Yael's corner: True candles in the darkness

YAEL ECKSTEIN and her family lighting the Hanukka candles. (photo credit: Courtesy)
YAEL ECKSTEIN and her family lighting the Hanukka candles.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Lighting the Hanukka candles with my husband and children brings up so many emotions. I have vivid nostalgic memories of lighting the candles as a little girl and dancing with my sisters and parents as we sang joyful Hanukka tunes. I smile each time I recall the brilliant scene in Jerusalem of beautiful menorahs glimmering outside every door. But my heart weeps as I look at my children’s smiling faces, illuminated by the light of the menorah, and think about thousands of precious children in Israel who cannot be raised by their parents.
Foster parents in Israel are rarely spoken about, and yet they are the sacred thread that holds this society together.
Just a short while ago I met a family who showed me the deepest meaning of love, commitment and values. The lessons they taught me are endless.
Rita and Jay are foster parents who took in an infant boy and twin two-year-old girls who had been abandoned by their single mother. “Foster families in Israel are volunteers with religious and moral drive,” explained a social worker who deals with such families. “Unlike in America, they receive no monthly income, and the government barely covers the basic needs for the children in their care.” It was amazing for me to see the dedication and love of these dedicated foster parents, despite the financial hardships they face.
Sitting in Rita and Jay’s small two-bedroom apartment, surrounded by warm colors, stuffed animals and a baby-proofed dresser in the living room, I listened as the social worker explained that, without philanthropic assistance, this family and hundreds of others like them would not be able to pay for the medical expenses, therapy, diapers and food that their foster children require. “We rely on others to help us do what we do,” said 35-year-old Rita, as she fed the five-month-old a bottle and read a book to the twins sitting on her lap. “I go to work to bring in as much income as I can, but the difficulties of raising many children – infants and toddlers at that – are still very real,” said Jay as he prepared the kids’ lunch in the kitchen.
As I watched Rita and Jay care for the children and kiss with great love and care a young girl whose parents died in a car crash, suddenly this young couple transformed into saints before my eyes. Would I be able to do what they are doing for children who weren’t my own, I asked myself and, sadly, the answer was not clear.
I often visit Fellowship-sponsored foster families around the country, and each time I am moved by their difficult realities and self-sacrificing love. Some of the cases I will never forget: visiting three children whose loving parents died in a car crash, special- needs children who were abandoned at the hospital, teenagers who were abused so badly that they were removed from their homes in the middle of the night.
Each child has had a deep and lasting impact on me. But what really moves me to tears is the dedication, love, commitment and total selflessness of the foster parents who continue to take in these children.
After hearing stories of foster parents in Israel running out of diapers and formula, and thinking twice before turning on the heat because they could not afford to do so, I explained to the Israeli social worker that in the US, where I grew up, foster families receive a general government stipend, or salary, to help care for the children placed in their care. With the bluntness that Israelis are known for, the social worker responded, “Here in Israel the situation is unique. This country is only 66 years old, and our government is constantly absorbing new immigrants, protecting our enemy-ridden borders, and trying to combat growing poverty.
Here in the Israel, we don’t have the luxury of generously supporting foster families. The government just doesn’t have the funds.”
During this holiday of Hanukka, the holiday of miracles, giving presents, and spending special time with our family and children, I will be taking many moments to appreciate what I have and saying prayers for those who aren’t as fortunate. I will hug my children tight and thank God that they have a stable, happy, healthy family. And especially now, during the holiday of light, I will express my thanks to all of the foster parents in Israel – true candles in the darkness – who provide that same security to hundreds of children who have nowhere else to turn.
The writer is senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.