Anyone who meets 32-year-old Vadim Lovv would be shocked to discover his traumatic past. Lovv, a happily married university student spends his free time organizing food drives and advocating for Emunah Israel, the organization which served as his lifeline during his darkest hours.
“I had a very violent and traumatic childhood,” explained Lovv.
Although Lovv does not have many memories of his parents, the knowledge that his father murdered his mother remains at the forefront of his consciousness. After the authorities removed him from his home, Lovv spent time with various relatives and in numerous foster homes and orphanages. At 13, he was relocated to Emunah Israel’s Sarah Herzog Children’s Center, which turned his life around.
The Hebrew word emunah does, afterall, mean faith or belief, said Shlomo Kessel, director of World Emunah, the international arm of Emunah Israel.
Kessel said he has no shortage of stories “equally as heartbreaking as Vadim’s.” However, Kessel told Breaking Israel News that rather than focusing on the tragic pasts of the organization’s service recipients, his team instead focuses on the future of their children who fill their daycare centers, children’s homes and youth villages.
Established in 1935, Emunah Israel was founded to provide support for Israel’s most vulnerable. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Emunah Israel focused its efforts on providing care and education for new immigrants with an emphasis on supplying housing and social services for young children.
In the years following Israel’s independence, the country’s population increased exponentially with the arrival of additional Jewish immigrants and refugees from around the world. The staff and volunteers of Emunah Israel took it upon themselves to help settle the new immigrants, many of whom arrived in the country with little or no money and who were often in poor health.
Nearly 85 years later, Emunah Israel continues to uphold its original vision, said Kessel. Although today’s Israel is the Startup Nation and vastly more advanced than it was 70 years ago, there are still several pockets of society that continue to struggle. Emunah Israel strives to reach each of those pockets in their time, from offering support to at-risk children and youth, working to improve the status of women in Israeli society, managing an accessible college of arts and technology, or heavily subsidizing family counselling and therapy centers across the country.
Emunah Israel’s five children’s homes in Afula, Bnei Brak, Netanya, Even Shmuel and Pardes Hanna provide a safe and nurturing haven for Israeli children who have been removed from their homes. The youth, ages 5 to 18, come from homes in which they experienced some form of abuse, neglect or dysfunction. Round-the-clock staff provide the children with physical, emotional, educational and therapeutic support to help them achieve success and become fully functional and contributing members of Israeli society.
It is “emotional” work, said Kessel, who has been with the organization for 33 years.
“We take these children from the most abysmal situations, as traumatized and angry individuals, and then turn them into success stories,” Kessel said.
What constitutes success?
Success can be measured in a variety of ways. For children who come from abusive homes, success can mean sleeping through the night without nightmares and learning to trust in other children and adults. Another marker of success for Emunah Israel children is participation in a national service program or the enlistment in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) upon graduation.
“Our army and national service recruitment is more than 90 percent,” said Kessel. “The national average is about 68 percent.”
The warm environment at Emunah Israel’s children’s centers is designed to make children feel loved. Kessel quoted development psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner’s principle that “every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her,” as one of his driving principles, and one that is played out through the Emunah Israel’s work.
“When I arrived at Emunah Israel’s Sarah Herzog Children’s Center, it was the first time that I was able to call somewhere home,” Lovv said. “As a student at Emunah Israel, I received help in my education and schooling, financial support, food, clothing - everything I needed. I had been living with my grandmother, my three siblings and four other cousins in a small apartment and we didn’t have food.”
Upon completing high-school, Lovv enlisted in the Nachshon battalion in the IDF. Emunah Israel prides itself on continuing to support its students beyond highschool and continues to offer them support through their army service, post-secondary education and into their adult life.
“During the process of enlisting in the army, meetings with army personnel and all of my military ceremonies I was accompanied by Shlomo Kessel and other staff of Emunah Israel. They were with me every step of the way, supporting me in place of my parents,” said Lovv.
For the past six years, Lovv has organized a food drive leading up to Passover to ensure that the students of Emunah Israel and their families receive food for the holiday.
“I gather funds from friends, friends of friends, and everyone who is interested in helping,” Lovv said. “My goal is to give back to the place I came from and to give to the children who are studying in the same school where I studied… Helping Emunah Israel is something that sits deeply in my heart.”
Kessel said being in touch with the graduates and witnessing their successes is one of the most fulfilling aspects of his job.
“Someone once asked me when do we stop giving to the children under our care?” Kessel said. “I then asked him - when does he stop giving to his own children?
“At Emunah Israel, we have a responsibility to change a child’s perception of the world. We must teach these traumatized children not to fear the world and to show them that the world can be a good place.”