For the past 27 years, Beit Haggai Youth Village, located about seven miles south of Hebron, has been involved in a unique and difficult mission of national importance. The youth village has opened its doors and its heart to at risk and distressed youth in order to help them integrate fully in to Israeli society.
The youth village was founded to fulfill the dreams of three young men (Hanan, Gershon, and Yaakov, whose Hebrew initials spell Haggai) whose lives were cut short by Arab terrorists in Hebron in the early 1980s. These three friends had planned on becoming educators and working with at risk youth, and their classmates and friends decided to dedicate themselves to creating this legacy.
The exceptional educational methods at the village have earned the praise and admiration of social workers and therapists and are based on the group family model. Instead of sleeping in dormitories with counselors, the students live in group homes of 8–10 boys in a regular house with a young couple and their small children, who all serve as role models. Thus the boys gain the sense of being part of a big, loving family and can heal, grow, and develop in a genuine, homey atmosphere.
The village currently has six group family homes that provide for all the needs of some 60 boys ages 13–18 from all over Israel, most of whom had been expelled from several schools and came to Beit Haggai as their “last hope.” Many come from broken homes and all have troubled backgrounds.
A tour of the South Hebron Hills is scheduled for Wednesday, April 4, during chol ha’moed Pesach and is open to everyone. Visit www.kbeithaggai.com/english/ for full details.
One of the major challenges of the educational staff is convincing the boys to believe in themselves and their ability to build a brighter future for themselves—and that involves accepting authority and making the effort to fit into the programs.
The special education program at the youth village, called Miftan Beit Haggai, keeps the boys busy from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m. with regular high school studies and occupational and creative workshops, with a maximum of 12 students per class. The boys learn carpentry, welding, agriculture, and art in addition to matriculation subjects. The boys also work with animals on the village ranch and learn horseback riding as part of their behavioral and emotional therapy.
Chai Cohen, who is now director of the village, started working there with his wife 18 years ago and fell in love with the youth village concept and the pastoral surroundings. “I believe in the ability of every boy who comes here to fulfill the potential within him,” says Cohen.
Over the years, the youth village has celebrated the success of many of its students, who arrived with a complicated set of problems and emotional turmoil, but managed to learn, build their character, and enter adulthood full of promise and hope.
The staff relates recent success stories that are a source of pride and inspiration:
Yehuda (not his real name) was one of the village’s youngest students, arriving when he was just 12. The staff described him as a “sweet, very active, and mischievous child with a winning smile and piercing eyes.” He grew up in a broken home and had been expelled from several schools. The social services in his hometown suggested he try Beit Haggai Youth Village, and although Yehuda wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, he agreed to come for a short trial period.
At first it was very difficult for Yehuda to trust the system after all he had been through, but he felt he had nothing to lose. He didn’t like being told what to do, and especially what not to do, but gradually he began to believe in the village’s staff.
The parents in Yehuda’s group home were so warm and so accepting, and he found the safe and loving environment that he was so lacking. Yehuda decided to remain at the village throughout his high school years, and became a successful student.
About two years ago, Yehuda graduated from the youth village high school program and then studied in a pre-army preparatory program before joining the Israel Defense Forces. He became a combat soldier and was recently accepted into a commander’s training program.
“It’s hard to believe the amazing progress he made and how happy he is now compared to the troubled 12 year old who arrived here,” one of the staff said. “We continue to keep in touch with Yehuda and make sure to be at all the ceremonies for each of his milestones in the army. With G-d’s help, we look forward to celebrating more successes with him throughout his life.”
This is just one story among many dozens. Most of the youth village’s graduates serve in the IDF, integrate successfully into adult life, get married, and raise wonderful families of their own.
The success of the program is thanks to the combined efforts of all the professionals, who accept each boy with warmth and love. Each boy receives a personalized program tailored to his physical, scholastic, and emotional needs, and suited to his talents and strengths.
“We believe that every boy deserves an opportunity to change his path. We will invest the love and faith in every boy who is willing to make the effort to acquire the tools he needs to overcome his difficulties and embark on a new path,” said the director, who hopes to build two more houses for group homes so more boys can be accepted to the youth village’s programs.