Many people have different places on their bucket list to visit when travelling to Israel, and mine has always been Neve Hanna in Kiryat Gat, established in 1973 under the dynamic leadership of Hanni Ullman, a veteran Israeli educator and recipient of the prestigious President’s Award for Volunteerism. Neve Hanna is named for Hanna Kaplan, a Holocaust survivor who bequeathed money to Hanni to create a family-style home for children in distress. During our recent trip to Israel for Coby Dov’s Bar Mitzvah, I was privileged to mark one of those bucket list destinations off my list – and it will definitely be a repeated place to visit in the future! Since I was a teenager, I have always wanted to visit Neve Hanna, because my Rabbi, Rabbi Benjamin Z. Kreitman, one of the greatest influences in my life, always described it as a magical place that transformed people’s lives and recognized each individual’s needs and challenges. The pictures he showed me were of children with smiling faces, clearly loving their current home. I knew that this would be a perfect place to visit on our Coby Dov Bar Mitzvah mission! Rabbi Kreitman, the Founding President of American Friends of Neve Hanna, never stopped talking about the children who lived at Neve Hanna, who were removed from their homes due to physical and psychological violence, neglect, and sexual abuse, and now live in family-like units grouped according to age. On our recent visit, we were able to see one of the four family-like units, but the approximately 80 children who live there, between the ages of 6 to 18, were all in school. I can say, their rooms were incredibly neat! After school, an additional 45 children come to Neve Hanna for their day care programs and return home every night. One of these programs is a joint Jewish-Bedouin program.
Rabbi Kreitman praised Neve Hanna for being a warm, loving home environment for the children, which offers support, assistance, guidance and care. During our recent visit, this warmth was definitely conveyed – from the minute we stepped off our tour bus, to the Facebook comments I receive from Rabbi Liron Levy, the rabbi at Neve Hanna, to the delicious cookies we received from their in-house bakery. The in-house bakery, Yeladudes Bakery, teaches children the values of work and imparts to them useful life skills, such as ethics and business management. The children at Neve Hanna learn the art of baking and marketing delicious specialty breads, cakes, and cookies, which are in demand in the dining rooms of Israeli corporations, sold in malls, and served on El Al flights. At Neve Hanna, this is just one way that children are able to grow up to become self-confident and independent adolescents and young adults. Neve Hanna provides group programs and therapies, with the goal of rehabilitating severely traumatized children, empowering them and promoting their educational and social development, while imparting to them the tools to build successful, independent, self-sufficient future lives. All of them receive individual counseling, including art, dance, and animal therapy. Many of the teenagers help run their family units and take responsibility for setting goals and budgets, even earning and saving money for activities like concerts, movies, and trips.
Neve Hanna is recognized under the Masorti Movement as a Kehilla: a loving home in the Jewish Community. Kehilla means community, and that is exactly what Neve Hanna is: a warm community that inspires growth. The children at Neve Hanna are taught Jewish values. They say their prayers before and after meals, join the Shabbat and holiday services, learn about Jewish heritage and tradition, and each one celebrates their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Rabbi Liron Levy, a graduate of the Schechter Institutes, is employed at Neve Hanna, and prepares the children for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration, an important event with many guests who join the children’s celebration. While we were at Neve Hanna, one of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the petting zoo, where twelve of us in my group got to hold some of the animals – the brave amongst my group! But one activity that all twelve of us participated in, besides the delicious lunch Neve Hanna provided, was a lesson taught by Rabbi Liron Levy about what parts of the body are used to follow the words conveyed in the first paragraph of the Shema. Everyone participated in this lesson and enjoyed their learning. The greatest part of the lesson was having the current co-Presidents of American Friends of Neve Hanna, our own Women’s League past International President Janet Tobin and her husband, Irwin Tobin, join us for the lesson, a special presentation Rabbi Levy made to Coby, our candy-throwing to Coby, and our delicious lunch. Rabbi Kreitman, of blessed memory, was right – Neve Hanna is a magical place. The animals exude love the minute you see them, and the people you meet become family immediately. The food and bakery pastries are delicious, and the values of God, Torah, Israel, are taught. Lives are transformed daily, and mitzvot are lived daily, just by the very fact that such an amazing place as Neve Hanna exists.
Neve Hanna is a place that the entire Conservative/Masorti Movement should take great pride in, and we, as part of WLCJ, should, as well, with Janet Tobin as the co-President of American Friends of Neve Hanna. Make sure you arrange a trip to Neve Hanna in Kiryat Gat on your next trip to Israel!