How an Israeli Organization Empowers At-Risk Girls and Women After Neglect and Amid War

The Gumat Chen boarding school girls eat together. Courtesy of Gumat Chen

There is a place in the south of Israel where girls who previously faced neglect, abuse or abandonment come to find a second chance to succeed in life.

The girls residing at Gumat Chen, a therapeutic boarding school in Kibbutz Sa’ad, are being supported to reclaim their sense of security, rebuild trust and embrace opportunities in education and personal growth that they once thought impossible.

“This boarding school is a place which heals the soul,” said a former resident, named N for anonymity. “It allows every girl who enters these doors to come out a new human being, with strength, courage and so much to offer the world.”

Guided by holistic and comprehensive care for at-risk girls and women, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s support of Gumat Chen allows them to provide career courses for students after they age out of their boarding school. Designed for women aged 18 to 25, this post-high school program offers the tools and skills needed to succeed in the labor market.

Gumat Chen is supported year-round as part of the Jewish Federation’s Partnership2Gether (P2G) fund, which supports Greater Philadelphia’s partnership regions of Netivot and Sdot Negev that border Gaza and face constant unrest.

“I want to thank the Jewish Federation because they were the first to believe in us and to support this program,” said Director Odelia Ben Porat of Gumat Chen, which has a three-year grant of $30,000 from the Jewish Federation.

Without a family of its own, Gumat Chen strives to be a stabilizing presence throughout their students’ lives. Even after participants complete the post-secondary school program, the staff continues to connect with them via routine Zoom calls to check in and offer additional support where needed.

“It is very exciting to see that girls who came to Gumat Chen after dropping out of school initially, are now working hard to advance their careers by working toward higher education,” Ben Porat said.

Amid this challenging yet inspiring work, Gumat Chen then faced an unprecedented hurdle — that of the Oct. 7 massacre. Displaced due to the ongoing war, the organization has been navigating a new reality for themselves and their girls for the past five months.

Youth make up 30% of the evacuated Israelis, according to ELEM, a leading national nonprofit organization dedicated to treating and transforming the lives of troubled youth.
After relocating the boarding school to safety, 50 kilometers away in central Israel, Gumat Chen grappled with issues regarding the emotional well-being of its girls.

Sharing a campus with the Givat Washington Academic College of Education, the Gumat Chen professionals noticed a disturbing trend as the girls stopped eating and complained of increased depression.

According to ELEM, eating disorders have been observed in 10% of evacuated teens and 46% have reported feeling anxiety and depression.

Gumat Chen’s counselors and staff grew worried and didn’t have the tools available to solve this additional layer of obstacles.

The Jewish Federation provided emergency funding to Gumat Chen for innovative food trucks to encourage their boarding school girls to eat and find a sense of normalcy amid war. Courtesy of Gumat Chen

That’s when Ben Porat picked up the phone and called the Jewish Federation’s team in Israel. In response, the Jewish Federation immediately provided them with additional funding of $34,500 from its Philly Stands with Israel emergency fund.

“Unlike other funding organizations, the Jewish Federation helped us find a solution to our critical problem, and I never imagined that there would be such a personalized response to what we were dealing with,” Ben Porat said. “It’s been life-changing, and I have learned so much from the Jewish Federation.”

The solution identified was something out of the box — kitchen food trucks.
Deployed in partnership with the Jewish Federation, Gumat Chen and The Negev Food Lab — an innovative think tank based on Philadelphia’s Drexel Food Lab program, in the Negev region that works to improve dining experiences and reduce food waste within the community — these food trucks were implemented to rekindle the girls’ appetites and reinstate communal mealtimes for them to enjoy together.

“We are not just about giving money. As long-standing partners and funders of Gumat Chen, we know its impact, and we see the change it creates in the lives of girls who have experienced unimaginable upbringings and setbacks,” said the Jewish Federation’s Director Israel and Global Operations Tali Lidar, who is based in Israel. “When the war broke out, we knew that organizations, like Gumat Chen, would face unique challenges during the war and, therefore, would need unique solutions — resources that can only be found through mutual respect and understanding.”

Stationed at Gumat Chen’s temporary home, these state-of-the-art trucks are stocked with nutritious food that the girls can use to create meals. This provides a small sense of agency and reclamation of the control that they had lost in their lives before and after Oct. 7.
“Now I see our girls smile, laugh and enjoy eating again,” said Ben Porat, explaining that some of the meals are provided in advance for the girls. “They are now making time to sit together in the dining room, and they start talking to each other, sharing experiences and stories.”

When Gumat Chen returns to Kibbutz Sa’ad, there are aspirations to expand the organization’s reach and deepen its impact. Plans include establishing a new school and continuing initiatives to promote holistic well-being and empowerment among girls and young women. Ben Porat also wants the food truck initiative to be a model for organizations nationwide: “It’s surreal to be in this terrible war, yet we can still open our minds to new dreams.”


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