In December, 2010, members of the Jewish communities of Northeastern Pennsylvania rallied around the noblest of causes – rebuilding the 77-acre Yemin Orde Youth Village – 40% of which was destroyed by the catastrophic forest fire that devastated Northern Israel in early December. The fire claimed the lives of 43 Israelis. Nearly 500 children were affected. Graduates of Yemin Orde, many of whom work or live in the Village, returned to it 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. The forest fire consumed over 10,000 acres of trees, destroyed hundreds of buildings and necessitated the evacuation of more than 17,000 people in what is the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.
The Federation’s contribution of $4,044 will assist in the relief effort.
Russian orphanage to Yemin Orde
Yemin Orde is home to many orphans who came there from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia with nothing but memories. At the Village, they found a home – until the fire destroyed that as well. Pictures of their parents, who died years ago, were lost, as were the children’s clothes, books and other documents.
Some had letters that their parents had written, some had medals which they had won in competitions at the Village, and others had diaries which they had been encouraged to keep by their therapists at the Village. One child who lost his new identity card – which in Israel is considered a status symbol for teenagers – said “Now I have nothing to prove who I am.” Another child asked: “Do I have to go back to Russia now?”
Founded in 1953 to care for a handful of Holocaust orphans, Yemin Orde today cares for and educates children from 20 different countries. American Friends of Yemin Orde estimates it will cost $5.3M to re-build the Youth Village as its residents and workers await reconstruction.
Thankfully nobody from the Village died in the inferno, but all children were traumatized and were left with literally nothing except the clothes on their backs.
Millions will ultimately be needed, but our modest contribution to the relief effort will help get the urgent work started – work that will include (according to American Friends of Yemin Orde) re-building:
- the orphanage (home to 450 at-risk immigrant youth ages 8 to 19)
- staff homes
- the library
- computer facilities
- water systems (including sprinklers and the water tower pump)
- sewage lines
- electrical systems (including power lines, transformers, generators, fence lighting, and other electrical
- supply items that make the village livable)
- children’s homes
- a special unit for the youngest children
- furniture, and
- supplies for the needs of homeless families
In addition, it will cover the costs relating to………..
- social workers
- after-school activities, and
- clothing and bedding
While the Youth Village carried insurance, it was insufficient to cover the magnitude of the devastation. Yemin Orde is working with the Israeli government to relocate the entire population to one site while the Youth Village is being re-built, and trauma counselors have been working with the children and staff in an effort to restore a degree of normalcy to their lives.
The Federation wishes to extend its sincerest appreciation to Herb and June Appel from Hemlock Farms (who coordinated the region-wide effort) and to those members of the Jewish communities of Northeast Pennsylvania who sent contributions to our Israel:
Wildfire Relief Fund:
Patty & Jim Alperin
Herb & June Appel
B’nai B’rith Amos Lodge #136
Laurel & Alan Glassman
Ruth & Clarence Green
Sheryl & Seth Gross
Marilyn & Daniel Hertz
Leah & Joel Laury
Linda & Joe Mendelsohn
Sondra & Morey Myers
Mary Jane & Sam Newman
Sylvia & Herb Rosen
Douglas and Margaret Sheldon
Meredith Stempel & Mikhail Levitin
Temple Israel Daily Minyan
Arlene & Neil Weinberg
Bravery amid Horror at Yemin Orde
Personal stories in the wake of the fire at Yemin Orde Village in Israel, as related by Director Benny Fisher:
- Eviatar is a veteran informal educator and coordinator of the program for young orphans from the former Soviet Union (FSU). Eviatar’s commitment to the Village is extraordinary, and his home is open to the children seven days a week. Married with five of his own young children, Eviatar manages to give his own children and the Yemin Orde children a soft shoulder to lean on. When he heard that his home and all of his belongings had gone up in flames in the Carmel fire, Eviatar’s first reaction was: “How will I be in touch with my children?” He was referring to the dozens of children and graduates from Yemin Orde for whom he cares each and every day.
- Shimon Solomon, an immigrant from Ethiopia and a graduate of Yemin Orde, is the director of the Aghozou Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. In early December, he returned from Rwanda to visit his family in Israel. Just a few hours after his arrival in Israel, the fire broke out at the Village and he left his family to be with his Yemin Orde family. Even though the road to the Village was already closed, Shimon found an off-road pathway to the Village – and joined his comrades, fellow graduates and a few staff people who were trying to ward off the flames. Shimon remained there until police forced him to leave. Before he left, he took the Torah scrolls from the Village synagogue.
- Beit Bianca is a small group home, built for young orphans from the FSU. Many of these children arrived at the Village with only the clothes they were wearing when they left state orphanages in the FSU. They came to the Village fearful and confused, but understanding that they would always have a home at the Yemin Orde Youth Village. Fourteen young boys, aged 7-13, have lost their home once again and are displaying signs of panic and despair. They are concerned their new home – wherever it may be – will not be as warm and loving as Yemin Orde. They are worried they will be wards of the state, and they remember too well how terrible that experience was for them in the FSU. The Yemin Orde staff is with the children at Neveh Amiel, and they are working hard to keep the children calm.
- One child whose parents burned to death in a house fire in the FSU ran into a staff apartment in the Village when he heard that there was a fire. He hid beneath a desk, hoping to avoid the flames. He became hysterical and staff had to carry him out of the apartment and out of the Village to safety.
As of mid-January, the massive reconstruction effort was in full swing, a reflection of the community’s steadfast spirit. Hundreds of volunteers, including former graduates who rushed to the stricken site from all over Israel, have stationed themselves at Yemin Orde to help in whatever way they can – from sorting donated food, clothing and school supplies to cleaning and painting classrooms and other buildings that escaped the wide path of the fire’s destruction.
Yemin Orde officials said they hope the reconstruction project will be completed by June 2012.
Classes have resumed at the Village with staff and children staying in temporary quarters in Givat Olga, about 30 miles away. Each day, 10 buses transport the groups to school and back. There is little time to waste as seniors prepare for their all-important matriculation exams.