This time I have chosen to tell a story which in my eyes must be added to the life syllabus of every Israeli. An Israeli fairytale with a surprising happy end — Child Protection Centers in Israel.
The story begins over a decade ago with the founding of a center in Jerusalem, Beit Lynn (Kiryat Yovel) for children who are victims of sexual, physical or mental abuse. The center was established according to an American model in which all the agencies treating the abused child are situated under one roof, and save the child from trudging from the police station to a gynecologist’s clinic, to a health clinic, welfare authorities etc. The child, who underwent a trauma, many times in the place where he is supposed to feel the most safe – at his home or educational facility – is in a most vulnerable state. In the model of the child protection centers all the agencies are under one roof and the good of the child is in the center.
The person who brought this model to Israel, and cares for the wellbeing of the children in distress is Mrs. Lynn Schusterman, no doubt one of the most dedicated and compassionate philanthropists in the Jewish world today. The authorities impressed by the Protection Center promised that if all the evaluations would be favorable, the government would take upon itself to establish additional centers all over the country.
The next part of the story will not surprise you since it deals with the typical and regular Israeli government way of acting. Of course, despite the excellent recommendation the Protection Center model got from the professional authorities, not a single additional center was established.
I knew Beit Lynn in Kiryat Yovel, and was aware of the immense scope of the problem (over 10,000 children are reported seriously abused every year!). After numerous conversations with Mrs. Schusterman and Yitzhak Kadman – the untiring General Director of the Israeli National Council for the Child, I decided to take action and to compel the State, by law, to fulfill its promise to establish additional centers according to the model of Beit Lynn. The government (motivated by the Ministry of Finance’s narrow viewpoint) opposed my bill, what made me recruit supporters from the opposition and the coalition (which I was a member of), and I managed to pass the bill in its preliminary reading. The government by now understood that I meant business, scared by the “threat” that a bill regarding Social Affairs might pass in the Knesset, when they, in general, are against any legislation on important social issues. It sent its representatives who implored me to freeze the legislation and to wait for the establishment of 4 – 5 Centers by the State, with the first one to be opened within a year. Since the deed itself was important to me and the legislation less so, despite my fears I gave my consent and froze the legislation. In retrospect, it is clear to me that the Ministries of Social Affairs, Finance, Health and Justice acted as they usually do – waited for my term in the Knesset to be over and for the issue to be forgotten, and did nothing to promote the founding of the Centers.
After a year and a half I despaired of waiting for the fulfillment of the government’s promise, and I returned the topic to the Knesset’s agenda. I unfreezed the bill and demanded the founding of 8 centers nationwide. With a lot of help from the Israeli National Council for the Child, we managed to overcome the persistent opposition of the government, yes – and that of the Minister of Social Affairs at the time and the Director General of his office, and we passed the bill in the second and third readings against their will, despite them terrorizing the poor ministry officials who were forced to sit on the committee, meeting after meeting, and fight in full force against their professional opinion and against the best interests of the children.
After the bill passed, Mrs. Lynn Schusterman offered to fund the founding of the Centers (which would be operated by the ‘Efshar’ Association in conjunction with the Haruv Center that encompasses knowledge and research of the field). Despite her generous offer, the government yet again, dragged its feet and functioned according to its favorite principle: the law is something that only the citizens need to abide by. The Supreme Court put an end to the unbridled wickedness, assisted by the State Comptroller. It forced the State to implement the law and to establish the centers.
At that time I had an argument with Mrs. Schusterman. I begged her to let the State carry out its obligation to its citizens to establish the centers, but Lynn argued (and rightfully so) that if the State will establish the centers, it will go through the motions and house them in shabby buildings and won’t invest in structures that will award the children a bit of the self esteem and dignity of theirs that was crushed.
Thanks to Mrs. Schusterman, this story has a happy end. Now four centers are operating (in Jerusalem, Tel-Hashomer, Be’er Sheva and Haifa), and this week, as you can see in the picture, we inaugurated the fifth Beit Lynn in Nazareth – a Center designed to serve the residents of the north and the Arab sector. Whoever visits the Centers sees beautiful, spacious architectural structures with state of the art equipment, staffed by the best professionals in their field enjoying full cooperation on the part of the professional echelons in the Ministries.
Soon, Centers in Netanya, Ashkelon and at a later stage Tzfat are to be opened – a total of 8 centers as the law said.
Abraham, the common ancestor of the peoples living in the country, came to this place in the hope that it will be based on the values of charity and justice as it is written (Genesis 18:19): ” For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment;”. It is the State’s obligation to base itself on this principle, and to support the weak and vulnerable parts of its populace, otherwise, there is no need for it.
Batei Lynn across the country provide proper and respectful care for more children, and affect children’s willingness to expose the harm they experienced and receive appropriate treatment and assistance.
I pray that one day we will live in a proper and civilized society which in which children will not be abused and Batei Lynn will be redundant.