By Eli Amir, Director-General of Jewish Agency Youth Aliyah
Eli Amir describes Youth Aliyah as the Jewish people's and the Jewish Agency's largest-ever rescue operation, and stresses that many non-Jews have also contributed to the organization.
"The secret of Youth Aliyah's success has been its ability to adapt to changing historical circumstances," he recounted. "Youth Aliyah has been dynamic, never stagnating, as it rescued different waves of Jewish children from Nazi Germany in the 1930's and through to Ethiopia and the Former Soviet Union in recent years as well as Israeli-born children from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds. First and foremost Youth Aliyah is about people who love and care for children and a place that lets children express themselves."
Amir stressed that as well as an excellent education and caring environment, Youth Aliyah has also given its new immigrant students an Israeli cultural identity. He is speaking from personal experience as he himself was a Youth Aliyah student fifty years ago after he immigrated to Israel from Iraq.
"We have learned from the mistakes made then," he continued, "and today we place more emphasis on allowing the children from Ethiopia and the Former Soviet Union to be proud of the heritage and culture from the countries that they have emigrated from."
The 70th anniversary celebrations for Youth Aliyah coincide with twenty years since Amir became Director-General of Youth Aliyah. "The major achievements of the past 20 years of which I am proud of," he said, "include the introduction of special matriculation tracks, more parental involvement in the education of Youth Aliyah children, programs which integrate stronger and weaker students, and the establishment of long-day residential programs which allow children to sleep at home but spend the entire day at Youth Aliyah villages."
Amir also emphasizes the importance of Youth Aliyah's partnerships with its worldwide network of supporters. "Of course Hadassah, Women's Ziomist Organization of America has accompanied us for the full 70 years," he said, "since Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold adopted Youth Aliyah from the very beginning. Over the years we have been joined by Youth Aliyah Committees from around the world including Germany, where Youth Aliyah began, Switzerland who have supported Kiryat Yearim for 55 years and elsewhere including Australia, Sweden and many others. Hadassah-WIZO Canada has also been a strong supporter of Youth Aliyah, firstly at Hofim and more recently at Ben Yakir."
Looking ahead Amir sees even greater challenges for Youth Aliyah. "The children in Youth Aliyah villages today," he explained "are more problematic than ever before. With gaps between rich and poor in Israel widening, the children are more alienated and at greater risk from the country's rising levels of crime, violence and drug addiction."
"To meet today's greater challenges," he said "we have introduced more informal education through individual and group therapy, which enables students to express their hopes and fears, anger and frustration."
"All aspects of their situation – scholastic, social, behavioral and family – are at risk, while their families are exposed to increased economic hardship," he concluded. "The situation requires greater investment on our part to ensure the children receive the extra support and enrichment needed for their future development."
Shvat 5764 - February 2004