As missiles rained down on Northern Israel in July and August, Youth Aliyah mobilized swiftly after the start of the war to take in hundreds of new immigrant children living in Jewish Agency Absorption Centers in the conflict zone. “At the request of the Jewish Agency we undertook a major humanitarian operation within less than 48 hours,” said Eitan Shaul, Director Youth Aliyah Villages, “to bring children out of missile range to our villages and provide them with food and board and organized educational activities and summer fun. We looked after these new immigrant children for more than five weeks.”
Ben Yakir hosted 100 Ethiopian new immigrants aged 8-17 who had been evacuated from the Safed Absorption Center, which took a direct hit from a Katyusha missile. “During the first week that they were at our village in July,” recalled Yossi Krothamer, Ben Yakir’s Director, “we concentrated on giving the kids a good time. We took them to water parks and fairgrounds. But as it became apparent that they would be here for an extended period we organized courses for them including Hebrew lessons, math, English and Jewish studies.”
Krothamer himself and most of his staff gave up their summer vacation to oversee the emergency operation. While much of the summer activities for Ben Yakir’s own students were cancelled, many of the children were able to work at the village acting as counselors for the new immigrant children or replacing maintenance staff who were called to serve in the army.
At Kiryat Yearim near Jerusalem 132 new immigrant Ethiopian children aged 10-18 from four absorption centers in the north were given refuge. As at the other villages they took part in summer fun activities and also took study courses. “For many of our own children who worked here during the summer being able to assist the new immigrants was a chance for them to grow and take on responsibilities,” observed Uriel Rosenboim, Deputy Director of Kiryat Yearim. Kiryat Yearim, as in all the villages, employed teams of social workers and psychologists to treat trauma and anxiety regarding the few days that the children were exposed to missile attacks and the fact that in many instances their parents were still living in the war zone.
At Hadassah Neurim more than 260 new immigrant Ethiopian children from absorption centers in Northern Israel were given refuge during July and August as well as 40 families, many of them graduate students from the village. In addition dozens of Hadassah Neurim students who live in the north came to live at the village and assisted in entertaining and educating the new immigrants. “Many of our former graduates and their families simply turned up at our gates,” said Nachum Katz, Director of Hadassah Neurim. “We turned no families away and took no payment for food and board.” Hadassah Neurim also held a three day camp for 68 children from Ramat Hadassah Szold, which could not itself host the students because the village near Haifa was itself within missile range. At Nitzana in the Negev the desert youth village took in 30 students who were evacuated from Ramat Hadassah Szold. To help in the emergency operation Youth Aliyah villages was assisted by dozens of volunteers from abroad and with Israel youth organizations including Bnei Akiva, and HaNoar HaOved.