Aliya Stories: A safe haven

Michal Boiman and her husband devoted five years to being caregivers in their home for infants and small children in need of emergency foster care.

December 8, 2016 11:40

Michal Boiman. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 Since the start of the 20th century, donors have funded the planting of some 240 million trees in Israel. The standard joke is that when naïve tourists arrive to visit their trees, new signs mysteriously appear on special trees designated for this purpose.

But actually, when Michelle (now Michal) de Beer excitedly set off on her first visit to Israel from Vught, the Netherlands, in 1999, she had a Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund document listing the numbers of three trees. Her late father’s Jewish friend had planted them in the Maccabi Forest in his memory.

Vught was the site of a former Nazi concentration camp, which she had visited. As it happens, she acquired an awareness of the Holocaust and World War II from school and also from home.

“As a teenager, as part of our curriculum in German, I visited Buchenwald twice,” she explains. “Also, my parents, especially my father, were very interested in the Holocaust. In Holland there was a Dutch historian, Dr. de Jong, who covered the period of the Second World War. Every year or so, a new edition would come out. My father was always very eager to get the new parts as soon as possible.”

On that first visit, Michal was in her early 30s and single. After studying for a business degree, she had found work in the hi-tech sector. Next to her on the plane sat a friendly, recently divorced, Israeli army veteran with parents in Antwerp.

“He just happened to fly from Amsterdam that time after visiting them,” Michal comments. Naturally enough, she and Naftali Boiman (now 50) started chatting in Flemish or Dutch – they’re never quite clear about their common language.

Michal was left with favorable impressions of her visit. “My first visit to Israel touched me to the heart. I immediately felt at home and at ease. People were very friendly wherever I would go.”

Boiman and Michal continued to meet occasionally, until she came here to live in 2002, converted to Judaism and married him in 2008. He had remained in Israel after arriving at the age of 16 to attend yeshiva. He then pursued an army career for the next 25 years. Following his retirement from the army, he looked for a meaningful occupation.

“Through the army pensioners’ organization, we started hosting children with special needs for Shabbatot,” Michal says. Subsequently, Naftali heard about the need to foster children at risk through a social-worker niece. He promptly volunteered to be the primary caregiver for up to five infants and small children who needed emergency foster care. As Michal explains, “One of the foster parents needs to be available 24/7, and the other parent must help wherever needed.”

The couple was carefully screened by the Orr Shalom organization before acceptance. This organization works with the social welfare services to provide fostering for infants and children who are orphaned or at risk. Many of these traumatized children must be removed from their homes immediately by court order. Orr Shalom has found that the most therapeutic environment for them is in private homes. Often 50 or more children of various denominations await placement.

The Boimans devoted five years of their lives to this cause, beginning with a two-day seminar in 2011. Support included a social worker on standby 24/7 to help them out whenever needed. The social worker came weekly to discuss the children and answer the Boimans’ questions.

“In addition,” says Michal, “we had a monthly meeting – including professional lectures – at Orr Shalom with the other emergency foster families.”

Michal continued to work as a customer support manager in hi-tech.

Luckily, her boss was flexible about hours and ultimately allowed her to work from home. “He also regularly brought us clothes and toys for our foster kids,” she says appreciatively.

She tells how their work was intensive, both emotionally and physically.

“The children would arrive at any time, some during the night, some during the day. We did not take vacation during those five years. We would take a free weekend two or three times a year.”

On those weekends their bat sherut (National Service girl) and a close family member would watch over the kids.

At the very beginning the Boimans had no bat sherut, “meaning that my husband was home alone for several hours with four to five small children.

One month, there were three babies younger than one year, but he managed marvelously!” However, in the remaining years they had a bat sherut, who worked eight hours a day and often more.

“These girls are awesome,” Michal comments. “They became really part of our family and did more than their share. They enabled us to take some time off together, which is very important.”

The Boimans also had cleaning help from a very kind and friendly woman.

A friend’s daughter also volunteered at their house, helping out regularly for two and a half years after school and during the holidays.

In the mornings, many of the children who were one year old or above attended daycare centers or kindergartens – but not at first, during their adjustment period, only three to four weeks later. After all, most came from “a world of insecurity, chaos and not being sure when the next meal would come.”

All the children tried hard to please at the very beginning. “Only after several weeks, when they feel more secure and comfortable, you will slowly, slowly see the real child underneath.”

The couple handled the children’s problems calmly, in the safe haven of their home, “with love, hugs, patience and a lot of talking. By us giving expression in words to their feelings, insecurities, anger and sadness, they realized that they were understood and that it was okay to feel that way. This paved the way for the child to cope with these feelings and start the recovery process.”

Also, Michal adds that the children need “a clear daily routine and consistent behavior from the foster parent.”

Usually when one of them got tired, the other would step in. She praises her “amazing husband who does everything with a smile and a pleasant word.”

After their five-year stint of emergency fostering round the clock, the Boimans wanted to spend more time with their families, both with their parents and with the younger generation.

Naftali is a scribe and runs a business in Judaica now. Michal takes courses and studies Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University.

“But there is always that little bird inside, looking out for people and especially children in need,” she remarks.

“So who knows what else we might do in the future?”

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