'Half a Year Ago, He Was Learning in an Arab Kindergarten. Today, He Is Asking to Go to Shul!'



A Yad L'Achim "big brother" learns with a child rescued from an Arab village


"I had a chilling experience today," writes a Yad L'Achim "big brother" in his weekly report. "During the chumash class I give twice a week to six-year-old P. [the son of V., who was rescued from a Bedouin encampment in the Negev two months ago], he suddenly told me that he wanted to show me something.

"He rolled up his sleeve and revealed a terrible burn wound on his right arm. 'You know who did this to me?' he asked. 'My father.' I had to struggle to fight back the tears."

The big brother, one of dozens in Yad L'Achim's mentoring program for child survivors of Arab villages, meets with P in the safe house where the youngster lives together with his mother, and two siblings, a four-year-old brother and a two-year-old sister. The mentor writes glowingly of how far P. has come.

"This boy, now calm and tranquil, is learning chumash and making progress with me in all his Jewish studies, as well as in his other subjects. Next year, with G-d's help, he'll be able to attend a Jewish school. This child has been born anew."

Another big brother writes of the enthusiasm his mentee shows as regards going to shul. "As soon as I arrive for our session, he greets me with, 'When are we going to shul again?' Until half a year ago, this child barely knew a word of Hebrew; he was learning in an Arab kindergarten. Today, he is asking to go to shul!"

The mentoring program plays a crucial role for children who sorely lack a father figure, as they try to integrate into the Jewish world. They have painful memories and bear physical and emotional scars from the abuse they suffered, not to mention the humiliation they were subjected to growing up as Jews in Arab villages.

Though they are very happy to be in Israel, out of reach of abusive fathers, they are torn between two worlds, Jewish and Arab, and face serious identity issues.

Yad L'Achim's mentors are handpicked, combining Torah knowledge with a background in therapy. They provide the children with a shoulder to lean on, meeting their spiritual and psychological needs.

The mentors fill out weekly reports that sum up how their mentees are progressing, some of which were quoted above.

A leading Yad L'Achim official said this week that "these chilling testimonies are an expression of our belief that we must never give up on any Jew and that it is incumbent upon us to continue and persist in all avenues of rescue, in order to fulfill the mitzvah  of Pidyon Shvuyim in the fullest sense."

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