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Israel's COVID crisis "outsmarted" by KKL-JNF Houses of Excellence

KKL-JNF Houses are still continuing to provide a ‘second home’ for disadvantaged youth – while keeping strictly to Israel’s Health Ministry regulation

 (photo credit: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)
(photo credit: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)
Israel is now in its second lockdown with daily confirmed COVID new cases per capita the highest in the world. For the first time, Israel’s daily COVID deaths per capita have surpassed those of the United States.
Despite these worrying statistics, KKL-JNF (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael - Jewish National Fund) Houses are still continuing to provide a ‘second home’ for disadvantaged youth – while keeping strictly to Israel’s Health Ministry regulations. “Throughout the summer, we are carrying on our regular activities, while of course taking precautions,” said Nof Hagalil KKL-JNF Excellency House Director, Shimon Abuhatzira.
When tenth-grader Ma’ayan Hayut decided to take part in the KKL-JNF House for Excellence project at her Yigal Alon Ort School in Nof Hagalil, she had no idea that it would literally turn her life around. “I decided to go and check the place out,” Ma'ayan said.
(photo credit: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)
“They offered tutorials and that was something I felt I needed.” The House for Excellence drastically improved her academic
performance. When 16-year-old Hayut started going to the KKL-JNF House, her average grade was 70 in math and she had failed English. “The small class sizes are the exact opposite of what we have at school,” she said.  
“Although the teachers in school would like to give everyone individual attention, they find it difficult to do so because the classes are so big. The fact that we learn in groups of five at the KKL-JNF House also helps our teachers identify the specific ways in which we need help for whatever subject we’re studying, along with giving us personal attention,” Maayan said. 
(photo credit: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)

Ongoing help with studies and preparation for the matriculation exams in small groups has produced more success stories like that of Ma'ayan Hayut - data published by the Ministry of Education shows a 10% increase in the number of students who sit their matriculation exams for level 5 math. In the words of KKL-JNF World Chairman Daniel Atar, “We are creating a model that gives children growing up in the peripheral regions an equal opportunity to fully realize their abilities.”
Beyond classroom grades, Hayut's personal growth has also been transformed by the KKL-JNF House - she was elected as head of the Nof Hagalil Municipal Youth Council, which has 30 members representing the town’s youth. The House staff helped Hayut in her election campaign and gave her the self-confidence to stand in front of the local youth and present herself.
“As someone who served for two decades as the head of the Gilboa Regional Council and who himself is a resident of a peripheral region, I can honestly say that someone who grows up in Israel’s periphery is not only dependent on their own abilities,” said KKL-JNF World Chairman Daniel Atar.
“By means of the KKL-JNF Houses for Excellence, we are creating a model for children who grow up in the periphery to fully actualize themselves without being obstructed by a glass ceiling. In addition, it is our hope that the tools, values and support that we are providing them through the KKL-JNF Houses will encourage them to continue living in outlying regions and to help develop them.”
The KKL-JNF Houses for Excellence are a social and educational flagship project - part of KKL-JNF’s vision for the future, called “Israel 2040 – Israeli Relocation – KKL-JNF Builds the Land of the Future”. The “Israel 2040,” in the words of Atar, is aimed at being a “catalyst for a bright future,” offering solutions for problems in employment, infrastructure, education and housing in the Negev and Galilee, by creating a new reality in which by the year 2040, peripheral regions will be transformed into international technological and hi-tech centers where over a 1.5 million people will make their homes.
(photo credit: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)

The Houses provide a framework for study groups, workshops, enrichment lectures, educational excursions and social activities - they don’t just help young people, but also the broader community. For instance, in the morning, the Houses provide information and skills to promote quality of life and social mobility. Throughout Israel, KKL-JNF Houses adapt themselves to the particular needs of the community in coordination with the respective local authorities.
(photo credit: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)
The strong bond and partnership with KKL-JNF donors worldwide is significant to the KKL-JNF development of the Houses of Excellence across Israel's periphery. The generous support since the first House of Excellence opened in Nof Hagalil by KKL-Italy, through the recently inaugurated House in Kiryat Malachi supported by JNF-UK to the 2021 planned opening of the House of Excellence in Ofakim supported by KKL-France.  With additional Houses of Excellence in development, the gratitude and appreciation to JNF-Canada for supporting the Sderot House of Excellence, KKL-JNF Germany for supporting House of Excellence in Tzfat and KKL Latin American's communities for supporting the Beit Shean House of Excellency.

The KKL-JNF Global Resource Development Division together with its partners and donors worldwide continues to support the need to enhance education in Israel's periphery by bringing to fruition the development of future Houses of Excellence in Migdal Ha'Emek, Kiryat Shemona, Acre and Beersheva.

The House in Nof Hagalil has been keeping students stimulated and giving them a sense of self-confidence - despite the challenges of COVID - in other ways too. The summer high school students in Nof Hagalil have participated in the entrepreneurship and app development program. The program is being carried out in collaboration with TechLift, an organization that grew out of the IDF 8200 Cyber Unit Alumni Association, which is partner to many programs at KKL-JNF House.

Participants’ main task in the entrepreneurship and applications course is to develop an app that will encourage people to visit KKL-JNF forests. Ideas that have come up in initial brainstorming sessions include creating a forest version of Pokemon GO, a Waze-like app for forest routes, and apps offering information about available tour guides and forest accessibility.

“When I heard about the course, I jumped at the opportunity immediately,” said 15-year-old Eli Shushansky, a student at Alon High School. The purpose of the course is to give youth vocational tools that will help them integrate into the high-tech field.

(photo credit: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)

“I try to give the teenagers things that I never had when I was their age. It’s really moving to see how curious and thirsty for knowledge they are,” said program facilitator Daniel Gutkin.
“As a small child, I took part in an applications development course, and now I’m here for a professional, more mature and high-level course. This is a field that I might want to work in one day, so it’s really good for me to already get some experience,” said 15-year-old Daniel Turk.
“The idea is to make technological and entrepreneurial knowledge accessible to youth who live in Israel’s social and geographical periphery,” explained Tal Korem, the course’s operations and guidance coordinator. “This is how we promote equal opportunity for all, along with narrowing gaps.”
(photo credit: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)

“It’s boring to be at home all day long, and I thought it would be interesting to learn how to build apps, so right away I decided to join,” said 14-year-old Avital Shivatz. “This is my first time at KKL-JNF House, and I hope to learn things that you don’t learn at school.”
“It’s interesting to learn how to program apps. We’re anyway attached to our cell phones around the clock, so at least we should do something useful with them,” said Avital's friend, Zelta Pavlok.
Noam Goldstein, a studies coordinator at the KKL-JNF House in Nof Hagalil, explained that the goal is for the students to succeed in their studies, and, no less importantly, to empower them to mature as all-rounded personalities and take part in social activism.
“As far as we are concerned, if a student gets a grade of 100 on the highest level of mathematics, but doesn’t get up to give an elderly person a seat on the bus, we haven’t really accomplished anything. We want them to learn how to relate to other people and work together, along with learning how to study and succeed.”
“We want to give our students the confidence to speak in front of a public audience and train them to express themselves, as well as giving them technical skills and making them appreciate the importance of a conducive learning environment,” said Goldstein.
Nof Hagalil KKL-JNF Excellency House Director Shimon Abuhatzira said that there are supplementary tutorials and enrichment studies throughout the year. During the summer, there is a preparatory program for ninth-grade students in order to prepare them for their next year at high school. “The participants study, enjoy and take part in value-oriented and fun activities,” he said.
The KKL-JNF House in Nof Hagalil has adapted its programs to deal with the COVID Ministry of Health regulations. For instance, study groups were split into smaller units, and some activities were relocated to other educational spaces in the city. All those entering the House must disinfect their hands, get their temperature taken, give their ID number, and of course, wear masks.
 “During corona times, you can’t go out for entertainment, but I didn’t want to sit at home all day long,” said Alicia Kovelchuk.
“I was supposed to have been on a youth mission to the US right now, and of course I was very disappointed that it was cancelled, but at least I have an opportunity to do other things that are interesting and useful during my vacation, which will also contribute to my future.”
Liron Roime is not only participating in the application development course, but also in a mathematics summer course at KKL-JNF House. “I know that most of my friends are fast asleep at home right now, but it’s important for me to invest in my studies and to be better prepared for tenth grade. It’s really good that there’s a place in Nof Hagalil that creates a space for students who want to invest in their studies and learn. And what’s most important is that it doesn’t cost anything at all, so anyone who wants to can be a part of this.”
In these difficult and depressing COVID times, it's easy to lose one's sense of drive, hope and optimism. The determination of the KKL-JNF Houses of Excellence to continue to provide outstanding services for young people and the underprivileged, is a real example to the rest of Israeli society that despite all the COVID regulations and limitations, we need to continue to innovate and strive to be a catalyst for change.
Written in cooperation with KKL-JNF