(photo credit: Courtesy President’s Residence)
Saving youth-at-risk is the true expression of social justice, President Shimon
Peres said on Wednesday after receiving the annual Elem report from the
organization’s president Nava Barak.
Founded in 1982 by a group of
American and Israeli professionals and lay volunteers, Elem helps youth-at-risk
to become productive citizens. It deals with troubled youth from all social
strata and ethnic and religious backgrounds.
In presenting the report,
Barak told Peres that 30 percent of youth in the 12-18 age group have used
drugs, some taking light narcotics on an experimental basis and others becoming
addicts with the use of heavy drugs.
The increase in drug addiction among
youth is a matter of grave concern, she said. Barak was also worried about the
sharp rise in the number of youth at risk from among the country’s Ethiopian
She outlined Elem’s key programs and projects and told Peres
that for the past decade, one of the organization’s major fundraising efforts
was the Flag of Hope composed of hundreds of small lamps, which light up
individually in response to donations sent by SMS.
This year is special,
she said, because it is the organization’s 30th anniversary. The Flag of Hope,
which is also the national flag of Israel, is lit up on a major edifice in
either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. This year, in addition to lighting the flag, Elem
has launched another fund-raising initiative, “the round number,” for credit
cardholders. In other words, any credit card payment that includes agorot is
increased to the nearest shekel in the hope that all the spare agorot will add
up to many thousands of shekels in line with old British adage of ‘look after
the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.’ In expressing thanks to
Elem for what it does to save at-risk youth in all parts of the country, Peres
declared that saving 20,000 youngsters a year can revolutionize a whole
Peres met with some of the youngsters who have been or are in the
process of rehabilitation through Elem projects, chatted with them and listened
to their personal stories of hardship and struggle and of their ambitions for
Shahar Zvi Adler who grew up in Nokdim, was a substance
abuser and frequently in trouble with the law. He was eventually placed in a
closed rehabilitation facility which helped him to realize that he had been on
the wrong track.
After his release, he rented an apartment in Ramat Gan,
and while there learned of a project that would help him to find gainful
employment. Through Elem, he completed a computer technicians’ course and now
wants to serve in the Army.
He is due for call-up in May and hopes to be
accepted by the IDF.
He knows it won’t be easy because of his past, but
perhaps his current behavior combined with his computer skills will enable him
to serve the country, and after that to go to university and earn a
Adler is not the only Elem youngster dreaming of joining the IDF.
Herzl, an 18-year-old Ethiopian told Peres that this was his big dream
When his family moved to Ashdod, he got into bad company, was
expelled from school in the 10th grade and stopped studying altogether. Herzl
was left without any framework until he met Moran, an Elem leader, who taught
him that there are many positive things in life, one just has to recognize them
and reach out to them. She helped him when he had to appear in court, and it was
only then that he began to realize the significance of having a criminal
The Army is convinced that he has learned the error of his ways and
has accepted him, and he hopes to become a career soldier in the Givati
Shadi, a 16-year-old Beduin said that Elem’s Finjan Club had
helped him in an overall social context as well as personally, and had enabled
him to formulate plans for his future. He surprised Peres when he said that he
wanted to become a Hebrew teacher.
Ofra, a 17-year-old Ethiopian told
Peres that if it were not for Elem, she would have no-one with whom to share her
thoughts and her feelings. Elem was helping her as she transitioned to maturity,
she said. Ofra wants to do a year of civilian national service, “so that I can
help people in the way that I was helped,” after which she will join the
The president was very moved by his meeting with the youngsters and
told them it was his ardent wish that they should not be tempted or led astray
to return to their former lives.
He urged them to remain strong and true
to themselves so that they could be productive citizens, of benefit to their
individual communities and to the state.
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