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Timora: Providing an alternative to high-risk religious teens


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Timora: Providing an alternative to high-risk religious teens

The Timora organization was founded 20 years ago to respond to the needs of teenagers from the national-religious sector who dropped out of yeshiva high schools. A group of Timora students playing music at a residential village (photo credit: Courtesy) The Timora nonprofit organization operates residential high schools for teenage boys and girls from the…

The Timora organization was founded 20 years ago to respond to the needs of teenagers from the national-religious sector who dropped out of yeshiva high schools.

A group of Timora students playing music at a residential village (photo credit: Courtesy)

A group of Timora students playing music at a residential village

(photo credit: Courtesy)

The Timora nonprofit organization operates residential high schools for teenage boys and girls from the national religious and haredi sectors who have dropped out of yeshiva high schools, ulpanot and yeshivot and found themselves in high-risk situations. In its own words, Timora “implements with great success a new educational model for religious, troubled teenage youth, ages 15-18 years old, who in spite of their upbringing in tight-knit Jewish communities, dropped out of school, broke away from their families and seemingly gave up on living a normal life.” Ariel Sokoloff, founder and chairman of the nonprofit organization, told The Jerusalem Report about the uniqueness of its frameworks and its therapeutic-educational path, “work through communication.” When was Timora founded, and for what purpose?

The Timora nonprofit organization was founded 20 years ago to respond to the needs of teenagers from the national-religious sector who dropped out of yeshiva high schools. In some instances, this put these teens into risky situations including living on the streets. We were the first to identify the problem, which up until then was kept hidden and/or denied by the national religious community. Over the years we have developed diverse frameworks that respond to different endangered populations – national-religious youth, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) youth or youth from immigrant families. No matter the source, these youth can’t find themselves within their community framework.

What are Timora’s frameworks?

Timora has four different frameworks, each of which recognizes the need to respond to the uniqueness of the teenager, focusing not just on the individual but also on his family, and his relationship with the community. Our purpose is to build a familiar microcosm, one of “consistency” (safeguarding a religious atmosphere, for example), in order to ensure a sense of belonging. From the perspective of our teenagers, they never wanted to leave their homes; they still feel part of their religious or haredi community. They left because they did not fit in, but they miss home, and if it were possible, they would return.

• The Yiftach residential school in the northern Dead Sea area was the organization’s first framework. It is designated for youth from the national religious sector who are at high risk and arrive at Yiftach by court order. Yiftach provides a home for these youngsters; a feeling which was strengthened during the corona period when some were here for many consecutive weeks. Currently we are working to rebuild and renovate Yiftach’s campus. We plan to build new dormitories, a large kitchen and new dining room, a building for therapies and group activities, sports fields, and more. These youngsters deserve a place that is productive and pleasant, with the most advanced facilities.

• The Mahol residential school in the Jordan Valley is a framework for teenage girls from the national religious sector who have found themselves in complex risk situations, and arrive at the residential school by order of the Welfare Department. Both the Yiftach and Mahol frameworks combine full matriculation studies with a variety of creative personal strengthening and therapeutic activities.

• Brosh (Neve Sraya) in the Jordan Valley is a residential village for teenagers from the national religious sector who could not find themselves in their “regular” frameworks. Life in the village combines matriculation studies, creative activities and agricultural work.

• The Naaleh high school in Beitar Illit is a non-residential technological school for teenagers from the haredi sector. Its goal is to keep the youth in their homes and community, and provide them with a prospect for social integration via modern technology.

What is your educational vision?

The essence of our educational work with youth focuses on the emotional and spiritual aspects. We believe that adolescence is a critical developmental stage. It is the time to design the individual’s psyche by means of “work through communication.” This means that we focus on the skills to form a healthy and sound relationship with our surroundings, but first and foremost with ourselves. We must learn to accept ourselves, and then make peace with our environment, family, God and nature. We believe that everything starts and ends with relationships. Hence, it is most important for our youth to develop their emotional skills and build meaningful relationships with the world around them. Our attention is focused on the emotional aspect due to an understanding that once the spirit is calm, organized and balanced, a hunger for the physical, cognitive, and educational domains thrives.

This work has been developed over the years via “dynamic education” – a form of language and tools which brings our work to life. Every interaction with staff members (from the head of the dormitory, teachers, the home cook, or the bus driver) is guided by a process of emotional training. Our vision is for our youth to take everything they experience and learn with us, and apply it at all stages of life – from high school through to the IDF or national service, into their careers and, of course, into family life.

We believe that this educational path should be implemented in every educational framework, even the most normative. Educators essentially direct the cognitive processes, but the main challenge is not developing cognitive abilities but rather emotional, moral and psychological capacities. It is a proven fact that if our emotional world is balanced, we are open to additional areas of growth. For teenage youth, such balance may settle violent tendencies, create motivation and push toward achievement. Our highest value is cooperation. While in another process this might not work, a teenager in our framework who does not cooperate breaks the foundation of work through communication. Of course, the adults shoulder the obligation to communicate, but the youths’ cooperation is essential.

How do students learn and participate in activities after study hours?

Most of the frameworks are 24/7. During the school-day, we focus on acquiring skills for managing within a scheduled framework and the teenagers’ ability to make choices within a structured system. In the residential schools, we teach students the skills to build a daily routine with a variety of opportunities for classes and group activities, such as dance, agriculture, therapeutic horseback riding and art therapy. We help our youngsters learn daily management skills, how to accept authority and successfully connect with their peers. They learn to organize, plan and cope with frustration, in the hope that when they return home they will be better able to do so. We also work with the parents of our youth in order to help them strengthen their parenting skills and restore their children’s trust.

What can you tell us about your success?

We test ourselves on an educational, a social and a personal level. In the educational domain – a teenager who comes to us doesn’t believe he will last a week. While in fact, he will complete 12 years of studies, some with their full matriculation and others with partial matriculation. The experience of learning and taking matriculation exams gives these youth a sense of worthiness that will stay with them for life. In the social realm – over 90% of our teenagers enlist in combat units, National Service or volunteer programs. And in the family domain – 85% return to connect with their families. Many of our young men and women graduates have started families of their own, which shouldn’t be taken for granted. I am always proud to say that I have many “grandchildren.” These are all tremendous measures of success!

What are the organization’s plans for the future?

First and foremost is the renovation and restoration of Yiftach. This facility is home for many of our youth so we hope to acquire the necessary resources to carry out our plans. In addition, our goal in the coming years is to expand our horizons. We are planning to set up two more educational frameworks; one for girls which will be the same style as our residential school in Brosh. Additionally, we want to establish a college framework designated for youth who are defined by the IDF as draft dodgers. Our objective is to bring these youth back into the circle of those who can and will enlist in the IDF. We are also examining ways to integrate our values and unique language into conventional learning, in cooperation with the Education Ministry, because we believe it is important to provide guidance and direction to develop emotional skills. To our regret, this part of a teen’s development is most often neglected at school. We believe that combining these emotional skills with their educational subjects will lay the groundwork not only for success in their studies, but also for building the tolerant society we are so lacking today. 

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