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Program Is a Godsend to Israeli Abuse Victims

March 12, 2009 By:
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Renée G. Sackey (left), chair of Federation's Women of Vision Foundation, welcomes ELI founder and chair Hanita Zimrin to Philadelphia.

In times of crisis, many pray to Eli, Hebrew for "our God," to relieve suffering and achieve physical and emotional healing.

In Israel, victims of child abuse and neglect see God's presence in the work of ELI, the Israel Association for Child Protection. The organization is indeed a "godsend" for the estimated 40,000 Israeli children who are victims of parental incompetence, cruelty, neglect, and emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Hanita Zimrin, the first person in Israel to receive a Ph.D. in Social Work, founded the organization in 1979 as a direct result of her research for her doctoral dissertation.

"In the early 1970s when I was a student, there was a tendency to deny that child abuse existed in the Jewish community," she said. "When I went before the Knesset to report about incidents of abuse, I was accused of having a dirty mind."

Zimrin started the agency out of her home with the support of a handful of staff and volunteers.

Today, in her role as ELI's chairperson, she works with a staff of 90 social workers and psychologists, and hundreds of volunteers to help individuals and families to cope with the short- and long-term affects of abuse, and to break the cycle of helplessness and self-hatred.

"It's not enough to merely stop the abuse. It is imperative that we work to rebuild a child's self-esteem and restore their trust," she explained, adding that the process can last anywhere from a few sessions to several years.

To maximize the effectiveness of treatment, ELI therapists work with the family members of victims to break abusive patterns and behaviors. It is the only institution of its kind in Israel that treats both the victim and the perpetrator.

ELI's central office lies in the heart of Tel Aviv, in a space donated by the municipality. For those clients who do not live in the Tel Aviv area, ELI offers a network of "satellite" therapists. These professional social workers and psychologists maintain offices throughout Israel.

For many of ELI's clients, the first step on their road to recovery begins with a telephone call to the agency's toll-free hotline. More than 40 volunteers -- each of whom complete an intensive three-month training course -- field calls from victims, neighbors, family and friends in Hebrew, Russian and Arabic. Last year, the hotline received 6,539 phone calls, a whopping 20 percent from perpetrators of the abuse.

The agency also maintains a fully equipped emergency shelter for children in crisis who are not safe in their homes. They receive food, clothing, support, counseling and schooling toward the ultimate goal of reunification and return to their communities.

Efforts to Accommodate More

Zimrin, was in Philadelphia recently to address Women of Vision, a permanent Jewish Women's Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. She spoke to members about the outreach project that the WOV grant of $10,000 supports for 25 to 30 girls who are victims of abuse. Zimrin explained that the project combines individual and group therapy to reduce the psychological impact of the trauma.

"Over the course of the next year to year-and-a-half, we hope to help these girls understand that the abuse they suffered was not their fault, to improve their self-images, enhance their self esteem and, ultimately, prevent them from choosing abusive partners in the future," she said. "Our goal is to help these girls be more productive, contributing members of Israeli society."

ELI was the first Israeli organization to receive financial support from Women of Vision, who awarded the grant in honor of Israel's 60th anniversary.

"We are gratified to be able to support this wonderful organization," said Renée G. Sackey, chair of Women of Vision.

While this is the first year that ELI has received support from Women of Vision, the agency has received significant grants from Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas for several years -- and this year is no exception.

During the 2009-10 funding cycle, ELI will get $250,000 to create a Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Safe House for Abused Children. This is a new transitional facility where abused children from ELI's emergency shelter will reside while their parents and families are rehabilitated.

Approximately 30 percent to 40 percent of children in protective shelters could return home if their parents received intensive training and assistance, which has not been available until the Safe House concept was instituted in Israel just two years ago.

In the Safe House, ELI will integrate the protection of the child with the needs of the family through therapy, parenting-skills workshops and coordinated, supervised family visits, thereby continuing services of the emergency shelter, with the added ability to help improve family dynamics.

The Safe House will free up space in ELI's emergency shelter, enabling it to accommodate more abused children in crisis. Broken families will be reunited, and abused children will safely return home to parents who will be able to care for them, rather then face a life homeless, shuffling between foster families and child-care institutions.

Zimrin emphasized that the agency devotes a great deal of time and staff resources to abuse-prevention programs. It has also designed two musicals and one dramatic production -- performed by actors and actresses who are trained therapists -- in schools throughout Israel.

Last year, more than 80,000 children saw one of the ELI programs that educate the children about the nature of abuse and their rights to live abuse-free.

"As a result of these programs," affirmed Zimrin, "a number of students alerted their parents or teachers about abuse they had experienced at the hands of friends or relatives."

For more information about ELI, visit the agency's website at: www.eliusa.org.

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