History of Youth Aliyah
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History of Youth Aliyah

Youth Aliyah
was the most successful and durable of all twentieth-century rescue enterprises because it defined its mandate from the very beginning as both rescue and education. Thus, in addition to actions that enabled children and adolescents at risk of life or liberty to flee to Eretz Israel (Palestine), Youth Aliyah established a network of educational settings for immigrant youth and disadvantaged young Israelis: kibbutz youth groups, youth villages, residential schools, and day centers.

Thus far, the Youth Aliyah constellation has educated more than 300,000 adolescents and children!

A Capsule History of Youth Aliyah

Recha Freier’s initiative in the early 1930s—to resettle young members of Zionist youth movements in Eretz Israel—quickly evolved into a comprehensive effort to extricate children from Nazi-dominated Europe. By the beginning of World War II, some 5,000 teens (15+) had been resettled and were receiving training in cooperative life in kibbutz youth groups and youth villages, in the spirit of the Zionist pioneering ideology. During the six years of the world war, members of the pioneering youth movements in the Diaspora, in conjunction with Youth Aliyah, arranged the immigration to Eretz Israel of some 10,000 Jewish children and adolescents. In the second half of the 1940s, another 15,000 young immigrants who had survived the Holocaust joined them. Under the leadership of Henrietta Szold and her successor, Moshe Kol, Youth Aliyah established youth groups and villages in large numbers. The organization’s mission: to grant its wards a proper and prospective education, personal development coupled with acculturation, and participation in the supreme effort of founding the Jewish state.

In the 1950s and in subsequent years, as places for rescue and residential schooling in Europe closed down steadily, Youth Aliyah geared up to accommodate many thousands of young immigrants from Europe and, more so, from northern Africa. The patterns of education at the residences and day centers were designed to assure the youngsters’ future in a new immigrant society by giving them formal schooling, a trade, and support in the formation of their personal identity.

Since the early 1970s, while continuing to nurture immigrant children and adolescents in their new country, Youth Aliyah has also been giving Israel-born youngsters a second educational chance in its institutions. Today, some 300,000 Israel citizens are Youth Aliyah alumni. They represent the many facets of the country’s culture in formation and its society.

Youth Groups, Youth Villages, and Residential Institutions

The first youth groups, assembled and sent to Eretz Israel from German-speaking countries, were accommodated on kibbutzim (rural collectives). They were privileged to receive agricultural training and academic education; the kibbutzim were privileged to receive young people who embraced the Zionist idea passionately. They filled the ranks of the Labor Movement’s rural-settlement enterprise and, when it came their turn, they established dozens of rural localities themselves.

After statehood was attained and mass immigration ensued, the kibbutzim could no longer take care of the youth groups on their own. Youth Aliyah responded by establishing youth villages—initially next to the kibbutzim and afterwards independently of them. The nature of the influx, initially refugees from World War II and later, upon statehood, diverse population groups, Youth Aliyah had to redeploy and broaden the range of services that it offered its clients.

The model used to receive, care for, and educate these children and adolescents was created by Dr. Siegfried Lehmann, founder and director of Ben Shemen Youth Village. Counselors and teachers at this institution set out to establish additional villages patterned after Ben Shemen all around the country. Additional institutions provided educational and psychological services for special-needs populations, club facilities and day centers catered to urban youth, etc.

Youth Aliyah: Movers and Shakers, Educators, and Pupils

By accepted estimate, Youth Aliyah has taken in more than 300,000 adolescents and children over the years and placed them in the hands of teachers, caregivers, and counselors. If so, hundreds of thousands of Israel citizens have a Youth Aliyah chapter in their biographies—either as hosts or as the hosted.

Several of Youth Aliyah’s founders are fondly remembered: Recha Freier, the initiator; Henrietta Szold, the first director; and Siegfried Lehmann, who established Ben Shemen Youth Village—the role model for all the rest. Within the cramped confines of this site, we cannot tell the stories of all the executives, educators, and caregivers in Israel and abroad who arranged the youngsters’ resettlement in Israel, served many of them as surrogate parents, and helped them to negotiate the difficulties of acculturation safely. They taught their charges, educated them, and, in the main, helped them to form an Israeli identity.

Similarly but from the other side of the desk, we can mention only a handful of the hundreds of thousands of youngsters who found shelter with Youth Aliyah. They came from the four corners of the earth over a period of years, and each and every one of them has a fascinating story to tell. Youth Aliyah alumni are integrated in all walks of Israeli life, including the social elites: intellectuals, actors, singers, artists, politicians, senior army officers, etc.

We urge you, Youth Aliyah staff and pupils from all periods, and your families, to add your stories and photographs to this site and help us build a broad and diverse information base that will tell the Youth Aliyah story.
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