We all know how important it is to look after our mental health as well as our physical health.
The two depend on each other; a symbiotic relationship, if you will, in which each relies on the other for support and development. This relationship is essential in the early stages of a child’s life as it gives that child the best chance of realizing his or her potential later on.
For most, it is the job of the parents to ensure that their child’s physical and mental health needs are met. A warm, supportive, comfortable environment in which to grow up underpins every child’s development in this regard.
Sadly, for some children, this does not exist.
Instead of growing up in warm, loving environments, many are brought up on a diet of abuse and neglect. Poor mental and physical health often follows in such cases, leading to a downward spiral that can be extremely difficult to reverse.
Bet Elazraki Children’s Home (Emunah Bet Sabah Elazraki) in Netanya is there to pick up the pieces for some of those who have suffered in this way, resulting in their removal from their dysfunctional family environments by the welfare authorities. These children, having been placed into the nurturing, loving environment of the children’s home where they can – in the words of the home’s website – “overcome their pain, heal from their trauma, fulfill their potential and break the cycle of distress” – are the lucky ones.
I was fortunate enough to visit Bet Elazraki last week where I met a number of the children and some of the staff members, including the head, Yehuda Kohn, who, along with his wife, Rikki, has managed the children’s home since 1990.
As I nervously entered the building, not sure where to go or how to introduce myself, I was warmly approached by Yossi, a young man who must have seen me coming.
He insisted on showing me around, starting with the dining room, a hive of activity. Children of all ages gathered noisily around long trestle tables, eating, chatting and clearly enjoying their time together. Although this was merely lunch, it was available throughout the whole afternoon, to cater for every child, whatever their schedule. I had to refuse his offer to join the kids for lunch as I wasn’t hungry; I just hope I didn’t offend him!
Yossi then delighted in showing me their kitchen, which I have to say, was pretty awesome. It was spotless, well organized and would put the kitchen in the fanciest restaurant in Tel Aviv to shame, I’d imagine!
Finally, we got down to business – the reason for my visit.
I’d heard along the grapevine that a number of children at Bet Elazraki had recently participated in a half marathon (21 km.) in Miami, of all places, and quite simply, I was intrigued and wanted to know more. Accordingly, I went to meet these children to see what it was all about.
Having introduced running into the home’s list of activities eight years ago to enhance the mental and physical well being of all the children there, a huge shift in attitudes and behavior was noted among those who participated in the sport on a regular basis.
Before long, three of the children from the home had secured places to run in the half marathon in Miami alongside their generous sponsors. When they returned from their trip, each displayed a marked improvement in both attitude and ability.
Given the success of the pilot trip, every year since then, this wonderful opportunity has been extended to all children at the home between the ages of 14-18. To succeed, they must commit to a grueling daily training regime, while keeping on top of their studies and of course, behaving in the kind and considerate manner expected of all children there.
Out of the 60 children who started training for the Miami marathon trip at the beginning of this year, 14 were successful – their hard work and perseverance having paid off.
The trip itself, which took place just before Passover, was a huge success. Thanks to a wonderful “friend” of the home, who also happens to have connections in El Al, the fun started before they even boarded the plane.
Not only were they made to feel like royalty at Ben-Gurion Airport, each received a goodies bag and was treated to a mid-flight tour of the cockpit by none other than the pilot himself. Suffice to say, they arrived tired, but very happy; a fitting start to a magical week-long trip, starting with two wonderful days out – the first in the Universal theme park, which some of the kids described as, “the happiest day” of their lives, and then at the NASA space center.
For most of the children however, the highlight of the week was Shabbat, which they all welcomed in together while watching the beautiful Miami sunset on the beach.
Kabbalat Shabbat also took place on the beach, followed by dancing late into the night; a special evening making wonderful memories.
Finally, the marathon on Sunday morning.
Despite their late night (some only had a couple of hours sleep), all of the children performed brilliantly; they ran with Israeli flags on their backs and big smiles on their faces, each one finishing in good time. One child even came first in his age group – quite an achievement!
This group of youngsters, who undoubtedly had a difficult start in life, are now role models for children of all ages and from all different backgrounds. Through hard work, determination and perseverance they pushed themselves to the limit, reaching their goals and more importantly, fulfilling their potential.
Without the love, support and guidance of Bet Elazraki Children’s Home, this simply would not have been possible.
The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.