Louis Berlin is a Wexner Heritage alumnus from Miami Beach who is involved in a variety of Jewish social action causes. He can be reached at louisberlin@comcast.net.

This is the season to sit and pray. Then, it is up to us to act, to make the prayers reality.

Last year, about 40,000 children in Israel were victims of abuse, generally at the hands of parents or relatives. We can cut this number down to less than 1,000, if we act.

Here is what we can do, as a community:

Education: ELI is the central address in Israel for child abuse prevention and treatment. But treatment comes first, because of budgetary considerations. For very little money, ELI can put excellent, proven prevention in programs in place, teaching teachers and social workers how to deal with suspected abuse. But with 6,000 children being treated yearly, and a budget of less than $2 million, the prevention part of their work is majorly underfunded.

Background: Abuse is generally reported to the police, municipal social services departments, or a hotline, which is staffed by ELI, a non-profit organization. Child abuse in Israel is different than in most other countries, in that twenty percent of the abuse is reported by the perpetrators, who are seeking to get help so they can stop abusing their children. Because of their success in working with these self- reporting abusers, ELI has been able to work with the police to make sure that those who cooperate in treatment are allowed to before they are forced to face the criminal justice system, sometimes resulting in a successful turn around for the lives of the children and their families. Child abuse is also different in Israel because it is a nation of recent immigrants, from a multitude of cultures. Abuse presents itself differently in response to different pressures in each community. Preventive measures and treatment need to be tailored according to the culture of each community, and training for effective reporting has to reflect the way each culture relates to government authority. Volunteers need to come from a broad cross-section of the population, and be cross-trained for cultural sensitivity.

Volunteer recruitment: Because of the myth that child abuse does not happen in Jewish homes, and because Israel as a State has been around for only sixty years, awareness and treatment of child abuse, and educational efforts to spot and prevent child abuse, is a recent phenomenon, and programs that exist in older countries are not yet in place.

Notably, the Guardian Ad Litem program does not yet exist in Israel. Wildly successful in the United States, the GAL programs (also called CASA—Court Appointed Special Advocates, in some jurisdictions) which have been active in the U.S. for thirty years, has 64,000 volunteers, and reaches 300,000 children. It does not yet exist in Israel. The GAL Program was created by a judge, who realized that he needed volunteers in the community to report back to him how each child was doing in the foster care system.

The child welfare system in the United States is severely under funded, with low-paid and minimally trained case workers being regularly assigned high case loads (more than 30 children) to find and monitor placement in a short supply of foster homes and institutions, get children to overwhelmed therapists, and put together case plans to either get the children reunited with re-educated parents, or quickly into another permanent placement that will support their successful nurturing and growth until they turn 18. Naturally, a huge percentage of the children fall by the wayside. The GAL program, by assigning one volunteer to a very small number of cases, often one at a time, is extremely successful in getting successful volunteer adults to oversee a child’s progress through the system, with a much higher likelihood of a successful outcome for a child with a GAL advocate than for one without.

In Israel, where case workers can have over 100 cases simultaneously, the need for something similar to a GAL program, is great. The key will be setting up pilot programs, and getting the word out to potential volunteers. With ELI, the primary role for us in America is to organize financial support. For Israeli CASA, the primary role will be seed money, and then organizational expertise, and utilizing our networks in Israel. National CASA in the United States has undertaken initial exploratory steps to determine how best to assist in creating a program in Israel. Two judges have expressed a high level of interest in starting a CASA program in their courtrooms. The Derech Elokim Fund for Jewish Values, headed by Louis Berlin, is willing to play a role in raising funds for a pilot project. (The Fund also actively supports and promotes ELI, which maintains 5 emergency shelters, a safe house, mobile therapy units, and trains professionals in communities, and is supported by a small network of donors in Israel, an even smaller group in the U.S., and some government funding through the social services system.)

If you are interested in being a part of the solution to their problem, whether in setting up local chapters of ELI, raise awareness and support, or help create a CASA program in Israel, please contact me.

Child abuse in Israel is a treatable, preventable, solvable problem, if we make the needs and the solutions known.