By Lisa Pollack
I work for The American Friends of Neve Hanna (AFNH), a non-profit organization for Neve Hanna Children’s Home in Kiryat Gat, Israel. From its inception in 1973, Neve Hanna has provided a warm and loving home for children from disadvantaged families. They are the children of Russian, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern immigrants and native-born Israelis. With its successful therapeutic programs and projects, Neve Hanna Children’s Home strives to meet all the physical, emotional, mental and educational needs of its children. They enrich its children with a wide variety of individualized therapeutic programs and extracurricular activities – providing a nurturing and supportive family environment. Neve Hanna offers these children the chance to grow beyond the circumstances from which they emerged. Neve Hanna aims to instill in its children a sense of self-worth and an attachment to Jewish tradition and values. Hundreds of children have attended Neve Hanna. Most go on to build successful careers and raise healthy families.
In the summer of 2018, I had the extraordinary opportunity touring Israel with Janet and Irwin Tobin, Co-Presidents of American Friends of Neve Hanna (AFNH). Our tour included a day at the Neve Hanna campus, in Kiryat Gat and overnight stay at NH’s northern retreat in Rosh Pina and in Jerusalem, the B’nai Mitzvah of 6 boys and 6 girls at the egalitarian section of the Kotel, Robinson’s Arch, led by Rabbi Liron Levy. I was deeply moved spiritually and emotionally as I watched each child being called to the Torah with love and pride. The celebration continued at the Leonardo Jerusalem Hotel with a gala luncheon sponsored by AFNH and a musical dance program performed by the children.
In addition to the tour, I had the unique opportunity to stay in Israel for an extra week volunteering at Neve Hanna. It was a heartfelt journey with a fully engaged week created by Antje Naujoks, their PR Director. This week included working at the Petting Zoo and Bakery, having lunch and dinner with staff or a different family unit as well as observing the children as they navigated daily routines, rituals and fun.
There are six family units with 10 to 15 children in each group. All units have a House Mother and Father and an Israeli and German volunteer. I engaged with each child through conversation (with house mother’s translations), laughter and playing board games. Many of the young Israeli volunteers who work at Neve Hanna make it their mission and responsibility to create and build projects for the children with the purpose of teaching social awareness and giving back to the community. The children are taught the importance and value of Tikkun Olam and Mitzvahs by giving to those less fortunate. One of the girls, working at the Bakery in the afternoons, contributes part of her earnings to a community service group that provides food to those in need.
Sharing dinner and conversation every evening with a different family gave me the chance to learn how each child is unique. Each family unit is run and operated differently with its children behaving as brothers and sisters. Every family is different, but they all have a common factor – strong relationships and love. These bonding’s are powerful and evident throughout every family group.
Volunteering at the Petting Zoo, I gained knowledge and experienced the amount of work and responsibility involved caring for each animal. The Petting Zoo is much more than a place where the children watch, feed and pet the animals. Of most importance, the therapists examine behavioral patterns as they observe the children interacting with the animals.
During the late afternoons and early evenings, I explored the campus, photographed and spent additional time with the staff and children. I witnessed sportsmanship, teamwork and friendship as the children played basketball and soccer.
Several children asked to use my camera. I delighted in showing them how to hold and operate the camera. Each child patiently waited their turn. It was an exciting time viewing each child capturing the moment. Many of those same children are enrolled in Neve Hanna’s Photo Workshop.
Volunteering at Neve Hanna Children’s Home has reshaped my life and mission on how truly remarkable, vitally important and beneficial Neve Hanna is to the well-being of the children, who are the hope, pride and future of Israel. A piece of my soul has been left there as the Children’s Home remains in my heart. Neve Hanna is truly “Changing Children’s Lives.” I look forward to the future, in hopes of returning to Israel to spend more time at Neve Hanna.
Go to www.afnevehanna.org to learn more about the children, programs and projects. On your next trip to Israel, please consider visiting Neve Hanna Children’s Home.