Serving troubled youth in ‘House of Ruth’
Emily Fish at work at the Jaffa Institute.
It takes a village
The Jaffa Institue, which runs Beit Ruth Hostel in Rishon Letzion, is now building, with WIZO, Beit Ruth Village in Afula. The first three houses are ready to open to accommodate 45 girls. Within the next five years, plans are to open a school at the site as well as seven additional houses so the village eventually will host 200 at-risk girls and young women.
January 14, 2013
After the arduous 14-hour flight, I got off the plane, stretched my legs, and began to explore my new surroundings. As I attempted to ask people where the nearest restroom was, I realized that my Hebrew was not as good as I had originally thought. I looked at my friend and jokingly said: “I have a feeling we’re not in New York anymore.”
I tried to feel secure with my plan, but in reality, I was second-guessing my decision to come to Israel. Now, almost five months later, I can honestly say that this experience has been nothing short of life-changing.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Binghamton University — I plan to become a social worker — I am taking part in Career Israel, a five-month Masa program open to college and university graduates from all over the world. The program offers more than 500 professional internship opportunities in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and surrounding cities.
My internship is with the nonprofit Jaffa Institute, which focuses on bettering the lives of Israel’s most impoverished communities by alleviating the basic problems affecting families. Their main goal is to provide educational, recreational, and social enrichment programs to break the intergenerational poverty cycle. They serve their clients by providing educational centers, food distribution services, therapy of various kinds, and emotional support.
Soon after joining the Jaffa Institute family, I began working at the Beit Ruth Hostel in Rishon Letzion. The facility was created to save the emotional and educational lives of teenage girls after social service officials judge their living situations unstable or uninhabitable. The girls can be suffering from parental abuse or neglect or they have been engaging in deviant and illegal behavior. When given the options of juvenile hall, foster care, or Beit Ruth, the choice is obvious. Teens who meet the qualifications are placed on a waiting list of hundreds of applicants. Only a lucky 13 make it into the hostel at any given time. (Plans to expand Beit Ruth’s services will lead to a greater number of girls being able to take advantage of its benefits.)
Beit Ruth clients are given the freedom to express themselves in both group and individual therapy. A certified teacher comes to the hostel each day with an individualized lesson plan for each girl. Mentors also visit the girls each week to develop stable relationships. When all these strategies are implemented simultaneously, I have seen something truly outstanding begin to happen — the girls’ own drive for positive change.
Working at Beit Ruth has proved to be one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had. I have watched miraculous changes take place in girls whose lives at first seemed so hopeless. With a little positive reinforcement, their happiness is rejuvenated, and each girl learns to expect more from herself and strives to achieve change in her own life. Watching the Beit Ruth girls’ transformations has legitimized my coming here.
Soon I will be going back to America, but that does not mean that Beit Ruth will be only a part of my past. I hope to keep in touch with the girls I have formed relationships with. I will carry this experience with me forever and know that this cause will always remain true to my heart. Beit Ruth Hostel has proven itself to be a special place that changes all who encounter it. Working at Beit Ruth has provided me with valuable tools and a lasting experience that I know will be helpful in my future endeavors.