Students from the Yemin Orde Wingate Youth Village Choir in Israel were in the United States recently to express their thanks to the many Jewish organizations that have supported the school, where more than 500 young people from 22 nations across the globe learn about each other's cultures and traditions, and discover their common connections.
While in the Philadelphia area, the Israeli teens performed at the Robert Saligman Middle School on the Mandell Education Campus in Melrose Park. The school is a program of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School, a constituent agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Located just south of Haifa in the Carmel Mountains, Yemin Orde was founded in 1953 by the British Friends of Youth Aliyah, in order to accommodate the great immigration waves of Holocaust orphans and immigrant children.
"Yemin Orde" literally means "in the memory of Orde." The village was named for British Maj. Gen. Orde Charles Wingate, who was stationed in Palestine in 1936. Wingate, a devout Christian who saw the return of the Jews to Israel as a realization of the biblical prophecies, was known affectionately as "Ha-Yedid" ("The Friend") because of the role he played in fighting the Arab terror campaign and for helping train Haganah fighters.
Members of the Yemin Orde staff are sometimes the only friends that the vast majority of the students who study and live in the village have in Israel. Many, like 17-year-old Alex, travel thousands of miles from their homelands to begin new lives in a land where they can live openly and freely as Jews.
Alex, who made aliyah 21/2 years ago from Georgia in the former Soviet Union, is the first member of his family to come to Israel. He is amazed to discover that there are Jews in every corner of the world, and enjoys celebrating each other's holidays and traditions. While Alex hopes that his mother and grandmother will soon join him in the Jewish state, he has formed a surrogate family among the staff and fellow students.
Sixteen-year-old Kidist is one of the many Yemin Orde students who hails from Ethiopia. She made aliyah with her entire family from their home in Gondar and spent a year in an absorption center before moving into a new home.
In Ethiopia, she was one of the few Jews in her largely Christian neighborhood, and feared that she would be ostracized or treated as "different" if she revealed her true identity. Here in Yemin Orde -- surrounded by Jews from China, Brazil and 20 other nations -- Kidist says she feels privileged to express her faith freely, knowing that she will be accepted and respected by others.
Eighteen-year-old Uri arrived in Israel from Brazil in 2005, fulfilling a dream of making aliyah that took root when he and his family attended a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem several years ago.
"I fell in love with Israel, and knew that I wanted to return here and make this land my own," said the teen. Although he is 7,000 miles away from loved ones, he is confident that he is exactly where he should be. A high school senior, Uri looks forward to graduating from Yemin Orde at the end of the school year and entering the army: "It will be an honor and a privilege to serve Eretz Yisrael."
To learn more about the Yemin Orde Wingate Youth Village, log on to: www.yeminorde.org .