‘It’s Given Me the World’:
How St. Rachel’s is Helping Israel’s Migrant Community

In the current edition of ONE, Michele Chabin reports on something Found in Translation.

In the current edition of ONE, Michele Chabin reports on something Found in Translation: the promise of young Christian refugees learning Hebrew in Israel. But that’s just the beginning. Here, she adds some additional thoughts.

You can walk past a building a dozen times, but until you knock on the door and step inside you have no idea what you’ve been missing.

That’s exactly how I felt when CNEWA asked me to write a feature about the St. Rachel Day Care Center in Jerusalem, which is housed in a prefabricated building on the grounds of a monastery I hadn’t known existed.

The Rachel Center, which receives vital funding from CNEWA, cares for the children of some of Israel’s African and Asian migrant workers and asylum-seekers. Were it not for the center, the parents — including several single mothers — would be unable to work and feed their families.

Touring the center, from the babies’ nursery to the playrooms where the older children congregate after school, I was struck by three things: the cleanliness; the high ratio of adults to children; and the fact that everyone, from the sisters to the Catholic lay people, were speaking to the children in Hebrew, the predominant language of Israel.

Why Hebrew? Unless they learn Hebrew, these children — most of them born in Israel — will struggle in school and be unable to integrate into the country they call home.

The fact that — except for the ethnic makeup of the children and the Christian atmosphere — St. Rachel is indistinguishable from any other top-notch Israeli child care center is remarkable given the horrible conditions most migrant/asylum-seeker’s children are forced to endure in makeshift childcare centers that receive neither Israeli government funding nor inspections.

Several years ago, I visited one such center in south Tel Aviv, where most Israel-based migrants and asylum seekers live. It left such a sad impression on me that I remember every detail to this day.

There were dozens of infants and toddlers in the two-room preschool but only three caregivers for up to 80 children. They didn’t have the time to change all of the children’s dirty diapers or clean them if they were sick. Bottles were propped up on towels because there weren’t enough adults to hold all the babies while they ate.

The center had almost no toys, so the TV on the wall was the only thing that kept the children occupied — that, and an occasional group of volunteers who took the older children out to a nearby playground.

At St. Rachel the rooms are immaculate and there are so many wonderful toys and building blocks to play with. There is a library full of beautiful children’s books, plus dance classes and a safe playground with a soft floor to protect against injuries. There is healthy food, music and singing and laughter, all in a Christian setting.

A parent told me that “living in a foreign country, especially without any legal status, can be demoralizing.” But knowing that her baby was being so well cared for at St. Rachel “has given me peace of mind,” she said. “It’s given me the world.”

Read more in the June 2017 edition of ONE.

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