Israeli-Anglo teens at-risk in the days of Corona

Being a teenager is tough at the best of times. Insecurity, stress, hormones raging. How difficult must it then be for a teen uprooted from their home countries when one or both parents decide to move to Israel? How hard is it for “gap year” teens who arrive in Israel to study, tour or live abroad for a year in a country where the language is new, friends are sparse and emotional support is limited?  How stressful is it when you are in a new land and are told that you must stay indoors with the coronavirus for months? What is the impact of being thrown into a school system when you do not speak the language fluently?  What happens when the job you had at a restaurant serving tables, or at a hotel is torn from you? Where is the structure for your day? Where is the money for food and lodging? Where is your social life? Is life worth the battle?

Unless one has a young adult in their family, it may be hard to realize how difficult maturation and life can be for young people in their teens and into their 20s even without these complications.  Perhaps because their numbers are limited, many English-speaking youth – “fall between the cracks” of Israeli government assistance and educational guidance.

Interviews with young adults who have been through difficult emotional times and found their way to “Crossroads” in the center of Jerusalem, made clear just how difficult being a young English speaker in Israel can be.

Before the Corona days began, the social workers at Crossroads would go into the Ben Yehuda area on Thursday nights and look for young people who looked to be “at-risk’ They might have looked terribly alone, or appeared to be on drugs, or were hanging out with unsavory individuals.  Conversations ensued and the youth were invited to come to the Crossroads space for friendship, classes, social interaction, and often…for free Therapy. When the Novel Corona virus hit Israel, everything changed dramatically.  No longer could teens be out and about, nor could the social workers even come to their jobs. What to do with all these “clients” ( an euphemism, as no one pays ….) who could no longer find the support they needed.

Client #1 (whose identity must be protected), arrived in Israel with her Israeli father after her mother passed away, quite young.  Leaving behind two older sisters, family and all of her friends in America – at the age of 12 she was plunged into a world where she could not communicate. Thrown into school without understanding the new language, she sat looking out the window for years as she was sidelined by the academic establishment.  How is it that no one thought to place her in Ulpan to bring her language skills up to par, and then have her return to her education with the language skills she needed?  The result of this policy, left a young girl unable to learn and unable to make friends. She was “bullied” by other girls in the school because her Hebrew was so poor.  Difficulties at home amplified her losses. Now Client #1 not only had lost her mother, her older sisters and all of her friends…. But now was being abused by her peers and was unhappy at home. No place to hide. No respite. Little wonder that this young woman spiraled into depression.   One day a “friend” suggested that she go to Crossroads in the center of Jerusalem. A well-kept secret from most of us, on the third floor of an old building in the center of Jerusalem, the space is full of welcoming areas- music rooms with instruments…rooms for art, drama and writing classes… a comfortable “living” room for “hanging out” and more professional rooms for Therapy sessions.  If anyone needs clothes…there is a room with available items for the taking.

Client #2 was having a very difficult time living at home. When the “lock-down” came she was forced to return home from an apartment she had shared with friends.  It was impossible to go to work to pay her rent, and she was forced to go back home to an already difficult situation with no respite. No place to vent …to get rid of excess energy.  She had been travelling a long distance to visit Crossroads, and now her new support was a memory.  She had looked forward to visiting with her new friends and having a safe space with opportunities and events.  When Corona closed down travel… that all ended. Her light at the end of her tunnel went dark.

It was inconceivable for the staff of Crossroads to allow their “clients” to go through the difficult “lock down” on their own. New creative solutions were required to continue to reach the young people. Zoom classes in drama, creative writing, music  and art replaced in person interaction.  For those receiving therapy, they did not lose contact with their Therapists, but continued with telephone meetings.

One client told me that she came to a very low point during the lock-down, and her Therapist at Crossroads had given her personal phone number in case of an emergency.  She needed to use it, feeling terrible about invading personal space and time.  The Therapist was there for her and helped her thru the trauma of the moment.  Each of the clients reported how they could always depend on the caring staff. They felt secure and comfortable even during Corona.  The Client spoke of how emotionally consoling it was to actually have another human being who really would be there for her unequivocally during a personal crisis during the Corona lock-down.

Crossroads has partnered with a similar organization in the UK and they hold online events to bring the two groups together. One day they hope to meet one another in person.

When Covid-19 hit Jerusalem, Crossroads was helping many gap year students, tourists, and others who were forced to return to their native lands and families.  In the midst of important therapy, they were uprooted from their support system. Crossroads implemented their Zoom programming so that wherever these “clients” went in the world, they were not abandoned.  This unique approach has earned them high praise from those that they serve.

Now that Israel has entered its second phase with higher Corona cases than ever, the need for Crossroads continues.  According to their director, Robbie Sassoon,  their funding for the immediate future is “at risk” as are the people they serve.  Many of their grants have been postponed for at least a year because of financial crises.  Unfortunately, the personal crises of the Anglo youth of Jerusalem cannot be postponed a year and the services they depend on must continue.  Crossroads just began an emergency campaign to help them stay afloat during the months ahead.

If you would like to assist Crossroads so that they can continue their exceptional services during these difficult days, please check out the following link:         New.crossroadsjerusalem.org/campaigns/fundraiser

The “clients” at Crossroads will not be left alone again.

About the Author
Born in the Washington DC area, Barbara has been a pro Israel activist for over four decades, having had a radio show in Jerusalem called "Barbara Diamond One on One" , doing in depth interviews which aired in Israel and in the UK. She participated in missions to the USSR to meet with Refuseniks, to Ethiopia with a medical team to help the Jewish villages and to China to open up relations prior to China recognizing the State of Israel, She has been pro-active lobbying congress and helping to start a Pro Israel PAC in Los Angeles. She stays involved through the Jerusalem Press Club attending up to the moment briefings which she would like to share with the readers. Ms. Diamond is the 2018 recipient of the "StandWithUs"-Israel leadership award.
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