— Elana Frank
It was only 9 months ago that I decided to take the plunge and make Aliyah to Israel. Our family and friends thought we were daring and slightly nuts to move into a non Anglo-Saxon community like Karmiel where only 1% of the population speaks English. Trust me there were (and are) moments when I too think we are crazy.
But my goal was clear. If I was going to become a true Israeli, I wanted to not only reap the benefits of eating chumus and falafel while gazing at the beautiful Northern mountains but truly immerse myself in the real and challenging aspects of Israeli society. Stuff I think the average American, and perhaps even a typical Israeli, might not even know.
The same held true for my job aspirations. My background is in diversity work and consensus building. In the instant I visited Kfar Hassidim Youth Village and saw first hand their struggle to rejuvenate their campus and bring opportunities and joy into the lives of their Ethiopian, Bnei Menashe, Russian and at risk Israeli youth, I knew that this was the challenge for me.
I want to help people understand that youth villages do exist and need our help. The Executive Director and I understood that in order to begin creating meaningful and substantial relationships we must bring public awareness to Kfar Hassidim Youth Village, the students, and their needs – what better way than through a festival created with direct involvement and participation of the students themselves. And besides, who can honestly say no to cotton candy?!?
We aimed to convey the message that we are not just the “Kfar” built in 1937 with the sole mission of settling European immigrant children and youth in a new country. Today, Kfar Hassidim Youth Village has taken on even greater challenges, and expanded into a center for youth of many cultures and expanding needs. Today we take responsibility for a new diversity of Israeli immigrants which include over 600 Ethiopian, Bnei Menashe, Russian, and at risk Israeli youth. Often, these kids come from unstable homes, or are borderline learning disabled and fall “between the cracks” in their local school system. Now, at the “Kfar” with the support of a growing and nurturing staff, these young people confidently and proudly aspire to obtain their high school diplomas, enter the army or a national service program, acquire higher education, secure jobs, and ultimately, establish their homes and families in Israel.
In the months that lead up to our big day, I got to know the students and learned all about their immigration experiences. I have to admit, I felt like one of them, without a solid grasp of the Hebrew language and a lack of understanding of Israeli cultural norms and expectations. I mean, is it acceptable for Israeli vendors to bargain their reservation price? Or for a printing company to tell me “its ok” that he didn’t center a flyer properly on a page? I must have also sounded quite silly trying to negotiate with newspapers and websites in my broken Hebrew to place ads. As an immigrant it took many more hours to convey my vision for the event to all involved. But in the end, as I drove through the front gate and past the ‘welcome to the festival’ sign that the students painted, I knew that the day would be a success.
On Monday, September 27, 2010 Kfar Hassidim Youth Village’s first annual Sukkot Family Festival was indeed a hit. Over 1,000 people from all parts of Israel and 400 Olim Chadashim (like myself) were bused from various parts of the country with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Our attendees got a flavorful taste of what it is to live at the Kfar while keeping company with actual students and enjoying the festival atmosphere. They bought beautiful items from local vendors, participated in high spirited drumming circles, watched their kids have fun with arts & crafts, made their own pita, took tractor rides, jumped in moon bounces and visited our on site Ethiopian Hut, dairy farm, and olive oil press.
Just as I, an immigrant from a privileged country was able to succeed at a daunting and challenging task, it’s now clear to me that our immigrant youth, once given the skills and tools that Kfar Hassidim Youth Village has to offer, will have all the opportunities in the world at their feet.