In Israel, a recent survey showed that 40,000 children – at lease 1.5 percent of the total child population – are victims of parental incompetence, cruelty, neglect or emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
However, the problem has existed, along with denial and lack of public awareness, for a much longer time, and led to the founding of ELI in 1979 – the Israel Association for Child Protection – by Hanita Zimrin, who's also its chairperson.
Reasons for the increase are far-reaching and include stress, frequent military duty, fear of random terrorism, unemployment and the difficulties associated with immigration to a new country.
Recently, Zimrin visited the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to thank the organization for its ongoing support of the Israeli agency, including a 2005-06 allocation. This support began in 2002, when a $69,000 grant from the Israel Emergency Fund provided a Mobile Therapy Room for counseling abuse victims and their families.
"This project is one of a kind, and it took courage and foresight to invest in something that had never been tried before," stated Zimrin.
"The concept for a Mobile Therapy Room began one night when we received a call from a family where an 8-year-old girl was raped while her brother was watching," she continued. "We could not deal with the situation in the family's home in the way that was needed."
In response, ELI developed the MTR – rapid, on-site crisis intervention vehicles that respond 24/7 wherever it's needed in the country. The passenger section of the full-size vans – converted into a fully-equipped therapy rooms – ensure privacy for clients. Zimrin called the vans "very friendly, comfortable and inviting."
Victims and their families, who are often afraid to take public buses to the organization's center in Tel Aviv, receive therapy and services in the MTR as it makes scheduled stops in different neighborhoods.
"Our Federation recognizes the obligation to help ELI," said Jeri Zimmerman, director of Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas. "It is in keeping with our priorities to help populations at risk. Children are so vulnerable. They are entitled to the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. ELI provides the safety net they so desperately need," added this mother of five.
The MTR vans also visit remote locations, often going from one kibbutz to another to serve abused children.
ELI provides a toll-free hotline number, a school prevention program, a training division for professionals, and legal aid and representation to victims of abuse.
It works with the government to influence legislation, as well as with the media to increase public awareness of child abuse.
Philadelphians were among the first to provide leadership for ELI's American fundraising efforts, and brought the agency to the attention of Federation. Their support is ongoing, and in the case of Connie Smukler and daughter Cindy Smukler Dorani, the first co-chairs of American Friends of ELI, it has even reached the third generation.
"Our daughter, Shoval, and even my two younger kids, have visited ELI's emergency shelter for women and children in Tel Aviv," said Smukler Dorani. "While she was there, a counselor said leila tov ("good night" in Hebrew) to a child who had just come in. He asked the counselor what that meant because he apparently had never heard the words before.
"So for Shoval's Bat Mitzvah project," her mother continued, "she decided the children would always have a leila tov, and she and her friends decorated pillow slips that have those words written out."
To learn more or to contribute to ELI and programs like it, call Jeri Zimmerman at 215-832-0553.