SOS farewell party for volunteers 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy/Joram Seela)
When taking a tour of the well-manicured grounds at Arad’s Neradim Youth Village
with its director Mati Rose, one has to have a lot of patience. This is because
the scores of young people who call Neradim home are constantly coming up to
greet him with warm, affectionate hugs.
Neradim is one of two youth
villages that the international organization SOS Children’s Villages runs in the
country. According to SOS Israel National Director Ahituv Gershinsky, the
organization operates over 500 youth villages in 130 countries, reaching over
500,000 children who have lost or are in danger of losing parental
A total of 108 young people aged six to 23 live at Neradim, while
approximately another 100 live at Megadim, SOS’s northern branch in Migdal
Rose has been the director at Neradim for over a decade and
readily says how gratifying it has been to change the lives of so many children
for the better.
The organization works in direct coordination with the
Welfare and Social Services Ministry. When a family crisis involving children
occurs in the Arad area, a municipal social worker notifies SOS to be on call in
case its services are needed. In certain situations, a child might become
orphaned following a tragedy, while in other cases a child might need to be
removed from a home due to domestic abuse. Rose says that “even if it’s 2 a.m.,”
if he gets a call from a social worker, he needs to be prepared to send a
professionally trained SOS staff member to relocate the child to the village’s
emergency shelter unit.
For the next six months, the child remains at
Neradim, where all options are explored in conjunction with the ministry to find
the most suitable permanent solution. During that time, the child lives and attends school on
In some cases, if the authorities deem it safe, the child returns
home. In other cases, the child moves in with extended family or into another
According to Rose, however, in about 40 percent of
the cases, the only solution is for the youngster to move into Neradim
When that occurs, the child is transferred into a fully
furnished home in the village, which he or she shares with a group of other
children, and begins attending classes in the Arad school system.
home in the village has a “mother” who oversees the children’s well-being. All
of these mothers are single women, mostly in their 40s or 50s, willing to take
on the responsibility of essentially raising the children. In some cases, the
house mother already has children of her own, and they join her in the home and
live alongside the SOS children. According to Gershinsky, a relationship
develops in which the house mother “feels that all the kids in the house,
whether they are biological or not, are her own.”
Meirav Almedvi, who has
served as the house mother at Neradim’s youth home for 14- to 18-year-olds for
over two years, concurs. In addition to the 15 teenagers living with her, she
has two small children of her own. Almedvi – who is busy preparing a hot lunch
for her charges as she speaks to The Jerusalem Post – says that she treats all
the children in the house as if they were her own.
“When they go out on
Friday night, I give them a curfew, like any mother would,” she says. While she
admits that sometimes her job is difficult, as it’s not always easy working with
teenagers, she feels great satisfaction serving as their
“While I am responsible for fulfilling these children’s needs
and showing them a sense of love, I feel like I get so much love back in return,
which makes it such a meaningful job,” she says.
Her responsibilities as
house mother also include making sure the teens get up for school in the morning
and are fed breakfast.
When they are at school, she shops for the home,
picks up any necessary medication from the pharmacy and then prepares lunch for
when they return. In the afternoons, she is on homework duty and makes sure the
teens get to their extracurricular activities – or in some cases, therapy
sessions – either on or off campus.
Gershinsky admits that being a house
mother is an intense experience, and he seeks to hire only women willing to
commit for at least five years because of the attachment that goes along with
being the children’s main source of support and love. When Almedvi has a day
off, she is replaced with an “aunt” who assumes all of her responsibilities in
running the household.
In addition to the housing units, the village has
plenty of amenities, including sports fields, a petting zoo and a computer lab.
Most of the facilities are maintained by volunteers known as shinshinim –
post-high school students who defer army service for a year to give back to
Gershinsky insists that while his young population
enters Neradim under difficult circumstances, it is the goal of SOS to make sure
that “these kids feel no less significant than any other kids at
That’s why, he adds, “SOS doesn’t accept old, used clothing as
handouts, and we don’t take leftover food. While we can’t provide every luxury
in the world, these kids go to school feeling good about
Rose says that while the youth village is not designed for
the religious sector, his staff is respectful and ensures that all of the
children living there have their religious needs met. He adds that the village
places a high value on Jewish identity and that the children take part in
meaningful field trips throughout the country.
In addition, he has begun
a Holocaust studies program on campus, which includes a trip to Poland for the
11th- and 12th-graders. When the children return from paying tribute to those
who perished in the Holocaust, he says, “they come back with perspective – that
their own personal situations could be a lot worse.”
Most recently SOS
Israel launched a new, community-based program outside of the village to assist
at-risk youth who are still living at home but might be in danger of losing
parental care. The program includes services to strengthen the family, such as
parenting courses and counseling. In some cases, Rose says, it provides
low-income families with basic needs like food, or appropriate clothing for the
children to wear to school.
While the youth village is heavily funded by
the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, he says several programs, including
the Holocaust studies program and the community- based program, are funded in
full thanks to private donors and foundations.
As the tour comes to a
close, Rose receives one more hug – this one from 18- year-old Kobi, who is on
his way to the Dead Sea; he works as a waiter in one of the more prominent
resort hotels there.
Kobi has been living at Neradim since the age of
five and has high aspirations as he prepares to enter an IDF combat unit in
“This is my home,” he says proudly. “I love it here.”
says that like Kobi, many of Neradim’s youth overcome their obstacles to achieve
great success both in their army service and in life.
“We instill in
these children a sense of volunteerism,” says the director, proudly describing
how Neradim youth serve as volunteer medics in Magen David Adom and in the Civil
“Most importantly we teach these kids that they can grow up and
become something in life,” he concludes. “After just a short time living here,
they see that they can succeed and become people who contribute to society.”