For dozens of lone soldiers, the Meir Shfeya Youth Village is home. The soldiers, who have completed their studies in the village, return there during their time off from the army, to the "graduates house", where they are treated like part of one big family.
Many of the students of the youth village are olim from the former Soviet Union, who immigrated to Israel without their families, and a great deal of them do not have a home to go back to. As long as they are students at the village, they have a place to stay during weekends, but after their enlistment to the military, they are left without a place to spend their time off.
The "graduates house" was opened specifically for this purpose. There, the soldiers get bedrooms, warm meals, a refrigerator full of snacks, a washing machine, a dryer, a television and other services meant to make their stay in the house more pleasant and give them a sense of home.
The man behind the opening of the house is Shaul Elbaz, the boarding school's director.
Elbaz himself experienced as a child the difficulties of immigration and absorption, and studied in a youth village. When he finished his MA at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he rejected an offer to continue down the academic path, and decided to start his career in the education system as a mentor at the Israel Goldstein Youth Village, where he was a student himself. He then went on to serve as a teacher and high school principal in various youth villages.
"Our duty as educators does not stop at the end of the twelfth grade. We feel committed to the graduates as they continue along their path," he said. Elbaz initially appointed someone to keep in touch with the graduates for the first three years after their graduation. He then opened the "graduates house".
"Shaul is like a father to me," said Ilya Zlotnik, who immigrated to Israel from Russia on his own six years ago and graduated from the youth village two years ago.
"He is always there to listen and consult with whenever there is a problem or difficulty. The youth village is home to me, where I can return to on my holidays and feel comfortable and have fun. The distance from my family hasn't been easy over the years, nor is it now, but the support I have received and continue to receive from the village helps. Without the 'graduates house', the graduates wouldn't have any place to go."
Students and many graduates view Elbaz as a father figure. Some of them find in him a shoulder to lean on during a time of crisis, and for others, he helps raise donations to enable them to go to university.
"For me it was obvious that my future was in education. I chose education as a Zionist and social vocation. Education to me is not a workplace, but a lifestyle," Elbaz said.
Yechiel Shiloh, the director of the Rural Education Division in the Ministry of Education said maintaining ties with the graduates in need of a home is one of the systems' most important goals.
He said Elbaz and the directors of the Yemin Orde Youth Village were pioneers in taking such intense care of the graduates.