Peres: Saving youngsters can revolutionize Israel

President receives annual report from Elem, an NGO that helps at-risk children from its president Nava Barak.

peres370 (photo credit: Courtesy President’s Residence)
(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 communities.
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 nation.
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 the future.
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 degree.
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 too.
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 file.
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 Brigade.
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 IDF.
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.