NETANYA, ISRAEL––These girls, some eight years old, some eighteen, are dressed perhaps no differently from your average kid in suburban Boston or farmland Nebraska, but here in their communal home in the coastal Israeli city of Netanya, they have a life only because of the donors who have given and the supporters who give.
Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam knows what disaster looks like. He is no stranger to trauma and utter devastation. Having survived the horrors of the Holocaust, yet having to live with the worst pain one could imagine of losing not one, but eleven children, Rabbi Halberstam chose to save others from their ordeals. He founded an Orphanage in Netanya for girls who have suffered senselessly, needlessly, and just deserve to be given the opportunity to live a hope-filled and dignified childhood.
This is the Orphanage that the Lev LaLev organization (levlalev.com) has been helping to fund for more than a decade. Just when teenagers the world over take food, shelter and clothing for granted, the girls’ orphanage here in Netanya is trying every day to rebuild and sustain more than one hundred and thirty innocent girls––their childhoods and seasons of youth are being professionally tended to in every conceivable way.
THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY
While Lev LaLev (Hebrew for ‘Heart to Heart’) assists in providing a warm environment and the chance for girls to flourish amongst friends who become like sisters, along with professional therapy, quality education, and a beautiful home––a crisis emerged suddenly these couple of weeks.
It began with one diagnosis of Covid-19 and now ten girls are infected. One of the ten had to be rushed to hospital and is in the midst of intensive treatment.
While Covid-19 has been a trying time for the general public, children who have been victims of abuse and trauma experience it more intensely. The girls regularly receive individual and group therapy to overcome past trauma. “Sometimes, it can happen, that in the middle of the night, these girls were taken away from their home by the Welfare Department because they had been abused,” Director of Development Chavi Weiss explains. “They had nothing when they entered the orphanage. They have no family or possessions.”
This Covid-19 pandemic experience, having to be isolated day and night, and fearing for the lives of their newfound sisters, is both devastating and triggering. “The girls are bored and scared and nervous… and think back to their childhood trauma. They remember everything that they have been through and feel more alone than ever. They do not have a mother. They do not have a father. All of the friends who had become like sisters, they cannot spend time with.”
WHAT THE ORPHANAGE MEANS FOR THE GIRLS
Credentialed counselors, social workers trained in psychology and nursing, and therapists who engage in a variety of methods including music, dance and pet play, form just part of the orphanage regimen to restore faith, love and normalcy to these beautiful girls and their important lives. Even while they may have suffered––through no fault of their own––from issues in their original homes, they are now here, together, in Netanya, having a second shot at life under the watchful and motherly supervision of house personnel such as the indomitable Bracha Runes.
Runes shuffles through bills and invoices on many a weekday, at times gravely worried as to how to pay for them all by quarter’s end. When she does not brood over bills, she patrols the girls at play, ensuring they do not injure themselves or quarrel. Then, she carefully invites some donors to tour the home, and she is careful to seek the girls’ comfort and permission, so that no one feels overly exposed or put on display. In the evenings, it is obvious the girls get full bellies, proper nutrition and commendable diets that prove they can have hope, love and a proper life, in spite of anything in their pasts.
The Government of Israel does attempt to fund the home, but circumstances and policy difficulties have really meant that a huge bulk of the funding has to be sought, raised and secured from ordinary people in Israel and abroad. Lev LaLev operates a crucial donation site for North Americans and international citizens who wish to throw their weight behind Israel’s future and walk the talk of protecting and uplifting the future of the Jewish nation.
PRACTICAL HELP TO FIGHT COVID-19 AND SAFEGUARD OUR GIRLS
Rabbi Halberstam could no longer care for his own children because they were murdered by Nazi Germany, and the orphanage created a means for him to care for children who are still alive. It was a way for him to take the horrors of the Holocaust and catalyze his resolve to make the world a better place.
This Covid-19 intrusion at the Orphanage in Netanya has caused all of the therapeutic progress this holy organization has been making with these girls to come to a grinding halt. But the issue is not just a lack of progress. Stopping their daily therapy leads to regression. This means that not only is their progress away from the trauma stalled, but many are also slipping back towards where they started. And Lev LaLev needs to proactively respond by providing extra care for these students, including physical, mental, and religious support. That is why, in order to save these girls from more pain and suffering, they are asking generous, God-fearing people like our readers to help.
THE WORK IN NETANYA NEVER STOPS
Several years ago, a girl, then about eight, had come to Netanya with only the clothes on her back and a hungry tummy. When she was first brought into the orphanage, she was given a sandwich. Humbly eating it, but only halfway, she retained the food and brought it to her assigned quarters. The home assistants were very curious; one of them asked, gingerly, why she did not want to finish the sandwich. Was it soggy, nasty or tasteless? The girl spoke, very honestly: I don’t know if there’ll be food at nighttime, so I’m saving this for later.
Here, in Netanya, Israel, Lev LaLev tries to make sure that sort of feeling never arises in these precious kids ever again. Through certified professionals, highly experienced staff members and scheduling that involves regular school, group learning and youth activities, these girls of all ages are housed, clothed, fed, taught, guided, molded and inspired to be larger than life and big believers in a bright future. The home has, through the help of donors from all walks of life, the technological and audiovisual amenities necessary to get the girls to become up-to-date and well-prepared for the modern world and life as young adults.
Speaking of young adults, don’t be surprised to see how emotionally, financially and spiritually invested the orphanage is in weddings and marriage! The home has an advisory, supervisory and very protective role in ensuring the girls march into adulthood not by accident or by chance. Not many weeks ago, on the Jewish day of love (Tu b’Av, which, like Yom Kippur, is one of the two most emotionally-charged days of the Hebrew calendar) a couple was anointed. The bride, now a proud and confident wife, was a decade ago merely a girl, and had been raised at the home to understand love, peace and hope. On her glorious wedding day, she began newer chapters for herself and would write her future stories without a shred of fear.
A PLEA TO GIVE
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:18)
The restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the past seventy-two years has not been an easy ride. No Jew claims the Jewish nation is perfect, but the Creator is perfect, and He advocates a perfect love, and for peoples of the world, Jew and non-Jew, to be reflections of that love. “In the Creator we can boast all day long, and praise His name forever,” says the forty-fourth psalm. For many donors, it is the goodness of the Divine that prompts giving, that motivates action, that galvanizes love for the people of Israel.
If you feel inspired to care for those in dire need and show them that you stand with them and that the Almighty is never far away, now is the time. “We need to keep the girls distracted. While they are alone they are regressing. We do not know how long this will last, but we need your support and your prayers for these girls, who deserve to no longer live in pain or suffering,” Director Weiss shared.
The general public has the opportunity to demonstrate to these girls that their lives matter––that we love them and want to support them through thick and thin. We can turn the traumatic ramifications of the Covid-19 emergency into a memory of hope. This work is both needful and practical. Lev LaLev is also looking to invest in electronics to ensure that their girls can remotely meet with their therapists and have access in speaking to others, as well as digital education and edutainment.
To start giving, click here or visit LevLaLev.com for details.