The sound of clanking forks, high-pitched chatter, and giggles fill the dining room—the perfect soundtrack to a new morning in the Beit Ruth Village in Afula, Israel.
But this is not just any dining room table. At this table, 14 “sisters” from different continents, different races, and different ages sit close together, elbows pressing up against one another, humming the latest TikTok songs and telling jokes. This dining room is located in one of three current homes in the Village, where girls, ages 13–18, who have been abused come to live and learn in a safe environment. Each house is filled with bright and vivacious energy, intentionally designed to give the girls a true sense of what a healthy family looks like.
Every morning begins this way—15 girls in each house and shinshinyot (young Israelis who defer army service to volunteer) enjoying a large breakfast together, as a family. Warm coffee is poured, plates are passed and shared, and bellies are quickly filled.
Among those gathered around the communal table is A.,* a 14-year-old girl from northern Israel who has lived in the Village for 18 months. Like all of the girls, A. plays a significant role in making her house a real home by maintaining its social and physical upkeep. It’s a home that all of the girls have truly made their own: personal photographs, hand-drawn paintings, and designs they have chosen adorn the walls. A.’s landscape paintings—a particularly special feature —hang proudly in the dining room for her Beit Ruth family to enjoy.
After breakfast, the girls head off to the onsite school together. Many of the girls have had major challenges in school; however, at Beit Ruth, teachers and staff place an emphasis on small class sizes and forming close personal connections with the girls so that no one gets lost in the background.
“It’s great because we don’t feel pressure and we don’t feel anxious,” A. shares. “I’m learning at the right pace and now, I enjoy learning.”
While their peers learn in a classroom setting, girls who have breaks in their schedule are found sitting in a quiet nook with a private tutor, reviewing math equations, practicing their English vocabulary, and learning new study techniques for upcoming tests. During class breaks, girls refocus, socialize, and de-stress, spending time on the lawn in front of the school, making up dances and singing pop songs.
But this is just the overture. Days at the Beit Ruth Village are filled with music. Almost every one of the 60 girls who live in the Village each year will tell you how much she loves to sing, to play music, and to dance. It’s no surprise that extracurricular classes in the Music Studio are a highlight of the day. Here, vocal technique, guitar, piano, violin, and other personal skills, such as self-esteem and trust that had been lacking, are taught. These are skills and abilities that girls never even knew they had.
A.’s specialty is the drums, and while she has been practicing them for months now, she is confident that, “We can learn every single instrument you can think of!” Performance nights at the Village give the girls the opportunity to showcase their musical talents to their peers. Weeks are spent preparing: songs are written, harmonies are learned, guitars are strummed, and A. proudly beats her drums. The music teachers ensure that their classrooms are filled with a symphony of sound and that every girl is encouraged to show off her skills.
Down the hall in the Art Studio, A. sits patiently in front of a canvas, focused on achieving the brush strokes for the finishing touches on the mountains in her new landscape piece. She has been working on this painting for two months and today, she hopes to finish it so that it can be added to the gallery of paintings that hang in her house.
“The mentors here are amazing,” A. says. “All of us have gone from not knowing how to draw or sing to being able to perform in front of the entire Village and make art for everyone to enjoy.”
The pride and joy after moments like this are palpable.
Twice a week, the girls participate in activities like woodwork, animal-assisted therapy with rescue dogs and horses, dance movement, and jewelry making. They also have the opportunity to train and prepare for their army tests as many Beit Ruth alumnae join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) after they graduate from the Village.
Besides academics, House Managers and other house staff emphasize life skills so girls can learn how to be responsible and independent. Each girl is given a chore for the week, and jobs are rotated to ensure that everyone contributes to the running of the home. When the girls finish their chores, they talk with their counselor about their day, how they are feeling, and if they are having any problems. This is a great private moment to talk about anything they want and to be given the kind of personal attention that they never received before.
The first time I visited the Village, I felt a connection that I can’t really put into words. I expected to meet downtrodden girls living in an institution-like environment. I could not have been more wrong. Despite the language barrier, each and every girl in the Village made an effort to communicate with me and make me feel welcomed. We danced together, spoke about our home countries, and, of course, practiced English.
I recall sitting in on a one-on-one English tutoring session during my first visit. The young girl I was going through an English worksheet with suddenly asked me, “Are you Persian?” This offhanded question led to a conversation on the main lawn after class that lasted hours. We spoke about our families, our Farsi skills, the Persian foods we both grew up eating, and how much we miss it. At the time, my Hebrew was an absolute disaster. I was there to help the girls with their English. I did not expect that they would help me in the ways they did with my Hebrew. Through every incorrectly conjugated verb, every poorly pronounced “resh,” and my inability to understand even the simplest of sentences, she gave me constant confidence. To this day, I am still shocked by her patience with me.
So, just as the day began, the girls gather to have dinner together. Every meal in the Village is eaten with every member of the house present so that the girls can get a true sense of what a close family feels like. Just like in many homes, girls are expected to set the table and clean up. After dinner, they do homework, relax, and hang out together—just like all teenage girls. Nail painting is an activity the girls particularly like to do during this time. Then, they straighten up the home one last time so that it looks nice and welcoming for the overnight staff and for the house mother/manager and social workers who will come in the next morning. And finally, after a long day, the girls head off to bed.
Beit Ruth (meaning house of Ruth) was named after the biblical figure Ruth who was an emblem of sisterhood and loyalty. Under three different roofs, 45 girls sleep soundly, protected by their love for one another and by the staff who work 24/7, 365 days and nights to give them the best chance at healing from their trauma and living a fulfilling life. Here, it is impossible not to think of the words of Ruth. “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge.” After an exile, there can and will be a grand return.
*Name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.
Join the conversation!