Neve Avraham: An oasis for children with special needs

How the resilience of one mother in Kiryat Arba created an endeavor that benefits the entire community.

Chaviv Tzahor, founder of Neve Avraham, at her home in Kiryat Arba with her daughters Mina and Liat. (photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON)
Chaviv Tzahor, founder of Neve Avraham, at her home in Kiryat Arba with her daughters Mina and Liat.
(photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON)
‘I-i-i-ma!” The voice shattered the quiet of the room. Chaviva turned with disbelief towards the sound. And then she heard it again, a trembling yet confident voice: “I-i-i-ma” and once again “Ima.”
For most parents “ima” (“mom” in Hebrew) is a simple word that they hear daily coming out of their children’s mouths. For Chaviva, who for decades did not hear even one word spoken by her daughter Liat, now 37 years old, it was a wonderful present that gave new meaning to her unwavering belief in the special-needs daughter she had adopted as an infant.
“You see, I always knew she would speak,” she said to Mina, her biological daughter, who was in the room at the time.
It all began in 1976 when the Tzahors, Moshe and Chaviva from the settlement of Kiryat Arba, noticed a simple ad in the newspaper. “Tami is looking for a home.” They both read the ad and reached the same conclusion: Their house would be the warm home for the seven-month-old blind baby.
The baby joined the family when Chaviva was pregnant with her eighth child and immediately became part of the family. Her name was changed to Liat (Hebrew for “you are mine”), and the name symbolized the Tzahor’s unconditional decision to adopt her.
For a year and a half after the adoption Chaviva traveled back and forth to Jerusalem with Liat, a trip of more than an hour in each direction, to give her the special therapy she needed, which did not then exist in Kiryat Arba.
During this period, the true picture of Liat’s challenges became clear – Liat was not only blind but also had serious brain damage and was autistic and mute.
None of this was known at the time she was adopted. This discovery not only did not discourage the Tzahors, it strengthened their commitment to Liat.
“A blind baby – how could we leave her without a home?” Chaviva said at the time and continues to say today.
Liat grew year by year, and Moshe and Chaviva began to dream of a village for adolescents with special needs in the settlement where the family lives.
Chaviva began to raise funds to turn their aspiration into a reality, and eventually the couple’s dream became Neve Avraham, a non-profit organization.
With the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, because of Kiryat Arba’s geographic location, they could not receive the appropriate authorizations to establish the village and the idea was abandoned. Chaviva, never one to get discouraged, did not despair and made a decision to utilize the funds that had been raised for a new goal: the establishment of a treatment center for child development in the settlement.
From her personal experience, she knew how difficult and timeconsuming it was to travel back and forth to Jerusalem for treatments with an infant or young child and she wanted to make these treatments available close to home for children with special needs in Kiryat Arba and its surrounding area.
Thirty years ago, many of the creative treatments that exist today were in their infancy and the therapeutic center Chaviva and Moshe dreamed about was a pioneering initiative.
The Neve Avraham Child Development Treatment Center opened its doors in 1989 in a small Kiryat Arba apartment, offering physical therapy and paramedical treatments such as occupational and speech therapy. As time passed, the center moved to a rented building with more rooms for different types of therapeutic treatments, where it continues to operate today.
Throughout the years, the center has begun offering emotional therapies such as art, movement, and animal-assisted therapy, along with didactic evaluations, remedial teaching, and preparation for first grade. There is also a social worker at the center who works with the whole family and relates to its needs.
As Chaviva nears her 80th birthday, Liat still lives with her and she continues to take care of her needs with love and devotion. Since Moshe died more than a year ago, Chaviva has stepped down from her active role as the director of Neve Avraham, and devotes most of her time to Liat’s care. Her biological daughter, Mina Yehudit Guveri, has taken over the reins of the treatment center since her retirement.
Mina, who worked side by side with her mother throughout the years, was the natural choice to continue in Chaviva’s footsteps.
Today, Neve Avraham treats between 120 and 150 children every year and is the only center of its kind in the area.
The local health fund refers children to the center and participates in the funding of the children’s treatments.
Still, there are many more needing treatment who must wait because there is only enough room and manpower for a limited number of children at a time.
Chaviva and Mina dream about building a much larger building for the center so that they can provide treatment to every single child who needs their services. This coming week, on Tuesday, Neve Avraham is celebrating Chaviva Tzahor’s 80th birthday with a special evening in her honor.