What some kids see as the norm, others don’t take for granted. Take the words to part of a musical video sung by boys at Ohr Simcha: “I have a family and a home.”
Ohr Simcha, in Kfar Chabad, Israel, is not a regular school. It provides a nurturing environment to some 300 boys, ranging in age from 5 to 20 years old, who have no other place to call home. These children have had to be removed from their non-functioning families due to an array of socioeconomic problems that have negatively impacted their healthy development and ability to learn effectively.
Staff members model their work on a typical family unit. Children between the ages of 5 and 8 live in foster homes with house parents, and have a routine that mirrors that of ordinary families. The house parents raise these children along with their own. Together, they carry out household tasks, get help with their studies, and go on outings and to social events.
Boys older than 8 live in dormitories; they, too, are offered activities and schedules to help them thrive. The goal is to enable these young people to heal from their painful pasts, and gain the skills necessary to succeed in school and become contributing members of society.
Rabbi Zeev Slavin, director of Ohr Simcha, proudly noted that the “dorm,” as he refers to Ohr Simcha, “received an award from the Ministry of Education as the best boarding school in Israel.” The reason the school received such an award, he noted, is due to the dedication of the staff.
Boys older than 8 live in dormitories; they, too, are offered activities and schedules to help them thrive.
The school was established in 1973 following a request by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, that Chabad-Lubavitch should ensure that children everywhere who otherwise would not have a warm, loving home would be cared for. “Each of the staff members are real emissaries of the Rebbe, giving of themselves 24 hours a day,” said Slavin.
He noted that despite Ohr Simcha being run by religiously observant staff, 80 percent of the boys who attend are from non-religious homes. “The reason the Ministry of Education places these boys in an Orthodox establishment is due to our unique approach of total ahavas chesed, lovingkindness,” said Slavin. “No child is forced to do anything he is not comfortable with, but the opportunity is there for him to grow if he chooses to do so.”
Of the 300 children, a little more than half are in elementary school. These kids attend a facility for grades one through eight supported by the Ministry of Education as a National Religious School.
At the end of the school day, students can partake in an array of extracurricular activities, including art, music, swimming and computers. A pet corner allows for the care of small animals, an important part of emotional healing. Where there is a need for therapeutic intervention, a team of professionals comes into play.
The children seem to be quite aware of how special Ohr Simcha is, and as such, decided to express their appreciation through a musical video.
“The video was a brainchild of some of Ohr Simcha’s staff and students who wanted an anthem which would unite the current children residing here, as well as the alumni, in sharing the deeply personal, unique and special journey they experienced here,” explained Rabbi Jonathan Khalimsky, director of development and public relations for Ohr Simcha institutions.
Meital Trabelsi, the house mother of one of the family homes known as a mishpachton as well as the school’s music teacher, composed the music. She raises 13 of Ohr Simcha’s children, along with her own, in a special apartment unit on Ohr Simcha’s campus. The lyrics were written by Ruchama Shteinberger, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Holon, who began volunteering for Ohr Simcha a few years ago in addition to her work as an emissary.
Fifteen boys took part in the production of the video, and another 15 took part in playing musical instruments. The video debuted last year at a mass bar mitzvah celebration hosted by the British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, at his residence in Ramat Gan.
“Each of the staff members are real emissaries of the Rebbe, giving of themselves 24 hours a day,” said Rabbi Zeev Slavin.
The boys were keen to share their experiences in the making of the video. (Names were changed for privacy.) In the video, a boy named “David” shared his raw emotion: “It was hard, but I feel that the music and song helped me communicate feelings which I have felt for a long time, but couldn’t find a way to express them.”
Another boy, “Ilan,” said, “I like to think that this clip gives hope and inspiration to kids here like me and my two brothers, and kids who will come here.”
And as for “Oriel”: “I love music, and I enjoyed doing something that came out so nicely, and am proud for me and my family.”
Trabelsi, the music teacher, said she enjoyed her role in production of the video.
“It was very special to work with the kids and see their creative talents pour out. The sense of pride and satisfaction I felt when I saw how much the kids worked on it and how much effort they invested in it is priceless,” she described. “I have witnessed strangers who up until now were not aware of all we do watch this clip with tears streaming down their cheeks. It has really touched so many that I feel honored to have been a part of it.”