An Israeli organization is helping forgotten youth to get a new lease on life.

ELEM-Youth in Distress works with teens to develop what executive director Efrat Shaprut calls “social resilience.”

“We have understood that military resilience is not the only important thing for Israeli preservation,” Shaprut said. Youth, she explained, especially the children of recent immigrants, must learn the tools needed to overcome the challenges of living in a new, very different culture.

“We have been seeing an increase in problems, particularly among the children of Ethiopian immigrants,” she pointed out, noting that “the children of immigrants in general and Ethiopians in particular suffer from being caught in the middle of two cultures and belonging to neither.”

Trying to navigate the cultural expectations of their parents’ homeland and their new country “places them in a closed sub-culture that is very angry, hurt and isolated,” Shaprut continued. “Nobody understands them.”

To help connect with the teens, many who have problems with alcohol, drug abuse, and issues with violence, ELEM-Youth in Distress employs a cultural sensitive approach that encourages them to embrace their home culture, seek help in the language most comfortable for them and figure out the next step in their lives.

“We sew each individual a different suit,” Shaprut said, explaining that help may mean finding the youth a rehabilitation center, providing for basic needs, or helping them enroll in a course to get their lives on track.

Every year, ELEM-Youth in Distress reaches out to 20,000 youths from the north to the south, and is currently planning to outreach to the Haredi community, a hard to reach segment of Israeli society that is largely untapped.

“We need to be proactive in locating these kids,” she said. “And we try to focus on the most ‘invisible’ places: the forgotten neighborhoods, the streets at night and areas where the homeless wander.”

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