By Maxine Dovere/

ELEM vans go where the children are in Israel–venturing into dark and dangerous
streets. The vans, and the volunteers on them, go to places where
already-troubled children–some involved with vagrancy, drugs, homelessness,
sexually exploitation, or other criminal or anti-social behavior–can encounter
greater peril.

the forefront of these efforts to get troubled youths off the street is the
ex-wife of former Israeli prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak.

“Kids know the van means safety,” Nava Barak, president of ELEM-Youth in
Distress in Israel, said in an interview with “The vans go to center city and look for the youth to give
them emergency help on the spot.”

mobile outreach centers offer a lifeline to youths in the form of treatment and
social services, or a ride to one of ELEM’s eight centers throughout Israel,
from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat, where the troubled youths can get a hot shower and
a safe place to sleep.

noted to that ELEM’s 2012
organizational report, recently presented to Israeli President Shimon Peres,
focused on two areas: drugs and discrimination. In the Jewish state,
youths including immigrants, the Orthodox, Israeli Arabs, and other Israelis
are all among those who face “social problems, adjustment and identity
issues, family difficulties, drop-out and alienation from studies and/or a
tendency towards dangerous behaviors,” the
report states.

According to the study, boys who need help outnumber girls 2
to 1.Immigrant youths of
Ethiopian background and those from the former Soviet Union represent more than
half of those in need of services, ELEM says. The report details how almost
30 percent of current Israeli teens have used so-called “soft” or “designer” drugs,
according to ELEM. The use of drugs in social and recreational settings is

Dr. Simcha Getahune, head of field services for ELEM, writes
in the report that providing services to at-risk youths and families aims “to
have an impact not only on the youths but on the community as a whole,
promoting holistic change and community empowerment.”

In the same year that Yityish Aynaw, a young Israeli woman of Ethiopian
descent, was crowned “Miss Israel” and dined with U.S. President Barack Obama
when he visited the Jewish state, ELEM has seen a 70-percent increase in the
number of Ethiopian Israeli youth seeking help from the organization due to
poverty and discrimination. Nearly 1,700 Ethiopian Israeli youth were served by
ELEM last year. asked Barak what she believes
to be at the root of these problems. The issue “stems from the difficulties in
the cultural divides,” she said.

children of the immigrants can cope with the situation, but the parents are
falling far behind,” Barak said. “There is a massive tension between the
children and their parents.”

Barak added, “The kids are changing the laws of the parents. Often, kids find
themselves changing their roles. The children become the parents. Children stop
respecting their parents’ authority.”

to Barak, economic problems in Israel “add to the tension.”

of the Ethiopians are very poor and suffering economic hardship,” she said.
“When the kids leave their own neighborhoods they feel excluded from Israeli
society. Even at school… they feel a kind of discrimination. Because they have
no social relationship with most Israelis, a kind of tension is created–leading
to more and more violence–even violence between Ethiopian …read more


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