Keren Hayeled is affiliated with the Batya Youth Organization, a nation-wide auxiliary educational program in Israel for girls. Its stated purpose is to: Promote a Jewish worldview; Inculcate a strong moral and ethical code; Encourage community service; Reduce educational and social gaps; Foster coexistence-education; and Facilitate self-realization. Batya is especially active in disadvantaged areas.
With approximately 50,000 student members, Batya is the fourth largest youth movement in Israel. To be accepted and trained as a mentor-counselor in Batya is a big honor and this prestigious position is coveted by many young women who grow up in its ranks.
In the past, counselors from seminars outside of Keren Hayeled would come to us, fulfilling the role of movement mentors. In time, it occurred to us that we have the potential to groom our own Batya counselors among the 12th-grade girls who could be encouraged, inspired, guided and trained to fulfill this unique role. What’s more, such exemplary young women, who come from troubled backgrounds themselves, would be better suited to mentor the younger girls of Keren Hayeled.
Keren Hayeled Batya counselor with students on the way to an activity.
In fact, we soon realized that priming counselors from within our own students has many more advantages for both the other girls and the mentors themselves:
Maintaining our own qualified counselor from within the boarding school, rather than being assigned one from a “normal” seminar, fosters pride and camaraderie among these girls whose troubled backgrounds are not particularly conducive to acquiring these values which are so important to maturing young people.
Grooming our own students as counselors provides a role model and goal for which the younger girls can aspire, strive and reach. This also creates an environment of friendly competition which naturally catalyzes better behavior, self-improvement and achievement among the students throughout the boarding school, which is something that benefits everybody.
What’s more, the young women who have aspired to, and have become counselors, strengthen themselves even more in order to be a good personal example for the others. This enhances their own growth while improving the model for others which in turn raises the bar for all.
This program also conveys the very important message to all the students that despite the very challenging backgrounds from which they come, they can strive to overcome their difficulties and actually achieve success and make something of themselves. This is very empowering for these young people who are regularly challenged by feelings of inadequacy as a result of their disadvantaged background.
Finally, belonging to, and being a leader in, a nationwide organization so much larger than themselves, during their 12th grade before becoming independent adults, instills within them confidence to succeed not only within the limited context of their peers, but within the larger world in a variety of capacities as well.
Keren Hayeled Batya counselors and students at a conference in the prestigious Binyanei HaUma Complex, Jerusalem.
The counselors’ training is extensive and a privilege. The staff elects candidates and chooses which twelfth-grade students are appropriate for the position. Once elected, they attend the prestigious Batya summer conferences held in hotel conditions for two days. They also participate in a social skills course for empowerment and leadership in which they acquire tools to succeed in their important position. The course is delivered by the project coordinator at Keren Hayeled.
The counselors’ responsibilities are both challenging and rewarding. They must prepare activities each week and deliver them to the group. In the winter they are during the week; In summer they are on Shabbat. Maintaining this yearly schedule in the midst of their own studies requires and develops organizational skills, creativity and dynamism. The counselors also accompany and chaperone our students at nationwide conferences organized by Batya for all members in Israel from all schools. It is at these events that their newly acquired responsibility and leadership skills come to the fore.
Activity developing emotional awareness and self-growth in which the girls portray a variety of emotions in photographs which are made into playing cards and used to identify and discuss appropriate emotional posture and response.
Thankfully, this “home-grown” self-realization leadership venture is quite successful. Both the young women who serve as Keren Hayeled counselors, and particularly those chosen as Batya counselors, very much enjoy investing their time and energy into such an enriching program. We are convinced that this model can be adopted by and inspire other similar organizations to achieve their objective to prepare and empower young people from troubled backgrounds to become well-integrated, contributing and successful member of society.