An outsider thinking about youth in Israel often has a conflicted, stereotypical view. Even native Israelis do. What do you think of? There are two main snapshots of Israeli youth.
The haredi youth in Jerusalem. The boys let their beards grow, daven three times a day and spend their time with their noses buried in their Gemaras. The girls, usually very sweet and pretty, are decked out in their long skirts and long-sleeved shirts. Even in excruciating hot weather. They are close to their moms and are learning to cook and mind their younger brothers and sisters, in preparation for their marriage and childbearing.
Then you have the Tel Aviv and Eilat youth. Many of them are wearing the trendiest clothes, are in great shape and spend time on the beach and learning how to develop the latest technology while partying. You have sectors of Arab, Bedouin and Christian youth. Most are doing the same as the Israeli Jewish youth, both the observant and secular in accordance with their own beliefs.
Many will go off to the military. Some won’t. But in most cases whether they serve or not they will continue their Torah study or techie lifestyles. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Most people don’t think of a large segment of Israeli youth who are largely invisible to most people. Today, there are about 800,000 youth aged 12-18 in Israel, a quarter of whom live in varying states of risk. Eighty thousand are at serious risk: inability to function within the school system, have a sense of failure, suicidal thoughts, covert dropping out from school, educational gaps, drug and alcohol use, and severe emotional and familial difficulties. Thirty-two thousand are at high risk: dropping out from normative frameworks, failing to integrate into alternative frameworks, social detachment, vagrancy, seeking negative sources of pleasure, drug and alcohol use, criminality and delinquency. Eight thousand are at fatal risk: homelessness, delinquency and self- destruction, sexual promiscuity, detachment from family and society, addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Here are some quick stats supplied by ELEM Youth in Distress in Israel highlighting the situation in 2016. · 19% of the youth and young adults ELEM meets are homeless or living outside of their homes, some without family support (total 3,811); · 5% of the youth and young adults receiving assistance from ELEM reported harming themselves or attempting suicide (total 910); · 787 youth and young adults receiving assistance from ELEM are involved in prostitution; · There is increased activity among at-risk youth in Arab society. In 2016, 1,442 Arab youth received assistance from ELEM.
These stats apply to all youth in Israel: sabras and the kids who’ve left Ethiopia, France, the former Soviet Union and other locations due to anti-Semitism or a desire to return to the Holy Land, as well as those of non-Jewish faiths. While they might have found a new home in Israel, many don’t speak Hebrew and have major adjustment issues. There are haredi children who want to be less observant. Some want to be secular. Some want a mix of observance and secularism. Some are gay and their parents disown them.
No matter what level of distress they suffer or whether if they are depressed or more severely incapacitated, for the most part these kids fail to become productive members of Israeli society.
One child at risk is too many. A quarter of million at risk is heartbreaking. ELEM is their lifeline. * Additional stats and information about ELEM's work to redress this situation can be found its 2016 Annual report,
Presentation of ELEM's annual report on troubled youth in Israel. Nava Barak, president of ELEM Israel and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (seated) and youth who have been helped by ELEM
Nava Barak, president of ELEM Israel and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the presentation of ELEM's annual report on troubled youth in Israel to President Rivlin
(R - L) ELEM youth Lola Rahminov, 17, Talin Abu Hana, 22 year-old transgender youth, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Nava Barak, president of ELEM Israel at the presentation of ELEM's annual report on troubled youth in Israel to President Rivlin