Yemin Orde Serves As a Model Near And Far
Volunteering for a year at Yemin Orde Youth Village, a community and school for at-risk youth in Israel, was eye-opening and inspiring, said Heidi Solomon, program coordinator for Jewish Family Service Association’s Horvitz Youth Ability program in Cleveland.
“It has changed my life since then,” said Solomon, who volunteered at Yemin Orde in 1993 and 1994 after receiving her master’s degree in education. “The atmosphere is all shaped by Chaim Peri,” she said, referring to the director-emeritus of the village and founder-director of Yemin Orde Education Initiatives. “He gives these kids a sense of self. There are kids who are left on the street and scooped up from different corners of the world and brought there for an incredible experience.” Yemin Orde, she said, is helping them “not only survive, but to thrive and succeed.”
Last spring, Solomon included a stop at Yemin Orde on the itinerary for an Israel trip for members of Youth Ability, which serves disabled and at-risk Cleveland youth by engaging them in volunteerism. “Youth Ability held a fundraiser for Yemin Orde in the winter of 2010 following the forest fires which ravaged the village,” Solomon wrote in a blog from Israel to Cleveland Jewish News. “The kids were excited to see the village in person. We walked the grounds seeing both the signs of the fires and many signs of renewal.”
Located on a serene, 77-acre campus atop Mount Carmel, Yemin Orde village serves more than 500 children from 20 countries. Children live and learn according to tikkun halev (repair of the heart) and tikkun olam (repair of the world).
“It’s Zionist in the true sense,” founder Chaim Peri told the Cleveland Jewish News during a visit to the United States in May. “Some of Israel’s greatest leaders were raised in youth villages.”
Yemin Orde students, about half of whom are Ethiopians, thrive from “the village way,” Peri said. “It takes a village to raise a child. Our method is that.”
The method has proven successful for three decades, he said. “Rather than idolizing test scores, we focus on the culture of the schools. We show (students) they’ll never be abandoned again.”
A recent Haifa University study found that 90% of Yemin Orde graduates indicated high self-esteem and satisfaction with life; 69% participated in volunteer activities; more than one-third hold academic degrees and achieve a higher level of education than Israel’s national average; and 94% of male graduates have served in the army, including more than half as commanders or in combat units.
“They become the best Jews, menschen,” said Peri, who served as Yemin Orde director for three decades beginning in 1978 and is the author of “Teenagers Educated the Village Way.”
With Yemin Orde’s highly successful record, in 2006, the Ministry of Education urged the organization to find a way to help other villages and children. Yemin Orde Educational Initiatives, including interventions, workshops, teacher training and other special programs, were launched as a model of excellence throughout Israel. The “village way” philosophy is currently implemented in seven other youth villages, three therapeutic boarding schools and three public high schools in Israel. Peri has consulted with a number of schools in the U.S. trying to replicate the Yemin Orde model for at-risk youth.
In his recent two-month tour, Peri traveled to several U.S. cities, participating in community-wide education symposiums and Israel celebrations.
“If the world were like Yemin Orde, it would be much better,” said Vic Gelb, who served as vice chairman of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland from 1969 to 1971. “The Yemin Orde philosophy is exceptional in working with youth at risk. They provide the closest thing to a home, and the school is sensitive to personal challenges. It’s a village that supports every child.” Once students graduate and move on to military service and careers, Yemin Orde also provides them a home to come back to, he said.
Yemin Orde graduates become “exceptional, valued Israeli citizens,” said Gelb, who has been on the Friends of Yemin Orde board for several years. The Friends’ role is to raise funds for the youth village and education initiatives, as Yemin Orde depends on philanthropy for 30% of its funding. Support became even more crucial after the 2010 wildfire destroyed nearly half of Yemin Orde facilities.
By Sue Hoffman, Staff Reporter, Cleveland Jewish News.
This article was originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News, August 7, 2012.