An orphan is a child who has lost a parent. More often than not because the parent – usually a father, but not always – has died. Sometimes the father has simply disappeared, or become mentally incapacitated, absent from his family and incapable of playing any material or parental role in his child’s life.
When hearing the term ‘widows and orphans’ our first instinct is to think of money… to put food on the table … to pay the landlord … to purchase shoes and clothing. However, material need is not always the companion of widowhood. The absence of a father in a child’s life can mean ongoing developmental devastation, especially for boys.
Children need the protective presence of an “Abba” who is there to help with schoolwork, to teach a child how to play soccer, to interface with teachers when there is a problem, to sit with a son in shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to answer the questions at the Passover Seder, to stand proudly beside his child when they become Bnei Mitzvah.
The absence of a father can easily derail a child’s progress and result in academic failure in school, alienation, depression and delinquency.
For Colel Chabad the easiest thing would be to make sure widows and orphans have food to eat and clothing on their backs. We could convince ourselves that the rest is not our problem, let others deal with them. That’s what social workers should be doing. Instead we took a hard look at what being a widow and orphan really means, and it wasn’t a pretty picture. So we decided to adopt a holistic approach by determining each child’s needs on a case by case basis, custom tailoring a program that would provide all the necessary emotional, academic, social, and creative needs for each orphan.
During the dog days of Summer, Colel Chabad works with orphaned boys and girls who are transitioning to high school. These adolescents are among the 800 children we’ve been working with for years. We’re especially concerned with getting them up to speed with English and Math. Both of these vital subjects are obstacles for many orphaned children. Perhaps fathers are more involved with their kids’ math. Perhaps a second language is more daunting when things aren’t 100% at home. Regardless, Math and English are critical to succeeding in high school. Colel Chabad has arranged the financing and placement for these kids. When necessary we engage private tutors. We will not allow these vulnerable children to fall through the academic cracks. And we make sure their Summers are an opportunity to beef up on the subjects for which they need help.
Once schools re-open in September, teachers throughout Israel are busy getting familiar with their new students. They’re on the lookout for kids who are at risk, and provide a vital filtration before Colel Chabad can take over.
There are some 800 orphans in the Colel Chabad network. These children are divided into two categories, Grade School and High School.
The first comprises boys and girls up to age 13. Each child is assigned a big brother or sister whose responsibility it is to work with the child on their studies, to protect them if they get bullied, to interface with educators when there’s a problem.
The majority of Colel Chabad big brothers/sisters are 19-20 years old. Others can be mature adults, educators, rabbis, men and women of great sensitivity and integrity who embrace these children as if they were their very own. A big brother or sister may not be a science, math or English specialist. Yet they are certainly equipped to assist and coach children with their homework in all grade school subjects, and to provide the needed emotional support.
Colel Chabad is also the go-to address for the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of Israeli orphans. We make sure fatherless boys are never left to flounder on their own in shul. Because nothing is more devastating to a young boy than being on his own in a synagogue ESPECIALLY when he is saying kaddish for a deceased father. Colel Chabad’s big brothers and sisters guide their charges through these critical childhood years, making sure they are ready for their big day.
Colel Chabad involves mothers at every step. We consult with moms to determine which extracurricular activity would be most conducive to the child’s development . Karate? Piano? Dance? Art? Colel Chabad finances these activities, providing moms with the money needed for these programs.
Big brothers and sisters file monthly progress reports after interfacing with teachers, school administrators, tutors and, of course, mom herself. The mother is empowered to feel in control because Colel Chabad provides the money with which to pay for all tutoring and extra curriculars.
All of this continues into the critical high school years. Colel Chabad recognizes how difficult adolescence is even under normal circumstances. For fatherless children the pitfalls can be particularly ruinous.. Which is why we introduced a special scholarship incentive program for orphaned teens. These adolescents are required to submit their test scores during the school year. At then end of the year those who have performed well – and most do – are invited with their mothers to a festive ceremony where they are each given between 500 and 2,000 shekels depending on their degree of success. The money is theirs to do with as they please. For an orphaned teen, 500 shekels is serious money, 2,000 shekels is a small fortune. All told, Colel Chabad hands out between 250-300,000 shekels at this joyous occasion. Above all, this program nurtures these children through to the successful completion of their high school education.
Every Israeli child is precious. Every child deserves to be well-fed, protected, guided and nurtured by loving parents. When such a parent is missing, Colel Chabad steps up to the plate with a comprehensive array of help to make sure these boys and girls are not deprived of any opportunity to get ahead in life.