100+ Israeli Police Investigators Meet Beit Ruth for a Tu B’Shvat Celebration of Learning and Growing
February 2019 • by Karen Gold Anisfeld, Volunteer
The girls and staff at Beit Ruth Village hosted the Investigative Unit of the Israeli Police Force to celebrate Tu B’Shvat – the New Year of the Trees (predecessor of Arbor Day), when it is traditional to plant trees in Israel during the rainy season. More than 100 officers arrived from all over Israel to learn about the important work at Beit Ruth, to tour the facility, and to plant a green fence of Bougainvillea with the 50 at-risk girls who live and learn at Beit Ruth.
Meeting to Change Stigmas About the Police Force
The visit of the Investigative Unit of the Israeli Police Force to Beit Ruth on Tu B’Shvat was very significant, as it provided an opportunity for the police officers and the girls to meet eye-to-eye for a festive, positive occasion, and to build a tangible reminder that the police force is a partner in creating a safe, beautiful environment for these girls.
In many cases, the last meeting the girls had with police investigators was when they were physically extracted from their homes by court order, following physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse at the hands of one or more family members. Or, it may have been when girls were arrested and interrogated after getting involved with seedy elements in society. Regardless of when they last met, the interaction left most of the girls with a negative attitude toward the police – a force intent on protecting public safety...including the safety of these girls who were extracted from harm’s way.
The event was anything but another group visit at the Village. This was clear by the level of excitement among the staff and girls at Beit Ruth, as the white cars with police license plates parked one-by-one and officers began to flood the campus with a sea of blue uniforms.
Interestingly, it appeared that women comprised nearly half of the guests…hopefully an inspiration to the girls at Beit Ruth.
Messages of Hope
The visit began with a program of remarks by the staff of Beit Ruth and Chief of Staff Meir-Dov Berkowitz (“Berko”), Head of the Youth and Family Department, Israel Police.
Berko is an intelligent, articulate and kind-hearted man, with responsibility, understanding and caring in his eyes. His presentation touched the professionalism of the police force and the importance of the work at Beit Ruth, as well as Tu B’Shvat history and philosophy.
He emphasized to all in attendance that Ronit Lev-Ari, Professional Counselor and Project Manager at Beit Ruth, is one of the first people who raised awareness of the issue of violence against women in Israel.
Iris Twerski, Managing Director of Beit Ruth, verbally saluted the guests, saying it is the realization of a dream to have the police force here. She explained that the green landscaping is part of the therapy. “The Bougainvillea will grow, will be beautiful and will remind us of our cooperation with the police force,” she said. Iris promised to ensure it grows in abundance. And, to the credit of Beit Ruth, she noted that of the 211 girls who have spent time at Beit Ruth, 202 have been successful in rejoining society – that’s a 96% success rate!
Mor Ben Simchon Lipin, an expert in treating trauma and the Beit Ruth Village Manager, placed the event in context: “All of the girls here were abused in their homes…they have all had contact with the police, whether as protectors or pursuers.” She explained that this is an important meeting for the girls and officers in uniform to meet each other.
Ronit made the audience aware of her connection to everyone in the room. Having studied criminology, she worked closely with the police force while doing research on violence against women and children during her Ph.D. From her intimate knowledge, she credits the Israeli police force as being one of the most advanced in the world. She discussed the devastating trauma of the girls at Beit Ruth, who struggle throughout their lives to overcome their abuse and who choose to move past it, and she discussed the circle of violence that is often perpetuated by victims. “Here, we help the girls find their inner star, to strengthen the girls within an imposed environment.”
A Story of Heartbreak and Inspiration
Anna (alias), 18, was introduced to the officers by Ronit by mentioning that Anna has an interest in working for the police force following completion of her matriculations, “to help other young people, the way the police have helped her,” Anna said.
To help her overcome her stage fright, Ronit interviewed Anna, asking her very personal questions about her upbringing and the trauma she endured. Anna very articulately recounted her first memories from the age of only 2, when she witnessed her drunken father repeatedly inflict physical and emotional wounds on her mother…then on her. She told how the social services rescued mother and daughter, but that after 4 months, they were returned to a life of hell. By the age of 6, she begged the courts to suspend her visits with her father, but they continued for 2 more years. There was not a dry eye in the room as she told the story of a childhood destroyed by alcohol, violence, pain and suffering.
Bravely, Anna shared how she arrived at Beit Ruth at the rebellious age of 15, after getting involved with a man twice her age…an Arab drug dealer who first told her how to dress…then began the abuse. She was arrested and interviewed by a police investigator who specializes in handling juveniles; the court gave her a choice to go to jail or to Beit Ruth.
Anna’s story is shocking – even inconsistent with her poise in sharing her life story with a room of uniformed officers (save the nervous bouncing of her crossed leg), listening to her ability to vividly recreate the events of interest to her audience, and sharing her hope for the future. Indeed, she is a success story (the police force would be lucky to have her on their team).
P.S. Anna shared that she has been in a healthy relationship for the past six months.
The program concluded with vocal performances by two of the girls at Beit Ruth, who shared their talent, youthful energy and the passion of adolescent girls finding their way from their darkness into the limelight.
Author’s note: It was a privilege for me to attend the event and to plant a 4-year-old clementine tree in memory of my father, Sanford B. Gold, of blessed memory, who passed away on Tu B’Shvat 5775/2015. I could not think of a more appropriate place to plant roots for a strong tree to grow and bear nourishing fruit.