Neve Lande main building
Neve Lande main buildingINN:RS

As the New Year approaches and the People of Israel reflect upon the Heavenly scales that will soon weigh their good deeds, Arutz Sheva went out to see the Neve Lande Home for Children in Even Shmuel, south of Ashdod, a place where good deeds tip the scale.

Almost two decades ago, one Shabbat afternoon, a social worker named Chana Greenberg approached the then Chairperson of Emunah Israel who had just given a lecture on the weekly portion to the women in her neighborhood and said: "I was in charge of the children and teens department in the Jerusalem office of the Welfare Ministry and I want to convince Emunah to fill a lack in Israel's aid to children."

Greenberg explained that there was nowhere to send mentally disturbed elementary school-aged youngsters from religious homes who had been hospitalized and were not able to live at home. These children were being sent to non-religious institutions or to places that were not suited for youngsters.

That conversation was the catalyst. Neve Lande Children's Home was the result, because the caring social worker had turned to the right address. Emunah, the Religious Zionist Women's Organization which celebrated the 80th anniversary since its founding this year, has always looked at Israeli society from a practical vantage point – that is, it looks for what is not being done to help those in need and simply buckles down to filling the gap.

Within weeks, Emunah and Israel's Welfare Department set up a professional committee to plan the establishment of the children's home and Emunah's then chairperson set about finding the funding, convincing British Emunah to take on the project and turn to the Lande family and other donors.

Neve Lande Logo
Neve Lande LogoINN:RS

At the dedication of Neve Lande several years later, a father rose and blessed Emunah Women for providing a place where his son, an 8-year-old who cannot live at home. says the Shema at night and Modeh Ani in the morning.

Neve Lande is a religious post-hospitalization dormitory for children, the only one in Israel. The children are referred to the facility by the Welfare Ministry and all are considered high risk: they have complex personality problems, have been in psychiatric hospitals before coming to the dormitory and some have been abandoned, neglected or molested at home.

Emunah's dedicated and professional staff creates a home for them, a physical as well as an emotional one. They number 74 youngsters today, aged 6-16.

Yosefa A. (right) and Chana G.
Yosefa A. (right) and Chana G.INN:RW

Arutz Sheva spoke with Yosefa Akler, the head of Neve Lande Children's Home.

Do the children attend school?

"The children suffer from behavioral and learning disabilities, as well as emotional problems so that most are in special needs classes in the area.

A task the staff takes very seriously is finding a suitable classroom environment for each child in the schools nearby. The dormitory staff is in close contact with the teaching staff in each child's school and spends a good deal of time and effort teaching reading skills..

"The help is holistic: didactic tests, emotional care, help in studies. Each grade level has a teacher for afternoon help, with individual tutoring for matriculation exams. There is a reading club.

"Some of the children attend a class we have opened on the dormitory grounds as they are unable to manage in regular classrooms. These are recognized but not yet funded by the education and welfare ministries."

"The dorm is a therapeutic, educational and experiential space for the children after school with the youngsters divided into three age levels.

Describe the non-teaching staff:

Staff needs for 10-12 children include an educational coordinator, 4 counselors, 2 national service volunteers and a social worker.

The therapy staff includes a psychologist, psychiatrist, music, art and pet therapists.

Staff meeting
Staff meetingINN:RS

How do you manage to give the youngsters what they need?

"British Emunah is dedicated to helping the children. They are still very much on hand and help give each child the enrichment that will let him feel good about himself and achieve in non-academic endeavors during after school hours: music, soccer, self-defense, scouting, art, drama, computers, aeronautics and even maritime skills,cooking and more. We are always looking for ways to cover our budget as the staff to children ratio is, of necessity, very high.

How do you prepare the children for the outside world?

"Children over 12 get special attention to teach them independence, accepting responsibility, how to use public transportation, run a home and a budget, learning to be part of the community by working under supervision and volunteering in the Golden Age programs nearby or delivering food to the needy.

"They use their earnings to pay for half the cost of driving lessons when they reach the permitted age.. The bar and bat mitzva children have a special program that includes a conversation with the IDF chief rabbi, a trip to the kotel tunnels and Jerusalem and a trip to a tefillin maker and can choose a party or trek with family and friends."

Do the children have any contact with their parents?

"We try to involve the children's families as we see this as the way to reach maximum success. We have, of course, birthday parties and graduations but also cooking evenings for the children and their parents, take them to amusement parks together and have workshops with psychologists for the parents as well as individual parental guidance.

What happens when they graduate?

Some 14-year-old graduates join youth villages and study for matriculation there, but some are better off in a hostel run by Neve Lande till the age of 18. For the past four years, our alumni hostel is in the village in which we are located and another is slated to open next year for 12 additional graduates. They learn the values of maturity, independence and cooperation with the goal of joining the IDF, national service or community service, gaining either a matriculation certificate or one attesting to 12 years of study. About half do full matriculation.

They continue to get intensive personal and group help, enrichment activities.We want them to lead full lives and to feel a part of Israeli society.

Neve Lande courtyard
Neve Lande courtyardINN:RW

What are your plans for the future?

Plans – maybe a better word is hopes - include a choir, because singing is so good for the children and of course, another hostel for graduates.

How would you sum up Neve Lande's credo:

Believe in each child,in his or her individual worth and uniqueness and basic right to the conditions that can ensure optimal development, whether cognitive, affective or physical. Believe in each child and love them all - and make sure that they know it.