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Know When - and How - to Set Boundaries
Shifra, a social worker from Yad L'Achim, offers parents advice on how they can keep their daughters from making the mistake of entering into relationships with Arab men.

The following interview appeared recently in Maayanei Hayeshua, a weekly Torah publication/newsletter put out by the outreach organization of the same name.

Q: Jewish outreach workers of ours who man a booth in a major city in Israel report seeing young Jewish girls regularly entering cars of Arabs and going with them into Arab villages. Can you help us understand what leads these girls to engage in such dangerous behavior?

A: They are in distress, mostly on an emotional level. Some were victims of abuse as children, others witnessed violence at home between their parents. Many are the "black sheep" of the family and have never felt accepted at home. They grew up feeling that their parents didn't understand them and didn't love them. Unfortunately, such girls have low self-esteem and little confidence.

Many come from a low socio-economic background; all their friends have the latest-generation cell phones and new clothes, while they have nothing. These girls connect up with Arab men who are seeking to "have a good time" in a way that isn't acceptable in traditional Arab society.

Even so, the girls don't understand the danger they're getting into?

In the beginning there's a lot of denial. They tell themselves, "Nothing will happen to me," "He's not like the others," or "Why be racist?" Things are good for them at the start, and they don't think about the long-term. Their Arab suitors pamper them, buy them things, drive them around in fancy cars and make their drab lives much more interesting.

 

What does Yad L'Achim do to counter this?

We give lectures in schools and at events that are geared for girls in distress. We'll usually bring along a girl who has gotten out of a problematic relationship with an Arab and have her tell her personal story. She'll speak about the early stages, when everything looked rosy, and then about the hardships and fears of living in an Arab village. One of our social workers will also discuss the phenomenon and how to avoid it.

Give us an idea of the scope of the problem. How many girls in Israel are involved with Arab men?

At Yad L'Achim we're getting more than 100 calls a month for help. The phenomenon, I'm sorry to say, is only getting worse. And we know that those who are crying out to us for help are just a drop in the bucket.

Tell us about the rescue operations from Arab villages.

These rescues are coordinated with the army, police and welfare agencies. They don't always involve extricating a girl from a remote Arab village. Sometimes it can be a girl or a woman trapped in an apartment in the center of Haifa or Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which have large Arab populations.

There are others who need to be rescued emotionally. We might be speaking of a Jewish woman whose family has cut off all ties with her because of her marriage to an Arab, and who is being beaten. She and her children are suffering emotionally and economically, but she lacks the strength to get up and leave. Even after we rescue her physically, there is still the "beaten woman syndrome," in which she believes she isn't entitled to better, that must be dealt with.

What kind of assistance do the girls need after they are rescued?

We cover rent and basic living necessities for a period of three months to a year. We also underwrite the cost of a lawyer, who is often needed in child custody cases. In many instance, when a woman is facing a particularly tough legal battle to remain free of her Arab husband or hold onto her child, Harav Lifschitz, the chairman of Yad L'Achim, will tell us to hire the top lawyers and worry about the expense later.

Of course, we must also provide emotional support. We help get the children set up in good schools, which at times means speaking to the school to get them to accept a child from such a problematic background. (Sometimes we'll hire a tutor to help the child catch up to his class.) For those who want it, we arrange for an "adoptive family" that keeps in daily contact.

What advice do you have for a mother who has a daughter in her teens and is worried about this problem?

Generally, a girl doesn't wake up one morning and decide to enter into a relationship with an Arab. In a home where there is good communication, where the parents accept the child and love her unconditionally, and where there is no panic surrounding the crises of teen years, the chances of "surprises" are minimal.

You have to pay attention to what's going on with your daughter. There are certain things that should set off an alarm, for instance, if you see that she's disappearing for many hours, with no explanation; or that she's coming home with new clothes, perfume, cell phones or other gadgets.

If the parents do discover that their daughter is involved in this kind of relationship, it is crucial that they not react in an extreme way, with anger. They must not throw her out of the house, because this would send her straight into his arms.

I'm not saying that you don't have to set boundaries, but you have to invest a lot of thought in how to set them, and remember that the time to be tough is not in the heat of the crisis. You must approach your child with lots of love and consult with the professionals.

How do you, the social workers, work with these girls?

The most important thing is to gain the girl's confidence, to accept her as she is. We don't preach about morals and try not to be judgmental. Only then will the girl feel she can be open with us about her doubts and her anger. We give unconditional love, and gradually the girl gains the strength to leave the relationship.

At Yad L'Achim we definitely don't have 9 to 5 days. We are eight social workers dealing with all these girls. Our hotline is open 24 hours a day. These girls have no one else to turn to; in most cases, the families have cut them off and this makes it much more difficult for them to leave their Arab husbands.

Not long ago, I dealt with a girl who had lost her father in tragic circumstances and didn't get along with her mother. She worked as a waitress, where she met an Arab "collaborator" who made her feel good about herself. After half a year, she moved in with him.

Then began the emotional abuse: he followed her and checked on who she spoke to and how she spent every minute of her day. At one point, the abuse turned physical. She became pregnant, at 19, and had a son.

She was helpless. She was afraid that if she filed a complaint with the police the violence at home would get worse. She figured that even if she was being beaten, at least her son had a bed, food and a roof over his head.

When the situation became unbearable, she left him and moved in with her mother. But his threats continued and, once, he waited for her with a knife in the bushes below her mother's apartment. Then she heard from a friend about Yad L'Achim. She turned to us and we helped her escape to a "safe house."

Within two weeks we had rented her an apartment and hired her a lawyer. A day before she left, she filed a police complaint against him and he was arrested and jailed for several months. When he got out of jail, he came looking for her, but the police were involved and she was living securely in a home he couldn't find. The fear was gone.

Women who have been threatened take time till they become confident in themselves and in their surroundings.

I'd like to ask readers who are willing to be an attentive ear to these girls, to provide them with a warm corner, a place to talk, to call Yad L'Achim at 1-800-620-640

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