By: Laurina Driesse

Today, Michal* is a cheerful little Israeli girl who is enjoying her childhood and easily shows love and affection towards other children. However, the journey to reach this happy state has been a tough and bumpy road. At only four years old, little Michal was diagnosed with cancer. Her mother Tova* bore the strain of frequent hospital visits while her father found solace in drinking with his friends. Severe problems arose in her parent’s marriage, leading to their divorce.

Tova was left severely distraught by the divorce, and viewed Michal’s cancer diagnosis as the root cause of her husband’s drinking problems and their failed marriage. As Michal got better, Tova began to blame Michal for her father leaving them alone and consistently fed her this tale. Michal felt so guilty and tried to do everything to please her mother; forcing herself to behave like an adult, taking on the responsibility of cleaning the house and putting away the toys that she and her younger brother played with, caring for her little brother at the day care. But no matter how hard she tried, the bond between mother and daughter was simply non-existent, and she could not win any of her mother’s affection. There were no kisses and hugs given in her direction, and instead other children received Tova’s affections.

Tova and Michal started attending therapy sessions. When it came time for group interaction between parent and child, Tova would do her best to avoid being alone with her own daughter, often looking to help other children and leaving Michal to complete tasks on her own.

Tova and her daughter went through several years of both group and individual therapy, and an Israeli social worker came alongside Tova to help her deal with the trauma of her divorce. As she healed, she understood that the divorce was not Michal’s fault. At the same time, the social worker began working with Michal to restore her childhood, help her regain self-confidence and receive the love of her mother again.

The ICEJ is committed to restoring and strengthening broken Israeli families, one of the main aims of our “Giving a Future and Hope” campaign. This initiative seeks to mend shattered families, lift up youngsters who have grown up in difficult circumstances, and find direction for the unemployed and unskilled in need of a fresh start. For them, we want to be the extended helping hands of Christians from around the world who care about Israelis in need.

The coronavirus crisis brought a significant increase in domestic violence and abuse in Israeli families already suffering under economic stress, and depression has increased in many vulnerable families here. In addition to this very challenging health crisis, many Israelis also are still trying to recover from this year’s rocket war with Hamas in Gaza!

For Genet*, it felt like her world was crumbling. She struggled with her parental authority and could not give the most basic instructions to her children, resulting in them doing as they pleased. Every Sunday, Genet attended group therapy with a social worker and other mothers, but she never opened up much about her own situation, and instead she sat quietly, just listening.

After two years, she finally informed her social worker that for a few years already she had been suffering from verbal abuse and violence at home from her husband. Genet was extremely fearful and dealing with many challenges. She admitted to being ashamed to share about her ordeal and even asked her children to keep what was happening in the home a secret.

Finally, she found the courage to break her silence and, together with the help of her social worker, she filed a complaint with the police against her husband. For an Ethiopian Jewish woman, this was exceedingly difficult to do as there was a huge risk to her and her children.

After three months, Genet’s divorce was finalized and she found new employment allowing her to provide for her children and pay rental for their apartment.

Still attending therapy regularly, today Genet has blossomed into a stronger woman who is able to stand up for herself and when needed, is able to show her authority towards her children.

As the ICEJ works together with Israeli social workers, our help also extends to therapeutic centers like the ones Tova, Michal and Genet have found themselves in. These centers often are dealing with children exposed to neglect, physical and verbal abuse, sexual violence, and other traumas.

At the therapy centers, children arrive after school, enjoy a hot meal, and interact socially by playing together. They receive assistance with their homework, and get self-empowering counseling with professional staff, including social workers and child psychologists and therapists.

The professional staff engage in every aspect of the families’ lives, from daily routines to continuous dialogue with schools. Other community services are offered as well, such as the welfare office, marriage counselling, domestic violence centers and even house calls. The families receive tools to help them go from dysfunction to health and stability. Thanks to the wonderful giving of Christian donors in Finland, the children playing outside one therapeutic center are now also protected from the hot sun by a beautiful playground shade cover.

You, too, can help us to continue this important work of mending Israeli families. Please consider a gift towards our ‘Giving a Future and Hope’ campaign.

[*Names changed to protect privacy.]