Hundreds of guests filled one of Afula’s finest event halls for the joint Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration of 23 local children, including three from the WIZO Nir Ha’Emek Youth Village Mispachton (foster home).
The Mishpachton, Hebrew for nuclear family, is a foster home simulating a family environment where students live as a cohesive family (usually up to 8 children) through their high school years. The “parents” of this family are actually trained social workers who live, often with their own children, in the house and provide the structure, supervision, and nurturing of “typical” parents.
Although the invitation limited the number of family members each celebrant could invite to five, all the children and staff of the WIZO Nir Ha’Emek Mishpachton came to join in the celebration and show their support.
“We were so happy to be able to include our three children from the mishpachton in the larger group celebration,” Esti Cohen, Director of the WIZO Nir Ha’Emek Youth Village said. “That way we could both reduce costs while at the same time giving these three children an experience they will never forget.”
“Our three Bar/Bat Mitzvah children from the Mishpachton all walked around the hall very proudly,” Cohen said. “Their parents were also very excited. Our students were so happy. They were getting their picture taken constantly. Each one of them felt as though the celebration was just for them.”
The girls, dressed in festive but modest white dresses that were purchased especially for them, and the boys, all wearing golden bowties, proudly entered the hall to the sounds of the shofar and the beating of drums.
All the celebrants received gifts. The boys each received a set of tefillin and the girls received a set of candlesticks with a book of blessings. All the children also received a beautiful “Hamsa” chain.
During the ceremony, Yitzhak Meron, the mayor of Afula, warmly congratulated the children, who all wanted to be photographed with him. They all considered it a great honor that the mayor took time out of his busy schedule to come celebrate with them.
The ceremony continued with blessings given to the students and blessings, which the students wrote and read. Then the students sang and danced.
“Each student that comes to us has a unique story,” Esti Cohen said. “These three students who celebrated their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs with the larger group are no exception.”
Here are their stories (all names have been changed):
Moshe: A Good Boy with a Complex Family Background
Moshe comes from Afula. His mother suffers from mental ilnees and does not speak at all, at least not in public. She loves her children very much, but finds it difficult to function as a mother. All the children in Moshe’s family are in various social service frameworks.
Moshe is a pleasant child. He learns well and tries very hard to help anyone who needs help. Moshe's family is also large. They were the only ones who came to the event as an extended family, not just five as requested, but with more than thirty guests.
Gali: “I have never been to such a happy Bat Mitzvah!”
Gali has been a student at the Nir Ha’Emek Youth Village for five years. She came when she was only seven, the youngest child at the village at the time. Her parents live in Afula Illit and they have seven children. Both parents suffer from mental issues and are being assisted by the welfare department. Gali two older sisters also have mental difficulties .The daughters have lived together with their parents in a small, dilapidated house. Gali also has a brother, who is a very quiet child, and the parents decided to leave him at home.
Another one of Gali’s sister is in the seventh grade in the WIZO Nir Ha’Emek boarding school and will finish her studies in 12th grade this year. She is a wonderful girl and a bright student.
Gali, who has her own difficulties, is in need of a special education school, not just a grade for special education, but a school dedicated to special education. She receives personal psychological treatment from WIZO Nir Ha’Emek once a week, accompanied by art therapy.
On the evening of the Bat Mitzvah, Gali showed everyone in the hall what a beautiful chain she had received and how happy she was.“In my life I have never been to such a happy Bat Mitzvah!” she proudly beamed.
Avi: “I am now the best kid in the Mispachton.”
Avi came to WIZO Nir Ha’Emek from Nazareth Illit last year as a mid-year transfer from the Youth Village in Carmiel, which he attended for three years. The reason he was being transfered was that Avi had caused a lot of trouble with the other children in the Mishpachton and his behavior had become a serious problem.
At first Nir Ha’Emek was reluctant to accept him, but, as often happens, the social worker from Nazareth Illit who knows WIZO Nir Ha’Emek well and values their work with the children in the dormitories highly, brought Avi and his mother to the school anyway.
Immediately, Avi melted everyone’s heart. He convinced the staff that he could behave himself. As his mother stood by, he explained how complicated his family life was and how much he wanted to change.
Avi’s mother is a single mother and an alcoholic. His older brother is a drug addict who has been in and out of jail. Avi’s father never raised his children and died years ago, but not from natural causes.
Avi is now an outstanding student in WIZO Nir Ha’Emek’s 7th grade class. According to Esti Cohen, he is a pleasure to be around and has made a dramatic improvement for the better.
During the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration, Avi approached the Director of the Youth Village in Carmiel, and proudly told him that he is now the best kid in the Mishpachton at WIZO Nir Ha’Emek. The staff was so proud of him. Meanwhile, Avi’s mother went around the hall telling everyone she was Avi’s proud mother and getting photographed with him at every possible opportunity.
“We will continue to move forward in our educational endeavors,” Esti Cohen promised. “No matter how difficult, we will work hard for our students.”
“Each child is different, each child is special. Unfortunately, not every child has the means or opportunity to celebrate the important life event of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah,” World WIZO Chairperson Prof. Riva Lazovsky said. “We are so proud of the children of the WIZO Nir Ha’Emek Mishpachton who got to celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, their coming of age, in such a special and meaningful way that makes both them and their families feel proud.”
Located in the Jezreel Valley near Afula, the WIZO Nir Ha'Emek Youth Village has more than 1000 students from grades 7 through 12. WIZO Nir Ha'Emek is one of the largest schools in the north and is considered to be a leading school in agricultural studies. In the village there is a farm with a barn, a dairy, a chicken coop, therapeutic horse stables, an ecological garden and more. In addition, the school specializes in teaching science and technology. The WIZO Nir Ha'Emek Youth Village, which is under the supervision of the Director of Rural Education, is also supported by the WIZO federations of Argentina and the USA.