Making a difference in people’s lives

The Jerusalem Foundation works with vulnerable populations in the city, from at-risk teens to Holocaust survivors.

Café Europa (photo credit: Courtesy)
Café Europa
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“‘David’, a 16-year-old with a reputation for violence, was invited for a 4 p.m. interview at the day center,” recalls Eitan Yogev, director of the Yaelim Nature Therapy Center at Ein Yael. “The mother called to say that the boy refused to come, but that we should wait. They finally showed up at seven. His mother was afraid of him, and the staff worried that he lacked motivation.”
The mother promised the center that if David were accepted at Yaelim, she and her husband would get him on the bus.
“In the end,” says Yogev, “David didn’t miss a single session. He started to become successful at Yaelim and he took control of himself at school, too. The school couldn’t believe the difference.”
The Yaelim Nature Therapy Center is just one of several projects funded by the Jerusalem Foundation that make a difference to old and young among the vulnerable populations every day in Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem Foundation established the Ein Yael Living Museum in 1989, buying the land around a natural spring and ancient settlement in the southwest of the city. The museum houses the Yaelim Nature Therapy Center, which serves 250 at-risk youth each year.
“Yaelim works with teens who are failing at school or ‘acting out,’” explains Oded Regev, director of Ein Yael.
Many have a history of disabilities, abuse, or neglect.
“After we see that the children are connecting with the agriculture, we ask them to train as young counselors. It’s a dramatic turnaround, when a teen about to drop out of school gets asked to become a leader.” Once they graduate the year-long course, counselors work at Yaelim’s day camp and serve as guides at the Ein Yael museum.
Teens at the center learn a range of skills such as gardening, recycling, composting, climatology, ecological systems, use of tools and pest management.
“The welfare services refer the teens to us,” says Yogev.
“After a year of training, they get a salary, along with supervision and support. They don’t just learn agriculture. They learn to take responsibility, work in a team and speak in front of groups.”
At-risk teens attend a day center at Yaelim twice a week.
“This gives them a year to get organized and connect to themselves, to the community,” Yogev explains.
“In addition to the nature program, the teens learn about entrepreneurship, computers, culture, and current events.
Yaelim provides ongoing mentoring to help the children recognize and develop their unique strengths. While accepting the child’s difficulties, we give them supervision and support for making productive choices.”
“A typical child at risk, who dropped out of school, may not only have no money. He likely has no boundaries, no attention, nothing. At Yaelim he builds himself up from scratch, in the field, by completing tasks. He has to make food, he has to learn what he is good at. Gradually he learns what skills he can take with him as an adult.”
“The goal isn’t to throw teens into nature. It’s to provide a safe ‘home’ where they can test boundaries.”
The Welfare Ministry also refers families to Yaelim for therapy. One case involved eight children whose father was in jail for murdering the children’s mother.
“The children lived apart from each other in foster or institutional care,” recalls Yogev. “A few had had private therapy, but the siblings had virtually no connection. The social services decided something had to be done to rehabilitate the family.”
Yaelim provided a young counselor trained by the organization as a Hebrew-Arabic interpreter. When they started, the children barely spoke at all. Through their shared experiences at Yaelim, including activities like hiking, cooking, and crafts, the children developed shared experiences and began to bypass the psychological barriers.
“At first there was some regression, which is typical in cases where victims have not processed trauma,” explains Yogev. “But now the children have begun rebuilding their relationships with one another.
All of us involved in the case found it very emotional.”
Among other projects that the Jerusalem Foundation funds is Café Europa, which runs several programs to serve the approximately 22,000 Holocaust survivors in the Jerusalem area.
According to the Jerusalem Foundation’s community and social welfare project director, Adit Dayan, Café Europa aims to meet the social, not the therapeutic needs of survivors.
“For many, the only thing they remember from their childhood is the war,” says Dayan. “But a culture existed in Europe before the war. Café Europa’s activities trigger positive memories of childhood, by creating a social experience through shared memories.”
Café Europa meets in Rehavia for the general population of survivors, and in Romema for the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector, with separate groups for men and women.
An additional program, called Café Moscow, serves Russian speakers in Pisgat Ze’ev and Neveh Ya‘acov, northern neighborhoods in the capital.
“The Russian speakers are Jewish World War II refugees, yet they were not recognized as survivors,” notes Dayan. “But they also lost everything, and have social issues that were never dealt with. They are telling stories that have never been told. Some of them join a therapeutic group that we have set up for that purpose.”
Ruchami Merenstein, coordinator of the Holocaust division of Misgav Lakashish (“refuge for the elderly”), describes the significance of Café Europa for the group of haredi women.“ The meetings start with each survivor telling about the [happy family events] during the previous week. Many are the matriarchs of large families.
They also ask after friends who didn’t attend.”
The first hour consists of a lecture, musical program, or workshop, with the second hour devoted to an exercise activity or health education.
They are served coffee and cake, and a light hot meal before they go home. About 100 women attend each week, while 40 to 50 attend the men’s program.
Aside from the activity at the café, survivors go on monthly trips around the Jerusalem area and throughout the country.
A range of additional programs, also supported by the Jerusalem Foundation, are available for survivors, according to Tamar Schiff, CEO of Misgav Lakashish. These include a library, computer education and meals for the homebound.
Large numbers of volunteers speaking a variety of languages attend Café Europa to assist the survivors. The volunteers also visit the survivors in their homes, bringing videos of the Café Europa cultural events, teaching computers, or whatever the survivor asks for. “We try never to say no to requests,” says Schiff.
Holocaust survivors can also visit the Center for Verification of Rights and Eligibility for Holocaust Survivors, also supported by the Jerusalem Foundation.
“Every survivor should check,” urges volunteer translator Dr. Ruth Flosshauer, “as new funds continually become available. Survivors from Morocco and survivors who were babies are now eligible.
One can never know.”
Mrs. Glendwar, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, never went out of the house, according to her daughter Shoshi.
“She dedicated her entire life to her children and grandchildren.
Café Europa was the first event she attended just for herself.”
Glendwar’s participation in Café Europa led to her talking about her prewar childhood with her adult children. The cultural activities and trips via Café Europa gave her a peek into her grandchildren’s world, enabling the third generation to form a stronger relationship with their grandmother.
The Jerusalem Foundation’s programs provide services for members of vulnerable populations to lead richer, more productive lives. David, the teen who didn’t want to attend the interview at Yaelim, now works at the center in the summer and visits often.
“At the end-of-the-year party,” recalls Yogev, “when asked how he had changed, David said he no longer ‘causes trouble in the neighborhood.’”