By Annaliese Johnson
At the end of May 2023, an ICEJ delegation was invited to take part in one of the most anticipated life events of every Jewish youth – their bar or bat mitzvah. This important rite of passage grants recognition to Jewish boys and girls that they are now responsible members of the Jewish community. For eight young Jews in the Beit Appel Youth Village, a home founded in 1954 for youth from troubled backgrounds, this was a special achievement. Known as the Kvutzat Dekel (“Palm Tree Group”), the young teens could not contain their excitement as they looked forward to this next stage in life.
Much of the excitement was due to a joint ICEJ- Beit Appel project at the Youth Village which was started last year. The project aims to bring to fruition the dream of launching a youth-operated bakery in the village. In the confectionery kitchen funded by the Christian Embassy, children from the home have been learning to bake and get the business off the ground. They have spent countless hours in the kitchen and in the classroom learning how to bake, prepare packages for sale, and run their own business. Each village event, including this group’s bar mitzvah, provides an opportunity to showcase their new skills.
As our ICEJ team entered the gate, we were instantly immersed in a safe haven filled with greenery and colourful artwork. We made our way on a dirt path through a lush green nature area until we found the celebration under a partially covered patio. Hard to believe that seven years ago, this part of the village was the garbage dump, complete with trash, broken dishwashers, old washing machines, and lots of stench. Thanks to volunteers from the village, it was turned into an oasis of 350 hand-planted trees, mainly organic fruit trees that offer free produce for all who enter the complex.
There were decorated tables, scrumptious-looking desserts, Israeli pop music, a slideshow, and some 150 excited guests ready to celebrate with the eight youths.
The children, thrilled with their major achievement, smiled as they laid out delicate and delightful desserts on the tables. As part of their training, they baked gooey brownies, carefully frosted cakes, and creamy custards – the perfect treats for the sweet celebration of a key milestone. We watched as the youths pulled their older siblings to the desserts table and eagerly pointed out which desserts they had shaped.
Maya Cohen, director of the youth program, was beaming as she explained the success of the bakery project. She explained how proud she was of the children’s dedication. Whereas just a year prior she knew none of their names due to being brand new on staff, she joyfully exclaimed, “Now, they are MY children! You can see [the exuberance] on my face!”
When asked how she envisions the project moving forward, she shared how the dream is to operate the baking classes multiple times weekly and open the sales not only to just the village and staff but also to the surrounding community.
Besides Maya, we also meet Oly Kenneth, ecological director of the centre, as we were all admiring the workmanship displayed on the dessert tables. When asked about her dreams for the children, Oly assured: “For me this is the dream! The dream is here! It is THEIR home! These same kids planted the trees here, and now they are having their party here! It came full circle.”
Irene, from the ICEJ staff, smiled and referenced Isaiah 61:3, which eloquently describes beauty replacing ashes for troubled hearts.
When Jannie of ICEJ Aid was asked to address the gathering, she said that she was reminded of the verse in Psalm 92 which mentions the righteous flourishing like a palm tree, very befitting for the “Palm Tree Group.” In addition to creating delicious desserts, she noted, they also had made lasting memories and gained valuable skills that will be very beneficial in their future lives. As one speaker at the celebration expressed: “The beauty has no end.”
Please consider partnering with us to provide a hope and a future for more Israeli youth. Donate today at: https://icej.org.au/aid/
Photos courtesy of ICEJ International.