JERUSALEM – On Monday, September 5, 2016, activities were initiated at the Saint Rachel Center in Jerusalem, a new center for babies, children and youth in the Talbieh neighborhood in Jerusalem. The center is run by the Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew Speaking Catholics to respond to one of the most dramatic needs of the migrant population in Israel, which is for safe, healthy and nurturing day care for their small children. 

The Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew Speaking Catholics runs a center for babies, children and youth in the Talbieh neighborhood in Jerusalem.

One of the most dramatic needs of the migrant population in Israel is for safe, healthy and nurturing day care for infants under 3. Migrants, who work long hours in order to make ends meet, are obligated to find places where their under-3 year old children can be left. Pirate day care structures, commonly known as “baby warehouses”, have spread, where children are accommodated in crowded, unsafe locations, administered by untrained migrant women. In the past year and a half, seven children died in these circumstances in south Tel Aviv. Many more are left traumatized and scarred. The Church has responded to this need and began operating day care facilities in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem in September 2014.

The Church is also concerned with after-school activities for migrant children integrated in the Hebrew language, Israeli school system. When they finish school, their parents are often still at work. In addition, the parents are unable to assist their children with homework because they do not know sufficient Hebrew. Tens of migrant children are accommodated by the Saint James Vicariate each afternoon for activities and help doing homework as well as times for religious catechism.

The Saint James Vicariate has a Hebrew language youth group that meets regularly, bringing together teenagers and young adults who live fully integrated in Jewish Israeli society. Free on Friday evenings and Saturdays, these times can be used for sharing, deepening faith and spending free time together. An important concern is trying to preserve the Catholic faith and identity of youth, prone to assimilate in secular Israeli society.

The Saint Rachel Center, which began its activities at the beginning of September 2016, is on the property of the Capuchin Monastery in Jerusalem. The premises were completely renovated by the Saint James Vicariate, thanks to the assistance of a number of donors, foremost among them the Equestrian Oder of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, and also including Pontifical Mission, World Vision and the Dear Foundation. A spacious one floor building is situated on a much larger lot with two playgrounds, one for the toddlers and one for the older children. Two large rooms serve as the nursery and sleeping quarters of the babies. Another large room serves as a meeting place for the children who come after school. Other rooms serve as offices, study and meeting rooms and there is also a small apartment for volunteers.

icon of the matriarchs of Israel, which includes Rachel, written by the monastic community of the Little Family of the Visitation

icon of the matriarchs of Israel, which includes Rachel, written by the monastic community of the Little Family of the Visitation

The new center is dedicated to Rachel the Matriarch, one of the Bible’s great women and a mother whose love for her children is immortalized in the words of Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not” (Jeremiah 31:15). This verse is quoted in the New Testament relating to the slaughter of the innocents, initiated by King Herod in his search to destroy Jesus. Rachel, the Matriarch, is the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, struggled to have children and died giving birth to her younger son. The icon of the matriarchs of Israel, which includes Rachel, was written by the monastic community of the Little Family of the Visitation.

Twenty-five babies and toddlers under the age of three from the migrant worker (mostly Asian, Filipino, Indian and Sri Lankan) and asylum seeker (Eritrean and Ethiopian) communities are welcomed each day in the Center. They begin to arrive, dropped off by their parents, at 7.30 in the morning and are picked up again at 17.30. Between fifteen and forty children arrive from 13.30 onwards for an afterschool program and can stay until 18.00. On the weekends, the center is often the meeting place for the youth of the Vicariate. In the summer, the Center serves as the base for summer activities for tens of children on vacation.

We ask the Lord to bless and protect the children in the center and we ask our mother Rachel to pray for us.

Source : Saint James Vicariate

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