Aviva is a bright girl who has enjoyed a fine upbringing and
impressive scholastic achievements. She applied to one of the
top girls' high schools in the country, was promptly
accepted, and her parents rejoiced in their good fortune --
their daughter was proving to be a source of pride and joy to
them, and everything was turning out well. Or so they
A few weeks into the new school year, Aviva failed to hand in
one of her assignments on time. As could have been expected,
her teacher reprimanded her. The unpleasant exchange left an
impression on the sensitive girl far deeper than anyone would
have guessed. Whether the teacher's reaction was overly
harsh, or Aviva's response unreasonable, is irrelevant; the
fact is that the confrontation left Aviva with the impression
that the teacher hated her.
Unfortunately, she did not feel she could turn to her parents
for help in dealing with her feelings, for Aviva, by nature
independent, had never before encountered any personal
problems she could not handle herself. Thus, lines of
communication between her and her parents were not open
enough to accommodate frank discussion of her problems.
A growing sense of despair enveloped Aviva, who was
unaccustomed to failure. Why didn't anyone appreciate her?
She made one more attempt to earn her teacher's respect, but
her efforts went unacknowledged. It was then that Aviva felt
something snap. "Fine," she thought, "I'll give her a reason
to hate me!"
Her behavior deteriorated steadily. One by one, her friends
began to exclude her from their activities, and soon they
were avoiding her altogether. "Why doesn't anyone understand
me?" Aviva wondered in desperation.
Before long she was expelled from school, and her life became
a downhill tumble. Her relationship with her parents broke
down completely, and one day she found herself all alone on
the street, without a place she could call home.
Society does not always cater to those who most need love and
care. Her life took one tragic turn after another, and within
a very short time Aviva retained almost nothing of the world
she had left behind.
A few months later, sipping lukewarm coffee in a dingy cafe,
an intriguing sign caught Aviva's eye. Words and phrases -- "
. . . loneliness . . . call us . . . we listen . . . want to
hear from you . . . " -- seemed to jump out at her, and the
unrelenting emptiness that had become the focus of her life
suddenly longed to be touched by a caring, stabilizing force
of human contact. Aviva sighed. "Oh well," she thought. "Why
not? Nothing to lose . . ." She wandered over to a nearby pay
phone and dropped a shekel into the slot.
It was an average Friday morning at the Cohen household.
Sarah was holding an infant in one arm and stir-frying onions
with the other. Her boss had just called her at home to ask
that she fill in for a co-worker who would be arriving late
to the office, so she was now officially on duty. If the
telephone would summon her right now, she was thinking, she
would have to drop everything -- except perhaps the baby --
and focus entirely on the incoming call. "Just a little more
time," Sarah prayed silently, "just a few more minutes, until
the onions are finished!"
Almost on cue, the telephone began to ring. Sarah quickly
turned off the burner, shut the kitchen door, took a deep
breath and willed herself to smile. "Hello," she said
cheerily, with as much warmth as she could muster.
Cautiously, tentatively, Aviva assessed the pleasant voice on
the other end of the line. Was it sincere? Did the woman who
owned that voice really care? Could she possibly understand
what Aviva's life was like? Meanwhile Sarah, clutching the
phone, gave the caller her undivided attention. Sincerely
empathizing with Aviva's pain, at the same time Sarah was
grasping for a thread. She needed somehow to create a
connection between herself and the caller, to make an imprint
in her mind so that Aviva would contact her again in the
Apparently Sarah succeeded in finding that elusive thread,
because Aviva called a second time, and then a third,
exposing for Sarah her festering emotional wounds a little
more with each call. After three weeks of this anonymous
communication, Aviva finally let down her guard, and all her
pent-up agony poured out. The two women -- still complete
strangers -- wept together on the phone as they shared the
pain of Aviva's freshly opened wound. Sarah, still in tears,
asked Aviva if she didn't think it was time they met. Aviva
agreed, and that same day they had a long, face-to-face
Aviva is a fictitious name, of course, but the character is
authentic, and so is her story. The road back has been long
and twisted. The journey has demanded -- of both Aviva and
Sarah -- tremendous patience and courage. Thank G-d, Aviva is
now pulling together the pieces of her shattered life. She is
in touch with her parents once again, and she is studying
graphic design in a religious setting, looking forward to
building a life dedicated to Torah. And who is her friend
* * *
Sarah is a volunteer for Lev Shomea -- P'eylim / Lev
L'Achim's dropout prevention program. She is one of 50
dedicated workers who assist teens from religious
backgrounds, like Aviva, to contend with the crises that
often emerge during this turbulent stage of life. In addition
to the two separate crisis hot lines they operate -- one for
boys, the other for girls -- Lev Shomea provides personal
counselling, emergency housing assistance, temporary foster
care, school placement, assistance to runaway youths,
community education and guidance for parents.
The hot line, operational since 1994, received over 3,600
calls in 1998 -- yes, three thousand, six hundred calls in
twelve months. Although many people remain unaware of the
problem of troubled religious youth, it is one of significant
proportions, and P'eylim / Lev L'Achim's Lev Shomea program
is a unique organization that addresses the urgent needs of
these youths in Israel. Prior to publication of this article,
it received no coverage or public recognition whatsoever.
Rabbi Yechiel Yaakobson, a world-renowned authority on
chinuch and author of the famous pamphlet "Al Techet'u
Bayeled," is the program's mentor. He gives refresher
courses to Lev Shomea's staff on a regular basis, and is on
call 24 hours a day to dispense advice and handle
Teens undergoing personal crisis, place approximately half of
the calls received by the hot line; the other half come from
parents who are at a loss over how to deal with their
teenagers' sudden rebelliousness, and from teachers.
A large portion of the calls are placed during the first and
last weeks of the school semester. Typically, the calls
placed in the beginning of the school year are triggered by
the stress of adjusting to new learning situations. A
significant percentage of these callers are from English-
speaking homes. This is also the time when parents of
children with behavioral problems or learning disabilities
call for assistance and guidance.
The calls that come in toward the end of the school year are
often sparked by conflicts between teens and their parents
who do not see eye to eye about plans for the future.
Some callers need only a few minutes of sympathetic
listening, and a kind word of encouragement, but the average
phone session lasts at least 45 minutes and often continues
for an hour or two. Most youths need a series of telephone
sessions, followed by personal meetings and discussions.
The youths who contact Lev Shomea generally fall into one of
three categories: those experiencing some form of difficulty,
but who have not been expelled from school; those who were
expelled from school, but who are now making an effort to
conform to the expectations of parents and teachers; and
those who no longer live at home or attend school (such as
Aviva). Approximately two-thirds of the callers fit into the
first two groups, while the remaining third fit into the last
Lev Shomea's male staff members are full-time Torah scholars
who have undergone an initial training program and attend
monthly refresher courses while gaining on-the-job training.
Some of them are mashgichim in well-known yeshivos,
who devote evenings to answering calls for Lev Shomea. The
most important traits that Lev Shomea organizers look for in
volunteers are: open-mindedness, personal warmth, genuine
concern for the well-being of others, and the ability to
Youths who call the hotline are told from the start that they
have the right to remain anonymous for as long as they wish.
They are given two firm guarantees: all details pertaining to
the caller's identity will remain absolutely confidential;
and the youth's parents and teachers will not be contacted
without the youth's express consent. Only when a caller
agrees that his parents be involved do counselors begin the
difficult work of mending a severed relationship.
When speaking with a first-time caller, the short-term
objective is to create a good, positive connection with the
youth, in order to increase the chances that he or she will
call again in the future. Once a relationship of mutual trust
has been established, personal counselling sessions are
arranged. The long-term objective is to assist youths in
resolving their inner turmoil, guiding them back to a Torah
way of life.
Lev Shomea's personnel director, Rabbi Boruch Tzvi Greenbaum,
points out that many of the "problematic children" who are
brought in for counselling are found to be suffering from an
undiagnosed learning disability or emotional disorder.
Counselors are trained to identify the symptoms of such
disorders and refer callers to qualified professionals. In
cases of extreme need, Lev L'Achim subsidizes the high costs
of professional treatment.
In the course of their work, hot line operators come in
contact with children who have been subjected to repeated
physical or emotional abuse at the hands of parents or other
relatives. In many ways, Lev Shomea resembles a social
welfare agency, without the budgetary allowances that are
usually allotted to such institutions.
Lev L'Achim's greatest worry in this area is religious
runaways -- a bewildering Pandora's box of negative
influences lies in wait for them on the streets. One of the
most insidious of these is deceptively named "Hillel," a
leftist-sponsored organization dedicated exclusively to
luring religious youths away from the path of Torah. Its
volunteers stalk the streets of Israel's main religious
centers in search of religious runaways, offering them free
room and board on a non- religious kibbutz of their
In many instances, the decisive factor that determines
whether a runaway will return to the yeshiva or end up in a
kibbutz is simply who manages to find him first -- Lev
L'Achim's Lev Shomea, or Hillel. The battlegrounds of this
war between the powers of Good and the powers of Evil are,
ironically, the ostensibly safe streets of Yerushalayim and
That Lev Shomea's work is effective cannot be denied. In
1997, for example, when residents of the predominantly
religious Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot and Har Nof
witnessed a chilling phenomenon -- gangs of religious
hoodlums began to roam the streets -- Rabbi E. M., a member
of Lev Shomea's "commando unit" (the Street Outreach Team),
was assigned the mission of restoring these youths to their
Together with a partner, Rabbi M. walked the streets of Ramot
and Har Nof day after day and befriended the gang members,
sharing with them copious packages of chocolate, cigarettes
and cans of Coca-Cola. Once in a while he would also throw in
an occasional short vort on the weekly parsha.
The boys enjoyed Rabbi M.'s company so much that they --
of their own accord -- suggested that he begin teaching them
a little Torah every week. " . . . But just a little!" the
gang's leader stressed, "like no more than five minutes . . .
maybe ten, max!"
This turnabout occurred a year ago; today, 22 boys in Ramot
and 15 in Har Nof regularly attend weekly one-hour shiurim
on the parsha, delivered by Rabbi M. or by one of
his colleagues. The majority of the boys are now attending
remedial institutions that offer a combination of Torah study
and vocational training. Lev L'Achim's work continues with
those boys who are not yet ready to make such a
Despite incredible achievements, Lev Shomea's ability to
respond to the overwhelming need still lags behind the demand
for its services. It is simply incapable of assisting all
those who seek help. The organization lacks the basic
resources that are crucial to maintaining its effectiveness,
such as funds to hire additional staff and to pay foster
families who accommodate homeless youths.
We cannot afford to neglect the issue of religious dropouts.
Unless the religious community stands up in support of
programs such as Lev L'Achim's Lev Shomea, we stand to lose
thousands of neshomos in a very short time. We are not
talking here about kiruv rechokim, but kiruv
kerovim -- these are our boys and girls, who were brought
up in our own community. If we don't help them, who will?
Consider this: Lev Shomea's hot line number rang over 3,600
times last year alone -- three thousand and six hundred calls
for help reached Lev Shomea volunteers. Can you imagine what
would have happened if no one had been there to answer the
Warning Signals that Indicate a Child May Require Outside
1. Abrupt changes in personality
2. Eating disturbances; significant change in weight
3. Sleeping disturbances
4. Inability to tolerate frustration
5. Withdrawal or rebelliousness
6. Inability or unwillingness to communicate
7. Promiscuous behavior
8. Neglecting personal appearance
9. Theft and / or vandalism
11. Extended periods of boredom
12. Unusually prolonged grief reaction
14. Neglect of academic work
16. Difficulty in concentrating
17. Family disruption, especially divorce
18. Frequent absences from home
Family Communication Tips|
1. Set aside focused time to talk with your child every
2. Don't expect your family to read your mind; be specific
about your expectations and requests.
3. Have patience -- good communication takes time and
4. Consider all available options before making any final
5. Ask for input from all family members.
6. Be willing to compromise on issues that are not
7. Spend time together involved in enjoyable activities once
in a while.