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Childcare in Israel: Adoption, Foster Care and Orphanages

Illustration by Tim Bower

Adoption in Israel

People often ask about adopting a child from Israel. The short answer is: You can’t. Israel, like many other countries, does not allow their children to be “adopted out” to foreign countries.

Adoption in Israel by non-Israeli citizens is rare and is possible only through the Israeli Central Agency for International Adoption. Adoptive parents must stay in Israel for the duration of the adoption process. Non-Israeli citizens can only adopt a baby or a child with special needs for whom no adoptive parents could be found in Israel. To adopt a baby in Israel, there is approximately a 5-year waiting list.  When adopting a child with special needs, there is at least a six-month wait (depending on the age of the child and the parents’ abilities).

So what if you live in Israel or move to Israel? You must be living in the country for a minimum of three years before you are allowed to formally look into adoption. In order to adopt a baby up to age 2, the parents must be Israeli citizens. Preference will be given to adoptive parents of the same religion or ethnic origin as the child. The age difference between either of the parents and the child may not be greater than 43 years. Partners whose cohabitation is not recognized by the government as a legal marriage or single parents can only adopt children with special needs.

There are also very few children up for adoption in Israel due to strong family values and support, a very good public education system with  family planning information and education, as well as free, government subsidized, fertility treatments for couples who are trying to have their own children and would otherwise have looked into adoption.

Preference for Group Care

Infant group at Kibbutz Ramat HaShofet during the 1940s

In addition, when the need arises, residential group care for children is preferred over adoption and foster care in Israel.  Israel is a group oriented society and the people value communal living. This ideology is the reason that group care of children has been so popular in Israel. Residential group care refers to orphanages, children’s villages, and dormitory settings in which children live together in a community like setting. Israelis believe that this type of care provides a good environment in which the child can be educated and disciplined properly. Residential group care of children is also less of an embarrassment for the parent because it does not promote permanent breakup of the family as with foster care and adoption.

Foster care and adoption are not widely used in caring for children in Israel. Social workers have consistently favored residential care. There are no private adoption agencies in Israel, with the government having full control in this area. Foster care and adoption terminate the parents’ rights, which bring shameful feelings to Israeli families.

History of Orphanages in Israel

Part of the Jewish heritage includes the responsibility of taking care of their own people’s needs within their communities. This sense of religious responsibility has been and still is illustrated in childcare, particularly orphanages. Before the establishment of orphanages, relatives and neighbors would always step in to help if the parents were unable to care for their children. Beginning in the 1880s, massive waves of immigrants began to flock to the region as a result of Zionism and growing anti-Semitism abroad. As the pace of urbanization steadily increased, so did poverty and the numbers of orphans and children in need.

In 1881 the first orphanage was founded. The orphanages did not just care for orphans, but also any children whose parents were unable to care for them temporarily. All the orphanages were founded by religious groups that wanted these unfortunate children to become productive, honest members of society. To bring children up as G-d-fearing, self-supporting citizens imbued within the spirit of the Torah. These orphanages served poor children as well as children from broken homes. As the population continued to expand into the 1900s, child placement in these institutions became a feature of immigrant absorption.

As a result of World War I, immigration from Jewish communities in Europe increased, and so did the numbers of orphaned children. The local Arab populations’ rioting in the 1920s also left many widows and orphaned children. Cholera and typhus also contributed to the high numbers of orphans during this time period.

From 1914 to 1930, many important precedents laid the foundation for today’s modern orphanages and childcare, including:

  • Establishment of 12 orphanages
  • Introduction of casework and social diagnosis
  • Beginning family-oriented care of dependent children
  • Development of prototype for the first children’s village
  • Additional programs into the orphanages such as health care, and educational/vocational training

Our Story: The Founding Father of The Rubin-Zeffren Children’s Home in Netanya, Israel was a “Father” to orphaned girls many years before even thinking about establishing an orphanage in Israel. One evening, a desperate widower abandoned his five small children at the Rebbe's doorstep. The late revered Grand Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenberg, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, was still reeling from the horrific losses of his wife and 11 children in the Holocaust on the Eve of Yom Kippur, 1946 when the newly-orphaned young girl ran up to him crying “Rabbi, who will bless me this Yom Kippur?!” On this holiest day of the Jewish year, the Rebbe dropped everything to hear the pleas of this young orphan. He turned to her lovingly and said “don’t cry, my child, I will be your Father and bless you this Yom Kippur!” Afterwards, the girl whispered her good fortune to her friends and siblings. In turn, they lined up to receive their own blessing and the Rebbe calmly blessed every girl who came to him that Yom Kippur Eve. The Children’s Home was founded in 1961 by the late revered Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg.

The formation of the newly established state of Israel in 1948 coincided with the rebuilding of the distraught lives of its inhabitants. In addition to the large post-Holocaust Jewish population that immigrated to Israel, other ‘lost’ cultures that had previously resided in the region attempted to make the state their homeland. The hardships that Israeli families faced after World War II led to mass poverty around the newly developed state.

Following the Holocaust, Israel began its process of providing actual governmental attention to the impoverished in Israel in order to provide a more positive situation for the future of the state, the children. Israel became a group oriented society focusing its attention on children specifically.

Today, children are placed into these institutions as young as age three. Orphanages are usually quite large and house between 200 to 500 children. The majority of the children in orphanages are not true orphans. They are primarily from low-income, broken families who cannot take care of their children for the time being. There is often a significant lack of professional staff such as psychologists at these institutions. The children are lacking the emotional support they need unless they receive funds from donations.

The Reality of Poverty in Israel

The fact remains that one out of every five of the 2,022,700 children in the nation lives in poverty. The services for children that were once abundant are now being lessened. Poor children are suffering in terms of education, health services, and culture. In a recent study a 41% increase in acts of violence involving children was found since 1990. A new study by the Haruv Institute shows the percentage of reports of physical and sexual abuse against Israeli children in 2009 were much higher, although overall, child abuse remains underreported in every region.

Thousands of children, some as young 12, are victims of commercial sexual exploitation or prostitution in Israel said an Elem, Youth in Distress, manager. While young girls, especially those from abusive backgrounds, were extremely vulnerable, young boys were in just as much danger.

Despite the astronomical amount of money spent on child welfare, the situation continues to grow worse. At the age of 18, every Israeli citizen serves in the Israeli Defense Forces. Men serve for 3 years and women for 2. This responsibility leaves many women widowed and children fatherless causing severe financial and emotional strain with often mortal results.

The tradition of taking care of needy children existed in the region even before the official birth of the state. If funds such as Lev LaLev didn’t exist, the fates of many more young Israeli’s would follow these unfortunate statistics. Find out more about what you can do to help build a brighter future for over 100 girls living at The Children’s Home in Netanya at: http://www.levlalev.com




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  1. Ruth Ben-Ari

    I am a grandparent living in Jerusalem, who is interested in adopting a grandchild. Ca u help me?

  2. Phil

    I wish it was like this in Britain, here babies are snatched at birth and also taken from innocent parents. Please don’t change your system into a money-oriented business like ours.

  3. Rose mark

    Are you interested in adopting a baby of your own,just contact us now on:stjoneorphanagehome@yahoo.com or call us on:+234 7053728380

  4. simon

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  1. First Days at the Orphanage » Welcome to Lev LaLev's Blog!

    […] Unlike in the film, modern day Israel does prefer this type of communal care, which I described above, over adoption. I wrote more about it in a prior blog post: Childcare in Israel: Adoption, Foster Care and Orphanages. […]

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