Over 200 people crammed into Kibbutz Eshbal’s basketball court, excitedly waiting for the performance to begin. The audience was filled with proud parents whose children were finishing another year at the Dror Israel’s Eshbal boarding school, last year’s graduates (some in their army uniforms and some who have just finished a year of service or army prep) and many members of the Dror’s Eshbal educators’ community. Among the most special and cutest guests were the children of the Eshbal educators, who gazed admiringly at the graduating teens and gestured to one another from afar: that’s my youth movement group leader!
The Eshbal Boarding School is Dror's award-winning program for 40 at-risk youth on Kibbutz Eshbal. The students study at Dror Israel's High School in Carmiel while living together on the rural educators’ kibbutz where they take care of horses and dogs, volunteer with the children of Eshbal, participate in an extensive hiking and touring program, and much more. The close relationships they develop with their peers and educators, as well as the responsibilities they must take on by living away from home and as part of the program, empower the students to overcome the difficulties in their pasts and grow into independent and successful young adults.
Over the past year, the students at Eshbal’s boarding school chose to be responsible for the community around them in a few important ways: they founded a group of senior citizens in the nearby town of Karmiel with whom they met at least once a week (3 representatives from the group were in the crowd, shedding tears of excitement,) they created and led a group of kids in Karmiel’s branch of the HaNoar HaOved youth movement, they led activities for children in Dror Israel’s “Nitzanim” elementary school in Karmiel, and some of them even led programming for children of the Eshbal educators.
These teens, who all came from unstable family backgrounds and came to the boarding school in search of a framework that would offer them one last chance, chose to lead and educate other kids and serve as role models for them. In their choice to lead, they themselves took all the values that they received from their educators in the boarding school, the images of their own role models from the school, and chose to pass them along to the younger generation.
As the performance began, the mother of Chai, a student finishing 12th grade, took to the stage to wish the graduating students well. She stood on the stage with tears in her eyes, and told the story of her son Chai. She told about how he was thrown out of every school he had attended and how the summer before 11th grade she knew that it was the last time he would get a chance. “We found the Eshbal boarding school, we came to visit, and I know that this was a place where he could stay. The only thing that I regret is that we didn’t find this boarding school two years earlier. Chai missed out on two years when he could have gotten so much from this place. But there’s no use crying over spilled milk. The two years that he got to be educated here have been two of the most meaningful years of his life.”
She began to cry as she told about how in the past all of their conversations would en up in fights. “After he came to the boarding school, Chai would talk to me on the phone, and right before the conversation was about to turn into a fight, he stopped and said to me ‘Mom, we shouldn’t fight on the phone. It’s not respectful to either of us. Let’s meet and talk about things properly.” While she speaks she gets choked up and Chai comes up to the stage to hug her, to support her as she finishes her speech. There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.
After the emotional speeches, the students took to the stage to act and dance and tell the audience the story of the year they’re wrapping up in Eshbal’s boarding school. the magic that happened there is hard to convey in words, but hopefully photos and videos can help everyone to feel a little bit of the incredible experience.
Students performed a translated version of "We Go Together" from Grease.