Yemin Orde Youth Village welcomes children from France, North Africa, Iran, India, Yemen, Eastern Europe and South America. Mostly struggling teens, the youth at Yemin Orde have all suffered trauma in their young lives from isolation and neglect, abandonment, or extreme poverty. At Yemin Orde, they find a home, a family and a future.
2014 World of Children Alumni Honoree Chaim Peri has served as an educator and director of the Village for more than three decades. Over the years, Chaim’s role has been that of friend and parent to many youth for whom the ideas of “parent” and “home” have only been associated with pain and anger. Sammy was one such teenager.
Before he found his way to Yemin Orde, Sammy grew up without a father and a dysfunctional mother. One day, a counselor in the Village suspected Sammy of stealing. Sammy felt himself unfairly accused and, in an effort to clear his name, sought an audience with Chaim.
In principle, Chaim makes himself as available to the youth as possible. He even has an understanding with the teenagers that they can interrupt meetings by throwing pebbles at his offices’ back windows if they needed to speak with him urgently.
The day Sammy needed him though, Chaim was at meetings outside the village and Sammy could not find him. That night, when Chaim was sitting at home with his family, the house was suddenly filled with tremendous thumping sounds from the roof. “We jumped up thinking we were under attack,” Chaim remembers. “As it turned out, Sammy was throwing not pebbles, but fist-sized rocks at my roof!”
Sammy began yelling. “My father abandoned me! My mother abandoned me! And now you are abandoning me!” he screamed outside Chaim’s doors.
In that moment, “One part of me wanted to write this young man off as crazy, as pathological, as abnormal,” he said. “But I pushed aside that impulse. I tried to understand Sammy’s inner logic. The more I thought about it, the more I was able to see things from his perspective.
“The reality of his life was that he had been virtually abandoned by the generation that brought him into the world.
“His desire to hold me accountable meant that I had succeeded in becoming a parental figure to him. I had become the representative of the older generation, and in that sense, I was responsible. It was not he who was abnormal and pathological; it was the situation and the world into which he had been born.”
Eventually, Sammy’s anger was spent and he ran off into the woods. Chaim waited for him to come back and approach him. When he did, Chaim could see that Sammy expected him to be enraged by his behavior. When Chaim greeted him without anger, Sammy realized that he had been understood, and truly seen.
“From then on, he felt a different kind of trust in me,” Chaim remembers. “His extreme action and my response to it raised our bond to another level, exemplifying the principle that, without exception, even the worst crises are opportunities for new beginnings.”
From that day, Sammy began to heal. Several years later, after Sammy’s mandatory tour of service with the Israeli army, he returned to the small town in northern Israel where his grandmother still lived. His grandmother was the only blood relation who had ever shown Sammy love and care and he was determined to make her proud.
He decided to become a member of the fire department, with hopes of becoming the best firefighter in the town. The only problem was an army record from a fight a young man had provoked by talking about Sammy’s mother – a still open wound for Sammy. Sammy asked Chaim for help and Chaim was able to work through his various networks to get the President of Israel, who holds the power to grant amnesties and pardons, to expunge Sammy’s record. Sammy was able to enter the fire department and begin his new career.
One day, he called Chaim. “I just saved my first lives,” he said. There had been a car accident on the highway outside of town, and he had made it to the scene very quickly. He had cut through the smashed car door and pulled out the two passengers just before the car exploded.
This young man, once so deeply wounded by parental absence, had found a friend and advocate whose presence helped to turn his life around. Now he himself was saving lives. He closed his story by telling Chaim –
“I’m dedicating this rescue to you.”