A New Home Means a New Life for Underprivileged Israeli Girls
JNS.org – This is Marisol. As a child, Marisol was sent from place to place in Israel after her father passed away and she was ordered by the court to leave her drug-addicted mother. She’s been everywhere in Israel, from a boarding school, to an orphanage, to a kibbutz, and even to a 6-month-old girl’s leadership program in the southern city of Ofakim. But she maintains that she’s never lived in a stable home. In fact, she said that she does not even have a conception of what “home” is.
The home is often the place where values, self-worth, and confidence are taught. But not for Marisol. She describes her childhood as very lonely. She was beaten and tells of being taught things she knew were not right. At home, she was told that violence is acceptable, and that “this is a Moroccan family and how things are done.” She was taught to steal and lie. She exhibited very low self-esteem and self-confidence. Only until later did she realize these things were not right and that she could change her path into a self-confident woman who can choose her own direction in life.
For Marisol, the place where she learned her self-worth was in the ALMA program, a mechina (pre-army educational program) that provides Israeli girls with six months of studies, hiking, volunteer service, and physical training — all intended to build their leadership skills and prepare them for the Israel Defense Forces and for the rest of their lives. In ALMA, Marisol was supported by a peer network of 32 other girls — “sisters,” as she calls them.
But for Marisol, something was still missing — stability. Even though ALMA had amazing partners in the community of Ofakim, who did their best to help, there was a lack of support from the municipality in Ofakim that caused a lack of stability. Without proper classrooms or offices in ALMA’s current site in Ofakim, building a “home environment” for the girls proved difficult. With all of the 33 young women in the makeshift classroom, half of the girls had to sit on the floor during learning sessions.
The founder of ALMA, Michal Barkai-Brody, recalls sitting in a pipe made into a bomb shelter in order to have private phone conversations with funders and partners.
But this is all going to change, as ALMA’s new home in the Modi’in area is currently being built, thanks to a partnership with the Modi’in Regional Council’s mayor, Shimon Susan, who fell in love with ALMA and decided to do anything he can to bring the group to his region. Barkai-Brody says this will be a huge opportunity for the girls.
“Modi’in is a prosperous area. And it’s meaningful: the new compound is being built between a club for the elderly, an employment center, and a school for at-risk youths,” she says.
As a program committed to social change, ALMA intends to give back to society by engaging with these institutions in Modi’in.
Barkai-Brody also argues that this big move will bring something for the girls that many of them have never had: a home. She says that ALMA’s new home in Modi’in should better facilitate learning and community-building, two major keys to developing women’s leadership skills.
For Passover 2016, ALMA is raising funds to support its work through a “Personal Freedom Scholarship Campaign,” echoing a major theme of the holiday.
As for ALMA alumnae like Marisol, the girls are always welcome back to ALMA during their time off from the army. Finally, they will have a place to call home.