My Bar Mitzvah was many moons ago, but I remember it well. To start, my sister was sick the whole week before. We were worried if she was going to show. Thankfully, she did.
I had the usual training. I spent four years in Hebrew School. I was a good student. I actually won the school’s Hebrew reading award, and sometimes, I was a goof-off student. My friends and I used to have water fights in the shul’s bathroom during class time. We questioned things. But we learned about Judaism and our parshas.
I remember we had to study with the rabbi to rehearse. My Bar Mitzvah was in September and I couldn’t study with him most of the summer, as I was going to Boy Scout camp. The rabbi told me he received the Canadian version of the U.S. Eagle Scout award. So I couldn’t wait to study when I got home so we could talk about camp.
My great-grandfather cut the challah and lots of friends and family partied with me. My Aunt Tillie got my talit when she visited Jerusalem.
I was lucky. I had no worries about my Bar Mitzvah. I had great family support. Sadly, there are many kids in Israel - yes, Israel - who don’t have this situation. Too many young men and women do not have an intact family structure. According to ELEM Youth in Distress in Israel, there about 800,000 children in Israel between the ages of 12 and 18, a quarter of whom live in varying states of risk.
Many of those falling astray are native-born Israelis. However, children from Ethiopia, France and the former Soviet Union, in many ways, are at greater risk. Many don’t speak Hebrew, do not understand Israeli culture and their parents are too busy trying to make ends meet to be there for them.
While many kids in the U.S. are preparing for their Bar and Bat Mitzvoth, below is what too many Israeli youth are confronted with:
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.
Thankfully, ELEM is working 24/7 to change these statistics. To date, our 1,600 volunteers and nearly 300 staff members help over 20,000 youth annually.
For example, The “Angel” Program works with the community and families of youth.
Three “Angel” programs aim to bridge the generational gaps between youth and their parents, which usually intensifies as a result of the immigration process. The goal is to empower the local community to promote the needs of the youth. The program focuses on the recruitment of adult volunteers in the community and their training in both in open and closed spaces, in the neighborhood, in the “Migdalors” and in other programs.
We are developing a National Program to work with Ethiopian Immigrant Families. ELEM initiated the project and collaborated with governmental ministries to develop a program for working with Ethiopian immigrant families and youth. The National Insurance Institute responded and began to operate the project in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Aliyah and Integration. Today, the program is operated in six locales and is expected to expand. It is important to note that for the first time there is a comprehensive program that for workings with families of youth and with the youth themselves. ELEM’s 78 programs in 40 cities across Israel give all youth a chance to make their Bar Mitzvah dreams come true.