Finding their own strength

The Beit Ruth educational and therapeutic village sets at-risk girls on productive path.

Beit Ruth girls 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Beit Ruth girls 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Welfare and Social Services Ministry maintains a list of 20,000 names – girls in Israel living in unstable environments, neglected by their families and on a path towards destructive behavior, either to themselves or to society.
Just over a year ago, on the sixth day of Operation Pillar of Defense, a crowd gathered in a few newly built houses in Afula. The opening ceremony for the Beit Ruth educational and therapeutic village for girls opened its doors, in the shadow of the eight-day operation to stop incessant rocket fire coming from the Gaza Strip. It demonstrated the type of freedom and initiative that Israel had been fighting to preserve.
The village officially opened its doors in January of this year and consists of three villas, two of which are operational, and a small school building. Though it has the capacity to house 30 girls, currently only 20 live there.
Susan Ashner, a New York-based businesswoman and philanthropist, worked with the Jaffa Institute, a nonprofit child welfare agency with 35 years experience, to found the Beit Ruth Hostel in Rishon Lezion in 2006. Ashner was inspired to open a hostel for girls after visiting a similar project run by the Jaffa Institute in Beit Shemesh, for boys. The name of the hostel comes from the biblical story of Ruth the Moabite, who puts her faith in her mother-in-law, Naomi, to guide her in an uncertain future, and strengthens herself to believe in the possibility of a brighter future in Israel.
“We spent three years to find the answer to what was the best way to help these girls,” Ashner says.
“It was quite an education. The more I found out, the more I knew this had to be. That there was no way out of this.”
For its first six years, Beit Ruth operated solely as a hostel, with the resources to house, educate and provide therapy to 12 girls at a time. However, Ashner, along with the rest of the Beit Ruth staff, felt that given the proper resources and facilities, they could help many more disadvantaged girls.
And so, the plan to expand Beit Ruth from just a hostel to an entire village was born.
There are more than enough disadvantaged girls in Israel who could benefit from Beit Ruth’s services. In order to prioritize the most fitting cases, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry provides Beit Ruth with a list of at-risk girls, which then assesses which girls it can help and it thinks will be a good fit.
“After that assessment, there’s an intake process that occurs,” Beit Ruth grant and volunteer coordinator Emily Gatt says. “But after that, the girls are the final decision-makers about whether or not they want to stay here.”
In this way, Beit Ruth extended its facilities beyond the hostel – and the first step to an expansion of an entire village was initiated.
“Our main priority is providing a good, stable framework for the long-term success of the village,” Gatt says.
Since the hostel was so well-established, the Beit Ruth staff debated transferring girls from the hostel to the village, but in the end decided it would be in everybody’s best interests to leave the girls who had been living in the hostel at the hostel, and to bring in new girls to the village.
“We thought about moving girls from the hostel to be leaders at the village,” Gatt says. “But in the end, we decided that we didn’t want to disrupt the progress that the girls had made at the hostel.”
The dynamics between the girls themselves as well as the girls with the staff was a major factor in both the decision not to transfer girls from the hostel to the village, and the decision to bring in new girls to the village at a slow pace, despite the increased physical capacity.
“There’s an adjustment period. Every time we bring in a new girl, the dynamics change,” Gatt says. “So we want to have an initial period of time to allow for that adjustment. At the village, all the girls are new, which is different from the hostel, where there’s more peer role modeling and the established atmosphere can help girls to settle in more quickly. But since all the girls in the village are new, they can slowly develop their own framework and leadership and support.”
Because of this differentiation, Beit Ruth has also been able to tailor the hostel and the village toward girls with different needs, and has focused on taking in girls at the village who have more difficult problems than those they take in at the hostel.
As the girls currently housed at the village adjust to their new environment, Beit Ruth continues to look to the future, with short-term hopes of filling the remaining 10 vacancies and building a swimming pool and recreational grounds in 2014, and with long-term hopes of completing the entire construction process in 2020.
The construction is taking place in six separate phases, which will eventually produce 10 dorm units and a large community public school building that will allow Beit Ruth to help other girls in the community who need individualized academic and therapeutic support, but who don’t necessarily need housing.
The original time line for the construction was to complete the first four phases in two years and the remaining two phases in one additional year. But, just as with their decision to take in girls at a slower rate than their physical capacity would allow, the Beit Ruth staff have opted to complete construction at a slower rate, favoring longterm stability over immediacy.
But the expansion of the physical facilities only marks an ability to expand the reach of what Beit Ruth has already been doing for seven years. And that impact is hard to quantify with mere numbers and statistics.
“I can’t explain the transformation that happens,” Ashner said. “When the girls first come, they are in distress. They are in pain. They are withdrawn. And then, slowly, slowly, they blossom like flowers, and they inspire us all.”
When the village was inaugurated, Shir, a 17-year-old at the time who had lived in the hostel for two years, spoke to Metro.
“The best part about it has been that I’ve gotten a lot of love,” Shir said. “I never had a real family. They gave me a safe place here. Now, the girls are my family. I love them all. We fight over ketchup and do our chores together.”
Particularly for youth who come from the types of traumatic home life situations that the girls at Beit Ruth have experienced, this type of emotional and educational support network is key for overcoming the past and having a successful future.
“[The girls] need to be in a supportive environment to successfully pass through the adolescent stage and become contributing adults,” World WIZO Executive chairwoman Rivka Lazovsky, who has been heavily involved with Beit Ruth from the beginning, says. “The environment of the village could not be more conducive… [where they are] surrounded by people who are not only professional, but who really, really care; who will guide with smiles on their faces and believe that every girl, without exception, can and should reach her full potential.”
Beit Ruth’s involvement with these girls doesn’t stop when they turn 18 and leave the hostel or village. The staff keep in contact with all the girls that leave their doors.
“Once they turn 18, most of our girls go into the army or national service,” Gatt said. “But we welcome them back all the time for weekends when they may be on leave, or just want to visit. We have a long-term support system, and we keep track of them just to see how they’re doing and to evaluate our services, to see what we can do to improve the way we support the girls now that will help them later on.”
In addition to this long-term support network, Beit Ruth has plans to dedicate a villa specifically to women aged 18 to 24, to provide shelter and services after the army and to help them continue to pursue their education, if they decide to do so.
“After they leave our doors, girls go on to the national service, to hold meaningful jobs, and some even have families of their own and are happily working wives and mothers,” Gatt said.
“Overall, we’re proud of the work we do and hope that the continued growth of the village will allow us to keep doing it.”
Beit Ruth is always looking for volunteers, and financial support is greatly appreciated. To volunteer, contact Emily Gatt at emilygat@; to donate, contact Mitch Chupak at mitchchupak@ or 1-866-471-1923.