In March of 2020, in order to control and minimize the spread of the Coronavirus, the government of Israel decided on severe and far-reaching measures, many of which affected WIZO and those WIZO serves, including its volunteers and professional staff. Here is a short summary of how WIZO's services were affected.
Early Age, Schools & Youth Villages
As of March 15th, 2020, all day care centers in Israel, including the more than 182 operated by WIZO, were closed, with the exception of 4 WIZO day care centers in hospitals across Israel which continued to operate for the benefit of the children of the doctors, nurses and staff. This meant that some 14,000 infants and toddlers remained at home, including the severely deprived children in WIZO's 19 comprehensive day care centers. In addition, some 4,000 employees of the day care centers were without work and some 6000 WIZO employees were put on 'Unpaid Leave'. WIZO’s early childhood centers in Beersheva and Sderot, including child development centers for children with serious developmental problems and high risk, were closed as well.
Neve WIZO, WIZO's Foster Family Center remained open and continued operating with 36 children, 8 adults (four pairs of foster parents), but the children were home all day, because the schools were closed.
The WIZO Parent’s Hotline operated on an expanded emergency basis, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. In addition, a special hotline for day care center employees was established. As the closure due to the pandemic continued, calls to the hotline greatly increased.
As for WIZO's Youth Villages and Schools, the closings affectred about 6,000 youth and hundreds of staff members. WIZO Ahuzat Yeladim in Haifa, which serves youth at the far end of the at-risk spectrum, remained open, though there were no school studies, and the staff had to care for the 75 children and youth between the ages of 7-18 all day. WIZO's two high schools, the Secondary Vocational School in Beit Hakerem (Jerusalem) and the Municipal Technological High School in Rehovot were closed. At WIZO's youth villages (Nahalal, Nir Ha'emek, Gan Vanof, Nachlat Yehuda, and Hadassim) the schools within the youth villages were closed, and all of the children living in the dormitories were sent home, with the following exceptions: the students in the Naaleh program, participants from countries around the world, a total of 310 in Hadassim, Nahalal & Nachlat Yehuda remained in their dormitories with support staff. With no children in the villages, there is a major issue of maintaining the agricultural farms, fortunately at villages where there were Naaleh students who remained on campus, they were on hand to help out. The foster family units, (mishpachtonim) in Hadassim and Nir HaEmek – a total of 52 children, plus foster parents and support staff also remained on campus..
Also, Beit Tzipora (in Kiryat Malachi & Ashkelon), which provides after school enrichment programs mostly to local children from immigrant Ethiopian families, was closed.
The closings also affected WIZO Israel's thousands of program beneficiaries, volunteers and staff. The vast majority of WIZO Israel's programs and institutions wereshut down, with the following exceptions:
With over 100 residents at various levels of functional status, WIZO's Parents’ Home (Beit Horim):for the elderly in Tel Aviv remained open and operating while coping with the very serious challenges related the special vulnerability of thier senior residents to the virus. The dedicated staff continued to do their work with love and devotion despite the relatively high risk. The residents' children and other family members were not allowed to visit during the height of the pandemic.
Various legal services, such as women’s rights in the workplace, were conducted over the phone instead of via personal meetings in clinics around the country.
Many of WIZO's second-hand clothing stores:continued to operate under strict sanitary and distancing conditions, but their sales were way down. This chain of stores serves as an important source of income for WIZO with proceeds going to help WIZO combat domestic violence and support other WIZO projects.
During the pandemic cases, of domestic violence against women greatly increased as the stress of the "pressure cooker" conditions of the closure caused many men to become violent.
WIZO's two Gina Fromer Shelters for Women Victims of Domestic Violence and their Children in Jerusalem and Ashdod: were recognized as emergency institutions, and continued operating under very difficult conditions. Families that required quarantine due to exposure to someone with Corona were transferred to WIZO's Emergency Shelter. WIZO's Centers for the Treatment and Prevention of Domestic Violence remained open and functioning, with all the requisite sanitary and distancing conditions.In addition, the WIZO Hotline for Violent Men worked at full capacity throughout the period, with a substantial increase of calls to their helpline. Makom Balev, a WIZO center in Beershevafor foryoung women at very high risk continued working on an emergency basis, with someone on call at all times in case of an acute emergency.
In May, with the huge spike in cases of domestic violence, WIZO swiftly opened a National Emergency Shelter for Women and their children fleeing from violent homes during the pandemic where they could quarentine safely for 14 days till they could be transferred to another shelter. (Lear more in our story on the WIZO Emergency Shelter here)
Following the lockdown, WIZO reopened its day care centers, schools and youth villages under the Health Ministry's strict guidelines to ensure the safety of the children and the staff.
"We are at the very beginning of a dramatic period in the history of Israel and WIZO," World WIZO Chairperson Anita Friedman said in March. "This is a developing crisis, but WIZO will continue "doing what matters" for the benefit of all citizens of Israel because together we are stronger!"