Volunteers at the NGO Learn and Live, which aims at keeping at risk Jewish girls in Israel out of abusive situations, will be patrolling in downtown Jerusalem as Purim festivities take place in the city’s main squares this weekend.
Some 25 trained volunteers divided into small groups will be in the streets offering assistance and guidance to young girls celebrating, drinking heavily and even taking drugs.
The organization’s staff will be driving girls who are at risk of getting into problematic situations to two tents set up for the occasion: one downtown Jerusalem where they will be offered a safe place to rest and have a warm drink, and a second one in the Baka neighborhood where they will be able to spend the night before receiving a breakfast and bus fare home in the morning.
Patty Kupfer, who has been organizing the project for the past two years at Learn and Live explained that drunk female teenagers are sometimes lured away by men who later abuse them. In some of these cases, Kupfer said, the girls follow men to Arab villages where they are then trapped. Learn and Live has rescued girls from these situations many times in the past.
“They are not capable of making a conscious decision, and they follow strange men. They don’t even know who they are with,” she explained, “I can't tell you how painful it is, when you go down to Ben Yehuda street or King George in Jerusalem and you see 14 year olds falling over their feet. All teenagers make mistakes but we don’t want them to do something stupid that would affect them for rest of their lives.”
“They don't realize what they are getting themselves into. You think you're going out to have a good time on Purim and party with a bunch of kids and it turns into a disaster when you lose your free will because of drugs or alcohol,” Kupfer added, “And the wolves are out there, Jewish or Arab, they are out there."
Learn and Live operates in 32 cities across the country in three areas of activity: prevention, rescue and rehabilitation. The organization provides the girls with shelters they can stay in as well as meetings with counselors who help them get their lives back on track after having suffered abuse. The NGO also runs a hotline they can call for emergency help.
“Saving a girl from a horrific situation, it feels like you've saved the world,” Kupfer said, “I'm a mother and that's someone's daughter. It makes you think, if this were my daughter, I'd thank god someone is helping.”
“Our job on Purim is to make sure that no abuse is happening and no girl is getting hurt,” she continued, “Some of them we literally pick off the ground.”
Israeli Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, explained that there will be a rise in security on Purim. Police forces will be patrolling the streets in different cities in order to prevent crime.
“There is definitely alcohol in the teenage world, so we have to be prepared,” he said, “we are trying to respond as quickly as possible if something happens.”
Rosenfeld added that in general, there has been no increase in the number of incidents recorded on such celebratory nights over the years.
“There is a lot of talk in the different communities and also at schools,” he explained, “The youngsters are fully aware of problematic situations that can develop as a result of alcohol use.”
“I don’t think there are people who are specifically looking to target young women but a small percentage get drunk and it is the responsibility of social services and police to try to prevent crime from taking place,” Rosenfeld explained.
Last year, Learn and Live rescued 21 girls from problematic situations on the night of Purim and are preparing for at least the same number this weekend.