Racheli Yaso-Ngatuo is a well-known and beloved staff member of Yemin Orde Youth Village. She serves as the Director of Visitor Relations and Outreach and often leads visitors on tours, stopping along the way for greetings from the youth and sharing personal reflections of her experiences living at Yemin Orde.
Racheli joined the staff of Yemin Orde in July 2008. Born in Ethiopia, Racheli made aliyah at the age of seven with her mother and siblings in 1984 during Operations Moses. Racheli, her husband and four young sons, live at Yemin Orde and remain there during Israel's school shut-down and the coronavirus crisis.
Dear Friends, I hope this letter finds you all well.
The COVID-19 coronavirus has "forced" all of us to choose isolation and distance from each other. That is a hard thing to do in our Yemin Orde Youth Village community - a community where one of its core values is being a community of meaning and being there for each other, shaking hands and hugging at every chance. This human emotion that provides safety and warmth to anyone, especially for many of our students who don't always find it in the families they come from.
As a staff person living in the Village, our lives and the students' lives are intertwined in many ways. Right now, what I miss the most is Shabbat services inside the synagogue where my children are hugged and held by our Yemin Orde kids. Afterwards, our Yemin Orde kids come for a Kiddush at my home, play with our kids and some babysit and stay with our kids. For me, as a staff person living in the Village – Yemin Orde is also a home for you and your family.
On a usual morning, at 7:10 a.m., when I am on my way to take my kids to preschool, I would see Yemin Orde kids coming back from the Eco-Farm after milking goats or working at the greenhouse, saying good morning with their tired eyes from waking very early in the morning (sometimes the goats need milking at 5:00 am).
During the day (not every day), kids will see me taking visitors on a tour of the Village would come to say hello or even sit with us for lunch if there is time before they have to go back to school.
In the afternoons, my kids and I would see the running team passing by our house cheering for themselves. Almost every day, kids pass by my house with their phones playing very loud music – French, Amharic, Russian, English Rap music – all the languages spoken at Yemin Orde.
I miss the kids, the atmosphere, the rhythm of the Village, the welcoming smiles of the staff and of the kids.
I think of the kids who have to stay in their neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods they left to seek better life and opportunity. I think of those who are here and cannot visit their families abroad. I hope they don’t think: "maybe it was not a good idea to leave my mother in Russia for better life here..." because now they can't go back even for a short visit . There is not a clear timeline of next steps.
It is challenging for everyone not to have clear understanding of what the future is going to look like, but it is extremely challenging for someone with a survival mindset who might be afraid to think about tomorrow.
On a personal note: I miss my father very much - he is 88 and I can't have him or my brothers' families at my house for Passover. We can't come to his house either, especially for his sake.
The bright side we find in all this craziness is that my husband, Solomon, and I get to spend time with our children at home. I can't promise it will be quiet quality time all the time, especially with four boys but it was ok so far!
Hoping for better days.