Bikurim: The Youth Village for the Performing Arts in Eshkol

The Youth Village for the Performing Arts will provide a world-class performing arts school and residence to young people with extraordinary artistic potential but from disadvantaged homes throughout Israel. It is a platform for powerful social and cultural change.
Location: , Eshkol Region
Year founded: 2014


Bikurim [“First Harvest” in Hebrew]: The Youth Village for the Arts at Eshkol is an initiative to provide a world-class, intensive, performing arts school and residence to high school students with significant artistic potential but from disadvantaged homes throughout Israel, with particular emphasis on the southern half of the country. Historically, high-quality training in the arts has been available only to children from affluent families in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Youth Village is changing that. Located in the Eshkol region, which borders the Gaza Strip, the Youth Village is an environment of professional excellence as well as individual and collaborative achievement among youth who have hitherto felt marginalized in Israeli society, particularly in this region which has suffered years of trauma due to incessant rocket fire from Gaza.

The Village opened in September 2014 on the premises of a former boarding school campus, Ma’ale Habesor, in the Eshkol Regional Council, located in the western Negev. This residential campus is comprised of eight separate compounds, each of which can house up to 35 students. The campus was in use as a boarding school by the kibbutzim of the region until approximately three years ago and is in need of significant repairs as well as the construction of connected bomb shelters. Thanks to the generosity of JNF-UK and other sponsors, the Village raised the funds necessary for the first round of refurbishment and construction in advance of our opening in September 2014.

In each subsequent year the Youth Village has refurbished an additional residential compound and constructed most of the requisite bomb shelters in advance of an incoming class of 9th graders (i.e., in advance of September in every year for the first three years of the Village’s operation).

In the 2017-2018 school year Bikurim is home to 42 gifted students from throughout Israel's underserved communities. The Village graduated its first class of high school seniors. In affirmation of the excellence of our music program, in August 2017 we received notification from the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music (Israel’s preeminent music performance school) that all of our high-scoring future graduates will be awarded automatic acceptance and academic accreditation.

Project Description

Approximately seven years ago, Prof. Jonathan Dekel-Chen and his son Etai initiated this project with the intent of creating an unprecedented social, cultural and educational model in Israel. This residential Youth Village commenced operations in September 2014, with twenty incoming 9th-10th graders of extraordinary musical potential from underprivileged communities around Israel. Each year thereafter, the Village will add a new class of 9th graders. Its full capacity will be 120 students. The Village currently offers a world-class, intensive music program and visual arts program. We hope to expand our offerings later to include dance and theatre programs. Our students’ artistic training goes hand in hand with a matriculation program at the adjacent regional High School. The teaching staff for our program is drawn from Israel's best performance artists and educators.

This project is creating a new social model for Israel, in which a thriving, high-profile center of cultural and professional excellence, as well as a source of inspiration for upward mobility via training, is situated in a region of the country that until now has been associated almost exclusively with ongoing tensions with Gaza.

This is a targeted investment with an integrative multiplier effect: all students "give back" to their home communities through an extensive public service component. During school vacations, the Village operates as a national music workshop for school-age children, thereby significantly extending our reach into the community.

Some of the operational costs for the Village are covered by the Israeli Education Ministry, including partial tuition payments for those who need it most. The remaining operational costs must be raised from government institutions and philanthropic sources. A scholarship fund has been set up, with an initial investment from a private philanthropist in the UK; the Village is seeking additional potential supporters in the public and private sectors for this fund.

No grants received yet


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