By Mission Participant, Sheila Snyder
This past October, I had the opportunity to visit Israel with the Youth Renewal Fund on the 2022 Fall Mission Trip. The Youth Renewal Fund is the US philanthropic partner to the Darca Schools network in Israel. Every time I visit Israel it feels special, but this was a particularly memorable and meaningful trip, because throughout the mission we visited six different schools in the Darca network. It is almost hard to put into words how incredible of an experience the mission trip was, but I will do my best.
First, it goes without saying that the Youth Renewal Fund and Darca organization is a remarkable group of people, in which everyone from long-term board members to the first-time supporters are all equally welcoming, engaging, and eager to get to know you on a personal level. After spending just a few days with the group, I immediately felt like family, which I believe is something uniquely special in-and-of-itself to YRF.
The main highlight of the trip for me, however, was visiting the schools and meeting the students. I was blown away by the students, like WOW! They are truly inspirational.
The first school we visited was Darca Julius, which is a high school for Druze Students. I knew very little about the Druze prior to visiting, and this was my first visit to a Darca School. I was unsure of what to expect but as soon as I walked into the first classroom, I was immediately surrounded by students who were beyond excited to show us a glimpse of their school day and to teach us a few things along the way. The Darca students taught us lessons about the Druze and their faith through a new interactive “active floor” game that turns the classroom floor into a virtual game where you get to “Jump ‘n’ Learn”—and, let me tell you, the lesson and trivia game was so fun and captivating that I wish I could’ve stayed longer and learned more!
In the biology lab, three high school girls led us through a urease enzyme science experiment. What struck me during the science experiment, is that these high school students, (only 15, 16, 17 years old), are able to confidently stand in front of a room of foreign adults and teach us a biology experiment in perfect English, which is not even their native language – English is their third language!
What is unique about the Darca network is that it focuses on the needs of the students in each community. On our second day of school visits, we went to Darca Hammer in Netivot, which is a religious Jewish girls school, as well as two schools in Dimona, Technologi Darca and Zinman Darca.
Darca Hammer promotes values and education that allows the girls in the community to not only connect with their Jewish identity, but also gives them the opportunity to learn and excel in science, math, and other core subjects. At Darca Hammer, the girls’ education is not constrained or limited in any way due to their religious beliefs. We heard from three former students who had graduated from Darca Hammer and have returned to the school to teach and/or mentor girls at the school, which demonstrates just how meaningful Darca was and is for them. Hearing their stories about how Darca provided the girls’ the chance to be anything they wanted in life and the opportunity to study math, science, and literature, which was something they did not have the opportunity to do before Darca, was a poignant reminder of the need for the Darca School Network and YRF contribution. All three stories brought me and others to tears because they exemplified the impact that YRF is making and how it is truly life-changing for these students in the communities.
Visiting the schools and interacting with the students made me realize that this would not be possible without the incredible Board of Directors, who saw a need in Israel’s education system and took a chance. The success of the YRF and Darca network would not be possible without the generosity of every donor. The students are flourishing, and the schools are thriving, and that is the direct and tangible result of the Youth Renewal Fund and Darca network, and it is simply remarkable. Darca has established itself as Israel’s #1 school network. But what does that mean? That means that over 25,000 students who would not necessarily get the opportunity to attend a prestigious school are now able to study for the Bagrut (matriculation exam) at a safe and welcoming school that is also Israel’s top school network! These students are going on to serve elite units of the IDF and attend prestigious universities all over Israel. In addition to having a profound impact on the Darca students, one of the most important aspects of the Darca Schools is that the success of the network is now putting pressure on other schools throughout the country to be better in order to compete with them – This is ultimately raising the educational standards throughout Israel. In order for Israel to continue growing and thriving, we must continue to invest in and support Israel’s youth. I know that the students at Darca Schools will be the ones changing Israel and the world, making it a better place for us all, and that gives me tremendous hope.