“We are saving souls”
In order to get accepted to AMIT Menorat Hamaor, the school’s principal, Ilan Hamami, says half-jokingly that prospective students have to answer one question: Do you have a smartphone? If they respond “yes,” he lets them enroll—but not because that means they have access to high-tech gadgets or that they come from well-off families; in fact, it’s the opposite. If they have a smartphone, it shows him that they have begun to stray from their families’ Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) lifestyle.
Hamami says he and his staff—which includes a spiritual adviser and Haredi rabbi—do everything in their power to give the boys a home, often because their families have trouble accepting their new path. The school caters to 150 boys in grades 9–14, all of whom come from families led by ultra-Orthodox rabbis or dayanim (rabbinical judges), but who did not fit in to the traditional yeshiva educational system. Hamami says his goal is to build these boys’ self-esteem and self-worth, and most of all to give them an identity outside of the religious framework they grew up in.
According to the school’s rabbi, Harav Yochanan, 80% of Menorat Hamaor’s students would be in the streets, doing drugs or committing criminal offenses if it weren’t for the acceptance, warmth, and support they receive at their AMIT school. “We are literally saving souls,” he says.
The students come to Menorat Hamaor often with no prior knowledge of English, math, or other core subjects. Despite this, more than 60% of them complete a full bagrut and more than 90% of them go to the army and serve in one of the IDF’s Haredi tracks, often after completing a pre-army program in computer science or engineering at the school.
Hamami says that when students enter the school, it’s a last resort for them. However, judging from a recent visit to the school, that last resort is not only a loving home, it is also a launching pad to a better life for these boys.