With the academic year drawing to a close in Israel, communities across the country have been marking the end of classes with a string of celebrations.

In the Upper Galilee city of Safed, this month has already seen a handful of events, including an end-of-year concert last week by a group of some 20 children from an after-school program coordinated by Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries.

For the past year, the students, who are between the ages of 7 and 12, have spent several afternoons each week studying music with folk singer Nissim Ben-Chaim. With his guitar in hand, the instructor joined the boys on stage for the July 6 performance, which featured one keyboard and several lyrical solos by the children.


Consisting mostly of family, teachers and a few close friends, members of the audience knew firsthand the challenges overcome by each of the boys to make it to the concert. Run by Colel Chabad, a social service organization founded in 1788 by the First Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the after-school program, which has an identical initiative for girls, was specifically designed for at-risk students.

To join the program – which, in addition to music, features gardening lessons, art classes and a computer course – a child must be recommended by social workers. Many live with a newly-divorced or widowed parent, while other members’ families have recently been thrown into financial crisis. But although they joined the program after being identified as among some of Safed’s most at-risk children, some finished the school year at the top of their classes.

Rabbi Yossi Chitrik, citywide director for Colel Chabad, remarked that teachers have consistently reported that their students’ grades and their overall well-being improve as a result of the program. Chitrik added that the program takes a holistic approach to their charges’ development, utilizing meal times and the gardening glass to accommodate healthy-eating discussions with co-director Tzippy Turner.

The Colel Chabad program for at-risk students includes gardening lessons and music classes.
The Colel Chabad program for at-risk students includes gardening lessons and music classes.

“Our goal is to give these boys a nurturing, home-like environment,” said Turner. “We try to provide for the whole person: healthy food, healthy activities, and academic support. But we also try to be like a family.”

In between songs at last week’s concert, several students were awarded prizes for achievements during the year. They surprised Yoram Mehuda, director of youth programming for Colel Chabad in Safed, by turning the tables on him and presenting their own award in recognition of everything Mehuda does “for each of us, for all of the hours that we spend here.”

Standing on the stage with the children, Mehuda demurred.

“There are many, many people who work to make this place special,” he said. “But in the end, it is you, the students, who work so hard to make the most of what is here, and you succeed.”