Thanks to the initiative of a dedicated educator and a caring individual who stepped up to the challenge, approximately 130 young men who were, as the expression goes, “lost in the system” became productive citizens imbued with a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Rabbi Dov Frank, who taught high school boys in B’nei Brak, a primarily orthodox Jewish city in the Tel Aviv district, and Yehuda Herzlich, owner of a unit in the farming community of Moshav Kfar Zeitim in the Lower Galilee, are the main forces behind Yeshivat Kfar Zeitim, a nurturing residential high school for at-risk boys from ultra-orthodox homes located on the moshav. The school combines vocational training with religious studies in order to meet the needs of students who do not fit into standard haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jewish academic framework.
Founded in 2000, the institution’s primary goal is to help the boys discover their own talents and strengths and to thrive. Between the ages of 14 and 18, most come from troubled backgrounds and have been dealing with issues such as learning disabilities, low self-esteem and emotional damage. The school provides therapy as needed.
Before coming up with the idea for a new school with an individualized program, Rabbi Frank had become increasingly frustrated by what he saw happening to a significant percentage of the graduates of mainstream yeshiva high schools, who were in critical need of direction, Itamar Posen, Kfar Zeitim’s PR/Administrative director, explained in an interview with United with Israel.
“The school started with 12 teenagers that Rabbi Frank took off the street.” Posen said.
“He rented an apartment, gave them productive work, such as growing vegetables and sewing,” Posen said. Most important, “he didn’t look at them as failures.”
After searching for better accommodations and tools, Rabbi Frank became aware that a number of cabins were vacant at Kfar Zeitim and that the owners were a family that fostered children and had an interest in social services. He started with 12-15 teens who went to live there and work there.”
Herzlich, the owner who himself has six children, became deeply involved. “In many ways, he is a foster parent for all of the kids in the program, but not officially,” a person familiar with the program told UWI.
Yeshivat Kfar Zeitim, which now boasts 130 students, offers programs in industrial electronics, computer maintenance and networks, carpentry and agriculture besides the core subjects of English, mathematics, and Hebrew. The first couple of hours of the day are dedicated to Torah study.
In 2010 the school began a successful partnership with the renowned ORT network of vocational schools.
Posen conceded that it was difficult at first for many families to change their expectations of their sons, having had specific goals in mind for them that were more consistent with the traditional haredi lifestyle.
“Over the years, we have seen a tangible process taking place in haredi society,” he said. “During the first years of Kfar Zeitim, many of the youth came by themselves, without their parents. For many of the parents, more important than the boy being at Kfar Zeitim was that he would not be at home, disrupting the education of his younger siblings and the rest of the family. Today, parents understand that for the youth that come to us, Kfar Zeitim is a first choice. It is the place that suits them best, the most appropriate place for them.”
Despite the obstacles, with the help of Kfar Zeitim, the students, most of whom are highly intelligent, graduate with success and become solid citizens who build families, establish careers and serve their country. Several have served in the IDF.
By: Atara Beck, United with Israel