Displaced children face renewed trauma
by Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer
Chaim Peri and Yemin Orde children.
A standout among the many tragedies of the Carmel fires is the severe damage to the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Northern Israel, which has displaced all of its residents — nearly 500 children originally from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union and other countries, as well as Israeli-born children who moved to the school from dysfunctional homes. The fire destroyed nearly 20 buildings, including the library, children’s homes, some classrooms, staff housing and a special unit for the youngest children, and many other buildings were damaged on the 77-acre campus atop Mount Carmel.
All of the children and the hundreds of staff members were safely evacuated to nearby Neveh Amiel, Yemin Orde’s sister village.
Founded in 1953 to care for a handful of Holocaust orphans, Yemin Orde today cares for and educates children from 20 different countries.
Benny Fisher, director of the youth village, wrote a letter to supporters saying that these children, many of whom came to Israel from orphanages in their home countries, are “once again without the security of knowing where they will put their things, where they will rest their heads each evening, and when they will have a permanent home of their own.”
Just weeks ago, in early November, a delegation from Yemin Orde visited Los Angeles as part of a fundraising tour of the United States showcasing the Yemin Orde choir. The choir members, all teens, were hosted in homes here for Shabbat, and they performed at Milken Community High School and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.
Jackie Louk, Western Regional Director of Friends of Yemin Orde, said the outpouring of concern, donations and volunteers has been heartening. Children and staff have received new clothing and gift cards, free rental cars, and attraction tickets and hotel stays for the Chanukah break.
Graduates of Yemin Orde, many of whom work or live in the village, returned to the village after the children were evacuated to help protect it against the fire — saving the Village Synagogue’s Torah scrolls — until police forced them to evacuate, too.
Yemin Orde is working with the Israeli government to relocate the entire population to one site while the village is rehabilitated. Trauma counselors have been working with the kids and staff in an effort to restore their sense of normalcy and stability so the kids can start school again next week.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has directed a portion of its emergency collection to Yemin Orde, in part to pay for transportation to school.
“As always, our priority remains to care for the children who come from brokenness,” wrote Yemin Orde founder and director Chaim Peri. “The community we built far outlasts any edifice.”