A large metal block that sits at the entrance of the Fellowship-supported Kfar Sitrin orphanage is perhaps the symbolic and historic heart of the place. It's the rusty motor of the illegal immigrant ship "Henrietta Szold" on which Jewish refugees from the Holocaust were smuggled to Israel at the end of the 1940s. Written on the huge engine is the logo: "I ran vigorously in order to bring Jews to Israel when the sons returned to Zion."
Seventy years later, Israel is a sovereign state with a strong army and a thriving economy – and Jews from countries of distress continue to flee to it, now in airplanes. When those immigrants are teen boys from the former Soviet Union (FSU) arriving in Israel without their parents, many of them are lucky enough to find a home in Kfar Sitrin. Nearly all of these boys have lost a parent and come from needy and/or dysfunctional families. At the orphanage they find educational help, spiritual guidance, and love.
In recent months, the orphanage has absorbed boys who are refugees from Ukraine. "They boarded the plane with a plastic bag and the clothes on their back," says Ruth, one of the teachers at Kfar Sitrin.
"Why Is It Suddenly So Difficult?"
Aryeh sits in the school's computer room and listens to a class being conducted in Russian. Aryeh arrived five months ago from Donetsk, after he and his family fled when the violence there intensified. A few years ago he had come to Israel as a tourist with his parents and really liked what he had seen and experienced. This time he arrived as a penniless refugee.
"Everything is very nice here for a tourist who just comes for a visit. People are welcoming and the places are very impressive,” he explains. “But fleeing without choice is another story altogether. Everything suddenly looks different. I asked myself, ‘The sky and the smells are the same, why is it suddenly so difficult for me?’”
Aryeh is a smart, sensitive 17-year-old boy who stayed in a shelter with his parents while missiles fell around them. He sat in a convoy of refugees at the exit from the city and saw combat aircraft flying at low altitudes dropping bombs.
There is much demand to come to Kfar Sitrin. It's a modest and charming village located between the Carmel mountain range and the sea, not far from Haifa. But the real reason for the demand is mostly due to the high educational level the facility offers; it's well above the level found in most of the countries from which the youth come.
"Someone Has to Listen to Them"
Uziel came to Kfar Sitrin in 2006. After graduating high school with high honors, he was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces and served three years as a combat medic. He participated in complex campaigns to capture wanted terrorists. All of his classmates served in top IDF units: paratroopers, Navy Seals, etc. They're new immigrants who have been fully absorbed in Israel; only their accents mark the countries from which they've come.
Sarah is a house mother at Kfar Sitrin. The arrival of young Jews to Israel never ceases to move her. The boys who came from the war zones in Ukraine demanded special attention from the staff. Sarah says, "Boys came here straight from the line of fire. They're good boys, from middle class families, who suddenly became refugees. They're full of difficult stories and experiences. Someone here has to listen to them and help them process their experiences. They've lived in places that were peaceful for the most part, and their entire world turned upside down within a moment. They've experienced war, followed by the separation from their parents before making aliyah to Israel. Even the flight to Israel was somewhat traumatic – for most of them, this was their first time on a plane.”
Thankfully Fellowship-supported Kfar Sitrin was there to welcome them, provide them a home, and invest in their future as full-fledged Israelis.