Residential Education and Care in Israel


In most of the industrialized countries, the use of residential education and care as a rehabilitation vehicle for children and youth at risk is constantly decreasing (Knorth &Van de Ploeg, 1994). There are many reasons for this phenomenon; however, the main ones are related to the negative stigma attached today to any kind of institutional placement. This is nowadays considered in most European countries as a last resort solution that is being applied only when all other interventions have failed.

In addition to that, the ever-increasing cost of treating a child in a residential care therapeutic program is encouraging policy-makers to look for less expensive solutions, even though their effectiveness is often doubtful (Grupper, 2002).

These remarks are needed in order to understand the very original and particular phenomenon related to residential education and care system in Israel. Its particularity lies in the fact that between 9 – 14% (depending on the year) of adolescents and their families from various cultural and social origins are opting for this kind of program for their children’s high school education.

Different periods in Youth Aliyah history

Youth Aliyah was established 75 years ago as a rescue operation for Jewish adolescents, taking them out of Nazi Germany and placing them in educational residential programs in Israel, first in kibbutzim and later on in youth villages too.

This network of residential education and care provision grew up and developed over the years now includes 283 institutions where almost 40,000 adolescents are receiving in them their high school academic needs, cultural enrichment, psycho-social counseling and, last but not least, all their primary needs, with it being an extra-familial care program.

The characteristics of the youth population taking advantage of this unique educational and rehabilitation network have changed many times during these 75 years. The main factors influencing it are the changing needs of Israeli society. During first years of the state of Israel, these were orphans and children who survived the holocaust in Europe. Later they were mainly new immigrants from various countries. Since 1971 it has become a very original mixture composed of young immigrants integrated together with Israeli-born adolescents who are in need of extra-familial care due to family problems or living in a difficult and unhealthy social environment.

Nine periods can be identified in this long history of Youth Aliyah:

First period 1933-1940 First groups of Jewish young people leaving Germany to be integrated in kibbutz groups in Israel.

Second period 1940-1950 Integration of orphans and youth that survived the Holocaust and arrived in Israel without family.

Third period 1950-1960 Youth Aliyah as an educational tool helping the newly born state to integrate the mass immigration from all over the world.

Fourth period 1960-1971 Integration of youth coming before their parents from North Africa. This period is also characterized by an ongoing effort to establish and strengthen the unique professional ideology and educational methods of Youth Aliyah.

Fifth period 1971-1981 The Israeli project starts, when following the Government’s request, 4,600 Israeli-born adolescents, mainly from culturally underprivileged background, are integrated into the Youth Aliyah educational network. At the same time, new immigrants continue to come from Romania, Iran, Turkey and elsewhere and all these young people learn to live together in the youth villages as an integrated youth society.

Sixth period 1981-1989 The Ethiopian era in Youth Aliyah starts. In 1983 there is Operation Moses, and thousands of children and youth from the Ethiopian Jewish community arrive to Israel, mostly without their parents, and new programs are developed for them before they can be fully integrated in the Youth Aliyah villages. At the same time, new short-term projects are developed for Jewish youth from different countries like France, England, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia and elsewhere, to strengthen their Jewish identity by spending a semester or more in a Youth Aliyah village in Israel.

Seventh period 1989-1996 The second large scale operation, Solomon, takes place in May 1991. During the summer of 1991 Youth Aliyah integrates 2,500 Ethiopian youth arriving in Israel in this rescue operation. In 1990 the mass immigration to Israel of Jews from the former Soviet Union starts and many of their adolescents are integrated in Youth Aliyah educative network. The Nailed project starts with the aim to bring from the CIS young people before their parents. At the same time, the war in Yugoslavia takes place and Youth Aliyah operates a special rescue operation giving a safe shelter for Jewish young people from the fighting areas. Many of them stay in Israel; some go back home when the war is over.

Eighth period 1996-2003 Youth Aliyah is transferred from the Jewish Agency to be integrated as part of the Ministry of Education. The big challenge is to keep the unique spirit and flexibility of an informal organization, such as Youth Aliyah, inside a bureaucratic governmental agency. This transition is realized successfully and the network of Youth Aliyah is expanding in this period and strengthens its professional structure. Children integrated in this period in the network include Israeli-born, Ethiopian youth and newcomers from the former Soviet Union.

Ninth period 2003 onwards Youth Aliyah has become the central agency in the Ministry of Education that supervises and takes responsibility for all Residential Education and Care programs, the challenge being to introduce Youth Aliyah educational philosophy and methods to the larger network of almost 300 residential programs.

The Israeli Youth Aliyah model for residential education and care

The prototype of the leading Israeli residential education model, forged and developed in the Youth Aliyah educational movement, is the youth village. It was created as part of the resettling of the land and gathering Jewish people from all over the world after the Shoah, to create an Israeli society. The kibbutz movement, which represented a new way of voluntarily chosen of community life, was in many respects the model for the creation of youth villages, based on shared living of youth and adults in a small and integrated educative communities (Eden, 1952; Kashti & Arieli, 1976). This kind of educational model has been widely applied in Israel until today for integrating immigrant youth, to rehabilitate underprivileged and uprooted young people, as a powerful social instrument for creating an integrated and solid society.


The basic principles of this model are:

  • The school is an integral part of the residential program. Young people are exposed to normative intellectual challenges, with a large network of support programs, both on the intellectual and emotional level.
  • The child is being looked after in a holistic way – the ecological model. Every part of the day, and any kind of activity, and every staff member, are part of the overall program designed to achieve the educational goals.
  • In the youth village the child experiences a real ‘moratorium’, which gives legitimacy for trial and error learning processes.
  • The composition of youth society in the village is multi-cultural and heterogeneous. Young people are from various backgrounds, and all of them are in need of extra-familial education and care for various reasons. The ability of the staff is to transform this cultural diversity to be an asset instead of a burden.
  • The gap between personal goals and community objectives has to be bridged. The concept of ‘self accomplishment’ is often considered nowadays to be in contradiction with activities that are geared towards achieving the goals of the community at large. Life in Youth Aliyah demonstrate the great potential, in terms of empowerment and psychological growth, of leadership activities where young persons are contributing to the community in large and at the same time are developing their personality and gaining most valuable social skills.
  • Youth are responsible for the self-governance of daily life activities.The empowerment of youth is gained also through their active enrolment in leadership activities, through which they are experiencing bearing responsibility and also the rewarding feeling of having successfully accomplished many kinds of activity: at school, in social activities, in daily duties, in helping or supporting a young friend, in sports, in the farm etc.
  • The special quality of dialogue between young people and their educators is that it is based on mutual respect and not on hierarchy.

Youth Aliyah’s international reputation – part of FICE-International

Youth Aliyah joined the International Federation of Educative Communities (FICE) in 1952, four years after FICE had been established in 1948. It was accepted as the Israeli National Section to represent Israeli residential educators in the international forum. In 1958 Youth Aliyah hosted the World Congress of FICE for the first time. Since then, there was another FICE World Congress in 1983 held in Neurim youth village. In 1991 a FICE international professional seminar on the training of social pedagogues took place in Israel and was later documented in a FICE book published in 1983. In October 2007, the Board meeting of this important organization took place in Israel, including visits to different types of Youth Aliyah villages, both for Jewish and Arab children.

FICE embraces highly qualified and motivated residential educators and administrators from more then 30 countries around the world. None of them provide such a large and diversified network, so that adolescents in need of specialized care have a wide range of options from which to choose the one that most closely fits his/her specific needs and expectations.

This is also the ‘golden chain’ between the past, present and future – the possibilities offered by this unique network of extra-familial care programs to rehabilitate and empower every young person who encounters difficulties in his/her adolescent days.

Recently, a survey was done by Prof. Rami Benbenishty from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The focus of the survey was to follow up graduates of Youth Aliyah villages 3-5 years after having finished their education. Almost all of them recall their experience in Youth Aliyah village as a very rewarding and empowering one. They are mostly satisfied with their lives, looking forward to their future as adults well integrated into Israeli society.

We know from our colleagues in FICE that in Europe, extra-familial care is a much stigmatized educational solution. Therefore, our European colleagues are full of admiration for this unique model of residential education and care programs. They are particularly astonished and envy us for being able to gain the full and on-going support of the Ministry of Education which covers most of the high expenses of this educational network.

The reasons for the high demand for residential education in Israel

The Youth Aliyah model is a residential education and care program emphasizing its multi-cultural feature. Nowadays, 85% of children who are in extra-familial care in Israel are placed in these kinds of residential programs. The Youth Aliyah model is neither a rehabilitation center nor a boarding school. It is trying to serve both populations together in a heterogeneous integrated setting, and to create a stimulating environment that can empower every young person to achieve his/her specific expectations and needs.

In this kind of residential institution there is a capacity to bridge the gap and find proper educational and rehabilitation solutions for a large variety of young people:

  • new immigrants who are in the midst of their cross-cultural transition
  • children and youth who are in need because of family and social problems,
  • young persons who need a second chance after having failed at the
    community based schooling system,
  • some who need rehabilitation following emotional and behavioral crises,
  • those who are looking for a very specific oriented kind of education which fits the group care concepts of the youth Aliyah model.

In order to keep a high quality of education and care, our department in the Ministry of Education is closely supervising all 283 residential settings, including:

  • religious and non-religious youth villages,
  • high school Yeshiva for boys and high school Ulpana for girls,
  • nautical schools,
  • agricultural schools,
  • vocational schools and also
  • programs for Arab youth and for Druze children.

The origins of this phenomenon

The reasons for this unique social feature of Israeli society are many. Let us take the main ones and elaborate about them:

Cultural factors

In the Jewish cultural tradition it is well accepted that as part of the adolescent process of young boys, it is good for them to go away from home to study in a Yeshiva (residential rabbinic educational center). Therefore, a large middle-class population among religious people have positive attitudes towards sending their children to residential schools when they reach the age of 12. This has an anti-stigma effect on the overall residential education and care network.

Nation-building process of Israeli society

Like many other societies in a revolutionary phase, or in a nation-building process, group care is often applied as a powerful instrument to socialize young people and prepare them for challenging social duties (Bronfenbrenner, 1970). This is still the case in Israeli society today. Although social challenges are often changing, they still have strong appeal for young people who want to feel actively engaged in the building of the society’s future.

Historical circumstances of Jewish people in the 20th century

Another factor that contributed to the extensive use of a wide variety of residential models in Israel is connected to the tragic and extreme situations Jewish people were exposed to during the twentieth century. Many children lost their families during the two World Wars, and were in need of holistic care that could be supplied in residential homes. One example can highlight this kind of program. A home was created in 1945 in Salvino, a small village in the north of Italy, where Jewish children who had been kept under cover and saved in monasteries all over Europe were gathered and later transferred to group care programs of Youth Aliyah in Israel (Meged, 1984).

Facts and figures about residential care in Israel

As stated before, the number of children and young people in residential education and care institutions in Israel is higher than in any other country. The exact statistics vary from one period to the other; however, the general features described below have not changing significantly since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Looking at the age-group 3-18, 4% of the overall children’s population is placed in some kind of residential placement. If we look over the last 20 years at the age group of 12-18, which is the age of Youth Aliyah children, the figures are 9-14%, depending on the specific year.

In a survey done by Gottesmann (1994) in 22 different countries which are members of the international association FICE (Federation International de Communautes Educatives), it was found that no other country, even those which have a long tradition of residential care, had such relatively high percentages. Just to name a few, in the UK it was less than 2% (Kahan, 1994), in Hungary less than 1% (Domvsky, 1991), and in Finland 0.5 %( Kemppainen, 1991).

It is largely accepted that residential care is not a desirable solution in early years; therefore the age group of 12-18 is the one where most of placements in residential care are provided in the Youth Aliyah network. In the eighties it was starting with 14% of the age group. In the nineties it went down to 11% and the last statistics (Children in Israel, 2007), are 9%. Although the trend is downwards, it is still a significantly high proportion of the overall age group of Israeli youth.

New trends in the Youth Aliyah residential education and care network

Residential institutions are bound to modify themselves according to social changes occurring in the environment in which they operate. This is true everywhere and also in the Youth Aliyah model in Israel.

The main changes occurring nowadays in this educational network are focused in three areas:

  • Higher priority given to academic achievements

Major efforts are being made in order to guarantee youth in care optimal opportunities to achieve success in their high school studies, as a key element in opening future perspectives for them as adults.

  • Involving parents in the children’s lives while being in care

Contrary to the past, it is nowadays common knowledge (Buhler-Niederberger, 1999) that parents, even the most vulnerable among them, should be treated as full partners in their children’s education and care. This is not always easy to realize in residential institutions which used to operating as closed systems. However, today, due to the importance attached to the family, it is a major effort for residential staff to realize this policy in everyday life.

  • New and better collaboration with the community Most residential youth villages were established in rural and isolated areas, and the nearby community did not play any role in their functioning. Nowadays, geography has changed in the sense that the distances are smaller and the concept of building community services has become a major component in educational and social services.

Instead of looking at community-based programs and residential ones as opposed to each other, the new approach looks for ways to conceive of them both as complementary. New partnerships between residential institutions and communities are being developed constantly, including the creation of new models, such as half-way homes and extended day programs that take care of the child without having to separate him/her completely from the family and the original environment in the community.

  • Extra services to graduates without any family support

The main objective in the Youth Aliyah education network is to empower young people and prepare them for being autonomous and successful independent persons. However, a certain percentage (usually less then 10%) are completely lacking in any kind of family support.

Some of these young people are in need of an extended moratorium. They need some extra services, even after having finished high school studies. Some of them are in need of accommodation for an additional period of time; others need follow up and a place for spending their vacations during military service. Others need counseling and emotional support. Still others need to feel they are not alone in the world and the home supplied for them in the youth village continues to be their home whenever they need it.

These are examples of new programs emerging in some of Youth Aliyah villages during recent years. They are now being adopted as a matter of general policy to be applied through the entire network.

Concluding remarks

The Youth Aliyah residential education and care network in Israel was and still is a very important social instrument for successfully coping with educational and social challenges. This kind of program has proved to be highly instrumental in the successful social integration of immigrant youth (Eisikovits and Beck, 1991; Grupper, 1994). It has also proved to be an important asset in reintegrating disconnected youth who are at risk.

The community life where shared living between young people and their educators takes place creates vast opportunities to develop sense of belonging, first in the small peer-group and later in the youth community. Hopefully it will lead to the development of an adult personality, who feels him/herself to belong in, and be positively connected to, his/her family, the local community and society at large.

Let us hope that also in the future this powerful social instrument, that has been so efficiently applied until now, will be allotted sufficient resources in order to empower new generations of young people who are in need of this kind of educational programs. The implication is that residential programs should not be seen as the last resort, but on the contrary, the preferred option for those who need residential care and wish to use it.

Dr. Emmanuel Grupper is Director of the Residential Education & Care division at the Youth Aliyah Department in the Ministry of Education and Senior Lecturer at the Beit Berl Academic College. He is the President of the Israeli National Section of FICE, the international association for extra-familial care, and was elected as Vice-President of the International Association of Social Educators (AIEJI).

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