Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was joined by teachers, youth groups, youth
advocates, city councilors and students for the first-ever “Forum for At-Risk
Youth” on Wednesday evening, in the municipality’s first attempt to unite the
city’s various educational programs to solve some of the most pressing problems
faced by the city’s teens.
The forum was held just prior to the lighting
of the “Lights of Hope,” a 720- meter-long flag, which was lit on Wednesday
night on the walls of the Old City near Jaffa Gate, by President Shimon Peres,
Barkat and Nava Barak, the head of the ELEMYouth in Distress organization, to
raise awareness and funds for at-risk youth.
Spearheaded by youth
advocate powerhouse Shabtai Amedi, head of the municipality’s Kidum Noar (For
the Advancement of Youth) program, the forum discussed problems in the haredi
sector, as well as the high incidence of suicide among Israeli youth.
ultra-orthodox is the sector with one of the highest drop-out rates, at 10.9
percent. Additionally, 8% of haredi youth are not enrolled in any kind of
In 2010, there were 640 reported incidents of
suicide attempts among people aged 14 to 24, according to hospital emergency
rooms across the country. This does not include the suicide attempts that went
unreported, said Talal Ben Noar, a 16-year-old from Beit HaKerem, and an active
participant in Kidum Hanoar, who presented the findings on suicide rates to the
She pointed out that Facebook and online harassment was the cause
of at least one suicide in the past year, when a 15-year-old from Kfar Adumim
hanged himself after receiving nasty comments on his Facebook page.
added that the causes of depression and suicide were complex – especially in the
ultra-orthodox and religious sectors, where the social stigma can keep some
people from seeking help.
Another Kidum HaNoar participant, Natan
Stivelberg, criticized the municipality’s suggestion to fund more
“Don’t just look for money for more therapists, we need to
look for alternative ways for people who won’t ask for help,” said Stivelberg.
“Make school more meaningful for them... the only reason I stay in school is my
cinematography class. Find more options like that.”
comments was Fiona Kanter, the mother of 16-year-old Lee Gabriella Vatkin, who
died after a drug overdose in June 2010.
“My daughter was one of the ones
who fell through the cracks,” Kanter told the forum. She stressed the need for
informal educational options – something the city is presently lacking. There
are successes in Jerusalem’s struggle to help troubled youth, Kanter told The
, citing alternative schools like Meled, or the four-year-old
“Parent’s Patrol,” for parent volunteers who oversee troubled
But one giant gap in the city is informal
Kanter, who worked for Nir Barkat’s mayoral campaign as the
organizer for Anglo residents, is trying to start a non-institutional afternoon
“school” in her daughter’s memory, which will offer teenagers a structured
framework in the afternoon.
While drop-in centers already exist in the
city, Kanter wants to offer courses including philosophy, drug education and a
“street smarts” course that would teach kids how to open a bank account, or rent
Kanter said that rather than relying on an extensive
network of donations to start her initiative, she wants it to be funded by the
municipality, because she envisions it as the overreaching “umbrella” for youth
organizations in Jerusalem.
In the meantime, before the one-year
anniversary of her daughter’s death in six weeks, Kanter hopes to launch a
Facebook page for Jerusalem youth called “Interactivi-Lee,” where teenagers can
reach out for help in a medium they are comfortable with.