(photo credit: )
Gathered in front of the Western Wall Monday evening, 10th graders from Hadassa Neurim, a boarding school for troubled children, commemorated Yitzhak Rabin's role in Jerusalem's reunification.
Wearing t-shirts with images of Rabin and carrying Israeli flags, the students honored the former prime minister in Jerusalem's Old City with a brief ceremony finalizing their six-week intensive training program in Israeli democracy conducted by the Yitzhak Rabin Center.
"The Rabin Democratic Challenge to Israeli Society" aims to establish teens' connection to Jerusalem and Israeli society through history lessons about Yitzhak Rabin, his leadership and contribution to Israeli society. Emphasizing his vision of a democratic Jerusalem with tolerance and vibrant civil participation, educators at the Yitzhak Rabin Center work with teens ages 15-16, conducting weekly intensive workshops in which teens are exposed to and practice democratic principles such as tolerance, conflict resolution, identity and responsibility.
Most of the children in the program, now in its third year, come from broken homes, and 99 percent are new immigrants who are disenfranchised due to their socio-economic background.
"They are losing their identity as Israelis," said Devon, an instructor at the Yitzhak Rabin Center.
This year, the group is ethnically mixed, with a large portion coming from Soviet republics, Russia and Ethiopia.
"They are disconnected from their generation. The center identified teens from all over the country who need this education to reconnect with their peers and to become integrated into Israeli society," Devon continued. "These are very problematic teens, many of whom have dropped out of the formal education system, and schools and parents have given up on many of them.
"Many have had eight or nine years of failure and have little in the way of dreams or goals in life," said Mendi Rabinovich, the principal of Hadassa Neurim.
"We at the school help them recreate dreams."
During weekly workshops, participants discuss their identity, their differences and what unites them as Jews in Israel, said Yael, an instructor and program facilitator at the center.
"Many children here feel resentment toward privileged Israeli children," she continued. "At this age they are old enough to reflect on their environment and discuss it."
When asked why there exists a need for this type of education in Israel, Karen, a project manager of the program, said the formal education system in Israel lacked "openness - it doesn't have the resources necessary, and civics and sociology courses are not enough to achieve the results."
Rooti Gilat, the head of the educational department at the Yitzhak Rabin Center, explained the importance of Rabin's memory for Israeli youth.
"Rabin was a dreamer, a leader whose vision brought about a new era in Israeli history. He was dedicated to Israel, its security and flourishing future. Throughout his political career Rabin demonstrated lessons in responsibility to Israeli people.
"Moreover," she continued, "he attempted to narrow the gap among Israelis, allocating the largest portion of the budget to education in Israeli history. We teach the program participants history and his legacy."
Regina, a student at Hadassa Neurim, has just completed the Rabin Democratic Challenge to Israeli Society curriculum with the Yitzhak Rabin Center. She has lived in Israel for the past six and a half years.
"The school has given me possibilities. I can train and study and move forward," said Regina. "Having completed the curriculum, I am now more in touch with my identity as an Israeli citizen. I feel closer to my peers and regard them more as my fellow Israelis."
Some seven thousand students nationwide have participated in the program.