A place to call home

IFCJ initiative lets at-risk individuals serving in the army stay in the warmth of youth villages

A Fellowship House (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
A Fellowship House
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
For at-risk youth living in youth villages, the gap months, or even gap year, between the end of high school and enrolling in the Israel Defense Forces is a critical junction in the lives of these teenagers.
On most occasions these young men and women have been forced out of their homes, or have lost contact with their parents, or come from a low socioeconomic background.
After graduating from the youth village, though, there is a clear change in the youths’ perspective. The students want to continue in their new life. They want to maintain the direction, values and principles they learned while enrolled in the youth villages, which helped build them up, support them and prepare them for leading a regular, routine life.
But without a little more help, they can easily return to the ways of their past, moving from home to home, forced to work in all sorts of jobs, not knowing what the future holds, day in, day out.
In light of this need, and seeing the great desire these future leaders have to contribute to society, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews began the program “Friendship Houses,” letting at-youth risk stay in their youth village in preparation for, and during, their army or national service.
“If there won’t be continuity in their treatment after they’re 18, the chances of at-risk youth building a good future for themselves is very small, and there’s a great danger that they’ll fall back into the same troubles that their parents were in,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the Fellowship. “For the good of all society, the government and organizations in the non-profit sector must come up with more and more solutions, such as this project.”
The eight new Friendship Houses, designed and planned by expert architects, and which are stationed in youth villages across the country, include an air conditioner, an accessorized kitchen, a spacy living room, four furnished bedrooms, electronic appliances and, of course, a safe room shelter for protection against missiles and biological and chemical warfare.
At a cost of more than NIS 2 million ($515,000), and in partnership with the Israeli Public Forum for Youth Villages and Boarding Schools for Children at Risk and Israel Education Ministry’s Rural Education division, the initiative was launched last year.
In Israel, about 25,500 children and teenagers between the ages of five and 18 are currently living in youth villages and boarding schools. Approximately 17,000 live in 56 youth villages run by the Education Ministry, while the remaining 7,500 live in 127 boarding schools operated by the Welfare Ministry. 
Benny Fisher, the director of the Education Ministry’s Rural Education division, who took care that the homes would be completely furnished, is also leading an educational program for the graduates. In each youth village, a coordinator personally accompanies each graduate, and helps them keep the tools and skills they learned while under the auspices of the youth village’s education program.
They also help them obtain new skills in preparation for their mandatory army service and ultimately for the rest of their independent lives.
The guidance continued during the youth village graduates’ time in the army or national service up to their graduation from post-secondary institutions, and all the graduates need to do to receive all this help is to volunteer.
Avi Naor, chairman and founder of Israeli Public Forum for Youth Villages and Boarding Schools for Children at Risk, said when there’s is cooperation, there is progress, and that society can’t afford to throw these young adults back from where they came.
“When the government and philanthropists work together, it will be possible to give these youth the opportunities that they deserve in order to integrate into society and succeed.”
To learn more about the building of the modern State of Israel as envisaged by the prophets of the Bible, check us out at @christian_jpost, on Facebook.com/jpostchristianworld/ and see the best of the Holy Land in The Jerusalem Post -Christian Edition monthly magazine.