An initiative that is going nationwide this year intends to bring awareness to the plight of orphans and foster children in Israel and to encourage believing families especially to provide them with loving and nurturing homes.
Orphan Shabbat, an initiative of the HaTikva Families department of HaTikva Project, is the local adaptation of Orphan Sunday, part of an international organization based in the United States. While the event last year was hosted by one local congregation, this year leaders are hoping several congregations will dedicate a full weekend to shedding light on the dire situation of at-risk children in Israel.
“The orphan is kept out of view from the public. We want to say through this initiative, ‘We see you and we will care for you,’” a HaTikva Families representative told KNI.
According to HaTikva Families, some 367,000 children in Israel are classified as at-risk. Approximately 10,000 children have been removed from their homes by the Ministry of Welfare and only 25 percent of those have been placed in foster families.
“People don’t realize how great of a need there is,” HaTikva Families said. “We are using Orphan Shabbat as a platform to really campaign, primarily to the local Body of Messiah, but we are targeting society in general and the Jewish diaspora.”
While the main push of HaTikva Families is recruiting families for adoption and foster care, the organization is an advocate for child welfare and is partnering with other nonprofits that have similar missions.
Orphan Shabbat is scheduled for Nov. 10 and 11. It purposely rolls over into Sunday so that religious Jews who observe Shabbat will be able to connect the following day. HaTikva Families provides resources to congregations and organizations that want to get involved and ideas for teachings and Bible studies that relate to the issues of adoption and caring for at-risk children.
“The narrative of the scriptures is, you were adopted into a family that is not your own,” HaTikva Families said. “If we’re talking to believers, there’s no better way to live out the Gospel than reaching out to children in need. That’s pure religion: visiting the orphan and widow in their distress. (James 1:27)”
Since not everyone is able to adopt or foster, HaTikva Families suggests other ways people can help including volunteering at a local welfare office, touring a children’s home or supporting an adoptive family with babysitting, meals or financially.
“Even the smallest action can make a difference,” HaTikva Families maintains.
Fostering and adoption in Israel goes according to religion, meaning Jewish families can adopt only Jewish children, Muslims only Muslims and Christians only Christians. Culture and language also play a role in placing children in family situations.
The country averages 120 adoptions a year and tends to prefer keeping an at-risk child in the welfare system, whether in an institution or in foster care. While the government works to rehabilitate the biological family, the issue is that there is no law that stipulates the amount of time given for rehabilitation. Therefore, a child can get stuck in the system rather than being moved over to adoption. Hence fostering is a more viable option, especially for believers who want to get involved. Adoption can take five years while foster care can take between three to 18 months to be approved, HaTikva Families said. Children with disabilities or special needs that have been abandoned tend to be more quickly assigned to a family willing to take them in.
“A child wouldn’t be in (an at-risk) situation unless he has gone through abandonment, trauma or extreme distress, or addiction. This has a great impact on a child and even on his or her brain development,” HaTikva Families explained. “The only way we see a child come through to wholeness is through the nurture of a mother and a father.”
After they recruit families that want to adopt or foster, HaTikva Families helps them navigate the process. Currently the organization is assisting about 10 interested families.
For the upcoming Orphan Shabbat, HaTikva Families is partnering with Orr Shalom, an Israeli organization that enables at-risk children to find safe homes — the quintessential goal of HaTikva Families and Orphan Shabbat.
“We hope to see wounds healed and each child fully develop to his potential.”
The first Orphan Sunday is credited as occurring in Zambia where a pastor called on church members to care for orphans in their community. A visiting American pastor was inspired and the idea — adopted by American churches through Every Orphan’s Hope — eventually spread around the world through the Christian Alliance for Orphans.