In 2009, Avi Abu-Zneid graduated from the boarding school for at-risk youth on Kibbutz Eshbal. Three years earlier, he had come to Eshbal needing a more supportive framework. And in three years he had done the near impossible – begun to care about himself, his peers and counselors; volunteered with younger kids; got involved in national social and political issues he cared about; and of course – finished high school. This he accomplished with the help of the unique project-based approach at his high school; therapeutic programs taking care of horses and dogs; and most importantly, the amazing, patient and loving educators who cared for him there.
After completing his stint at the boarding school, he decided to take the unusual step of joining the gap-year program of the youth movement associated with Dror Israel – HaNoar HaOved – in which he spent the year living with his peer group and volunteering with at-risk youth as part of the youth movement. At the end of the year, he decided to continue living in the Dror Israel Educators’ Kibbutz in Rishon Letzion and working with disadvantaged youth. Today, he is a union organizer helping young workers in the gig economy ensure that they are not being exploited.
A few weeks ago Avi returned to Eshbal to speak with the boarding school students for a meaningful and moving discussion. He told them his life story, about growing up in a difficult neighborhood in Ashdod in one of the few Muslim families in the city; and about how he felt as a teen. Then he told them about how his experiences on Eshbal changed his life.
For these youth who often feel that adults cannot possibly understand them and what they’ve been through, hearing Avi’s story was very special and eye-opening, especially when he told them that he definitely wouldn't be who he is today if it weren’t for his three important years at the Eshbal boarding school.
“It means so much to hear Avi’s stories of growing up. The choices he made and the obstacles he overcame reminds me of a lot of the things I am facing right now,” said one of the students.
Avi’s major message for the students was wishing them to find the way towards Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) - together.