While Atlanta’s Jewish day school students prepare to return to modern facilities with top-of-the-line technology, the students at the ORT-affiliated Hodayot Youth Village in Israel’s lower Galilee aren’t so lucky.

In cooperation with World ORT Kadima Mada, ORT Atlanta has adopted the Hodayot Youth Village and is raising money to support a myriad of programs and capital upgrades.

Founded in 1950, Hodayot is a religious boarding school on a rural campus that serves more than 200 seventh- to 10th-graders. Many are new immigrants from troubled home situations with families who rank low on the socio-economic scale.

The immigrant population in Hodayot is 60 percent Ethiopian and 30 percent from the former Soviet Union.

The girl on the right says she would have been a helpless 14-year-old living on the streets if not for the Hodayot Youth Village

The girl on the right says she would have been a helpless 14-year-old living on the streets if not for the Hodayot Youth Village

When children enter the school, many are far below the average educational level for their age because their daily reality is exposure to violence and poverty, making their priority survival, not study. The youth village’s first task is to bring the students up to a basic level.

“I didn’t know English, didn’t have any friends. When I came to the youth village, I started learning, and in a way, the school saved me from being a helpless 14-year-old in the streets because my parents weren’t there for me,” one student said about the school.

Despite such difficulties, more than half the students who arrive at the school are able to matriculate.

“At the beginning it wasn’t easy, but I have learned discipline. My matriculation exams are going to be fine,” another student said. “Now I want to become an educator and help other children like me.”

One of the special tracks offered by the high school is a police studies program with classes in criminology, sociology and crime-solving. A life sciences and agriculture track involves growing medicinal herbs based on the teachings of Maimonides in the school’s greenhouses and exploring new techniques.

Extracurriculars include plays and discussions on themes chosen to help the students learn about important societal issues and give them the tools to integrate into society after school. Hodayot Youth Village graduates have a 100 percent army and national service rate, indicating that the school succeeds in teaching the students about values and pride in Israel.

To ensure that the school continues to provide a relevant, modern education, it must prepare students for today’s workplace and needs access to the latest teaching technology and equipment.

ORT Atlanta has raised more than $240,000 for the youth village, half of which will go to renovate and refurbish the dining hall and kitchen, to be renamed the Joe Cohen Family Social Hall after an ORT alumnus and former Atlanta resident who was ORT America’s president. The Atlanta region has raised $70,000 for several smart classrooms and is collecting $45,000 to provide a smart classroom for students with disabilities.

But Hodayot needs much more. The school’s computer lab requires at least $30,000 as part of Kadima Mada’s High Five program. The lab’s expansion will allow the school to generate income by repairing computers for the community.

Future phases of Atlanta’s partnership include raising $1 million to rebuild the 1950s-era dormitories, which are in severe disrepair, and adding modern air conditioning.

When the project is complete, ORT Atlanta hopes to have created an oasis of learning, making it possible for the students to become respected and productive members of Israeli society.

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Photos courtesy of ORT America