair and this program is part of that process. Students are also required to do community service and repair the environment in which they live. “A past statistic found that out of 17,000 children living in Lod, 5,000 are identified as children at-risk,” said Sternbuch. “Meir Panim feels that we must do all that we can to bring normalcy to the lives of these youth so that they may thrive and prosper in Israeli society.”

To help Israel’s youth at-risk, please visit here.