Jerusalem, June 24, 2014 – At its Board of Governors meetings this week in Jerusalem, The Jewish Agency honored Jane Sherman, member of the Board, and Louise Paktor, head of the Jaeger Foundation and long-time leader in Keren Heyesod, for their generous decision to fund a major new scholarship fund, which will enable alumni of Jewish Agency Youth Villages to attend pre-army academies (“mechinot”), vocational training, or universities.
Several Youth Village students and alumni were in attendance at the recognition ceremony, to thank Sherman and Paktor for making it possible for them to fulfill their dreams long after they leave the warm environment provided by The Jewish Agency.
“For me personally,” said Netanel Cohen, 24, an alumnus of the Ben Yakir Youth Village, “this scholarship will allow me to continue my studies without financial concerns, and I will be able to be focused 100%, because it's not possible for me, personally, to both study and work at the same time. My parents can hardly support me financially. Moreover, sometimes I even help them. So it means a lot to me, the amount of kindness and caring that I am receiving from all of you.”
Ben Yakir is one of four Jewish Agency Youth Villages – the others are Hadassah Ne’urim, Ramat Hadassah, and Kiryat Ye’arim – that provides an encouraging, stable, residential environment for at-risk Israeli teens who suffer from severe emotional, behavioral, and family problems. The Youth Villages provide rehabilitative services to more than 950 youth each year, helping them succeed, complete high school, and enter the Israeli army with their peers.
Cohen told the assembled group that he enrolled at Ben Yakir when he was in 8th grade because his family’s financial situation was “complicated,” and they could not support him and his six brothers and sisters. At Ben Yakir he received the individual attention he needed to earn a bagrut (“matriculation”) diploma and study engineering for two years before enlisting in the IDF, where he served the Air Force in a unit that deals with electronic systems.
Today, he is taking pre-requisite courses in Physics, and plans to enroll this fall at either Ben Gurion University or the Technion – a plan made possible by the new Scholarship Fund. “I believe I represent every single one of the students here when I say that this scholarship is a tremendous help for us,” he said. He also noted that the scholarships coordinator has been helpful in guiding him through the college application process.
Diana (whose last name is withheld to respect her privacy), is now 30 years old but said that the personal skills she learned as a young girl at Hadassah Ne’urim, combined with her scholarship, have helped her reach an important milestone: she’s about to finish an accounting certificate.
At Hadassah Ne’urim, she said “I felt part of the group – I didn’t feel different from anyone else. That feeling of belong, and of being normal, stayed with me for years – the feeling that I’m important.” Now that she has two small children, she added, the scholarship provided by Sherman and Paktor made it easier to focus on her studies, and she finished the program in one year instead of the normal 1.5-year course of study.
The same tenacity was expressed by Avi Tadela, also a graduate of Hadassah Ne’urim. The youngest of 8 children, Tadela was born in Ethiopia and, as a baby, moved to Israel, where, he said, he was originally “totally unsuccessful at school.” But when he arrived at the Youth Village, he said, his “life changed in an instant. You can divide my life into ‘before I got to the Village’ and ‘after I got to the Village.’ I saw I had a chance. I got help in school and people listened to me.
Though he did not complete all the requirements for the bagrut while he was at Hadassah Ne’urim, when he finished the army Tadela knew he wanted to continue his education, and enrolled in Michlelet Ashkelon to finish high school. Now, with the help of the new Scholarship Fund, he is registered to enroll this fall in courses that will help him reach his ultimate goal: becoming a computer programmer.
“At the Village I learned to think deeply,” Avi said, “and not to give up quickly, to remember that I can succeed if I don't quit. At the Village, people believed in me, and didn't let me give up. They kept telling me I can do it. Now, I can be a role model to others.“
“I grew up in a family that always supported whoever needed help,” said philanthropist Louise Paktor. "It is a great privilege to continue the family tradition and support youth village students in Israel over the years."
“The young men and women graduates of our youth villages, have overcome extreme adversities,” philanthropist Jane Sherman remarked. “It is with love and great pride that we were able to start this fund that will enable them to continue their studies, granting them independence and enabling them to set examples for their siblings and future generations.”