For Karin Nisimov, being a teen was an agonizing experience. Honestly, it was uncertain she would ever make it to adulthood. Her life was in that much jeopardy.
Born in Azerbaijan, Karin immigrated to Tel Aviv at age three with her parents. Her early years were filled with violence as a result of her father’s drinking. When she was nine, her parents divorced, and Karin moved with her mother and younger sister to Herzliya.
Being raised in an abusive, alcoholic home had terrible consequences for Karin. She became rude and violent, and while still a child, took to the streets. Karin was adrift, going nowhere, vulnerable to be preyed upon by the worst elements in society.
At age 12, her government caseworker intervened, directing her into a government shelter for high-risk teens.
But, the good news is today, at age 22, Karin has transformed her life, thanks to the compassionate work of ELEM/Youth in Distress in Israel. When I spoke to her in February, she gave ELEM permission to use her real name and she told me about her journey from a life with no future- but thanks to ELEM- to endless possibilities.
Karin’s story is a prime example of the positive impact ELEM is making on the lives of 20,000 troubled youth throughout Israel, and demonstrates the importance of supporting the lifesaving work of ELEM.
While living at the shelter, Karin began to realize she had become hard and callous . . . that she needed to connect with people who believed in, supported and encouraged her.
This is when ELEM staff and volunteers reached out to Karin.
Our volunteers accompanied Karin to appointments and tried to establish a relationship with her, but shutdown and nonresponsive, she kept us at arm’s length. Nevertheless, ELEM did not give up.
When she turned 18, Karin aged-out of the shelter, and like every Israeli at that age, she had to register with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Then came the next blow: the IDF deemed her unable to withstand the discipline of military life, and rejected her. In Israel, this is the worst stigma that can befall any citizen. Karin was devastated, and had no one to whom she could turn.
Enter Yaron Atzmon, one of ELEM’s very special social workers. Understanding how painful IDF rejection is for any Israeli teen, Yaron reached out to the troubled girl. Karin’s own mother and sister didn’t call her, but Yaron did.
So began a wonderfully supportive relationship, with Yaron providing structure for Karin, guiding her to look for housing and work, and most importantly, encouraging her to take responsibility for her future.
Karin’s life looks much brighter today, but is still a work-in-progress. After graduating from a special mentoring training program, she is now working with troubled boys as part of Sherut Leumi, voluntary national service for those who cannot or do not wish to serve in the IDF. It is her hope to make a career of helping at-risk youth when she completes her service.
Karin has related her story at a seminar held at Tel Aviv University so others may learn about the prevalence of other young people like her. Last year, she was chosen to meet Israel’s then president, Shimon Peres, at the annual presentation of ELEM’s report of its activities. And Yaron is still at her side,
as he and ELEM continue to keep a watchful eye over her.
ELEM gave Karin hope, comfort, and support when she desperately needed it. At a critical stage in her life, a moment that would determine her future, an ELEM social worker reached out to her with great compassion. Thanks to the care she received from ELEM, Karin has been gradually able to find her way.