Avivit is a young woman, only 27 years old, with a big heart and a unique life story. This interview was different from the others, since we already know each other. Avivit is the home-mother at the Orr Shalom Organization’s family group home, which my family and I “adopted” a few years ago, and is very close to my heart.
I invited Avivit for an interview at my home. I was looking forward to this opportunity to get to know her more intimately. Throughout the interview, I could picture the children she was raising; children I know well.
“I grew up in a religious household. Before graduating High School, I looked for a place to volunteer for my National Service. When I was young, my uncle and aunt were parents of a group home. I used to visit them a lot and I’m still in touch with some of the children who they helped raise. Although the time I spent there left a remarkable impression on me, I wasn’t leaning towards being a volunteer there. I was interested in the emergency foster care program, but I wasn’t accepted. However, as soon as I went to the interview in the family group I fell in love with it and it became clear that this is where I’m going to be.
I worked at the family group home for about a year, I lived in an apartment with other National Service girls as roommates. From the very beginning, I put my heart and soul into my work, staying with the children long past the official working hours.
When Orr Shalom was searching for house parents for one of their therapeutic family group homes for boys, they offered me the job. I didn’t know how to react to this surprising offer, since I was only 19. They explained that over the previous months, I did so much to stabilize the home I was working at, that they felt they could rely on me and believe I’m the right person for the job. That was a huge compliment, which meant a lot to me. This occurred just after I advised them that I wasn’t going to continue one additional year of National Service, because I felt I was needed at home; I therefore accepted the job for a trial period.”
“When I arrived at the group home, the children desperately needed a stable figure to give them a sense of continuity and security. It didn’t take long for things to improve after my arrival. With each passing week, the home environment was calmer, and the children began to trust me. At the time, I was excited about the job itself. I now realize that I made a courageous decision and must assume that back then, I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the commitment I agreed to.
It’s been eight years since then, and I still find myself questioning what I was doing here, especially throughout stressful and challenging times. The National Service girls who worked with me were only a year younger than me, and I felt I was shouldering a colossal responsibility. As I said, I was only 19, and as part of my job duties, I went to school parent meetings for 15-year-olds. When the CEO of Orr Shalom scheduled a visit to the group home, the person who hired me for the position was worried about the reaction she would have once she realizes how young I am.
When I started this position, the people close to me felt apprehensive and somewhat uneasy. My family couldn’t understand why I chose to take this huge responsibility at such a young age, and worried that I would have no time for myself. My mother was concerned that I wouldn’t have the strength to see it through, and as a result, decided not to have children of my own in the future. As for me, I felt I couldn’t ask for anything better – what could I possibly wish for more than leading such a full and meaningful life?
Today, my friends agree I’m lucky to be doing something I love. They know the children and visit us often. The family home is an integral part of who I am.”
“I have a challenging and complex family story. We are eight siblings total, two of my brothers are from my father’s first marriage, and the other six are from my parents' marriage. I’m one of the middle children. My parents divorced, and about a year later my mother remarried. My father became ill, and I took on the parental role for my younger brothers. When my youngest brother went through a difficult period, I took care of him, and I was only in the ninth grade.
Coping with challenges
One of the children in the family foster home has a complex life story with many unresolved issues, and he touched my heart in a special way. I fought for him for years, even though other staff members felt that he didn’t belong at this home. I knew that he needed care and protection. The other children that were there at the time were high-functioning, and fairly independent, but he fell behind. He was frustrated with the rules and environment in the home. Staff members complained his presence was detrimental, but I couldn’t accept that. At a certain point, I understood that it was time to stop fighting, and only once I realized that we were doing more harm than good, I agreed to let go. I remember the day I decided he should leave as one of the most difficult in my life. Up until that point, I was certain that we could help any child who came to us, and that no obstacle was too big for us to overcome. The boy went to a boarding house, and unfortunately that too didn’t work out. The Welfare Department gave up, and he eventually left the school and is now living with his biological mother. He is still one of my favorite children; he comes to see us about once a month, and when something important is happening in his life, he calls to tell me about it and asks for my advice.
I remember that when I first arrived at the family group home, one of the children was in a difficult emotional state and had a difficult time functioning. He was suspicious, he hid things, and wouldn’t let anyone touch him. He was sad, violent, and isolated at school. He carried a heavy burden on his shoulders, and was extremely lonely. At one of our staff meetings, we had to ask ourselves if his emotional void was too great to ever be filled. If that was the case, I feared there was no hope for his future. Today he’s a miracle – an amazing child; an outstanding student who has friends and is a counselor in a youth movement. He sings, composes and writes music, and nothing fills me with greater happiness. We were at the Welfare Board recently, and he proudly spoke about his personal development and the kind of person he aspires to become. I looked at him and thought how worthwhile the difficult road was. It is thanks to his success that I don’t hesitate to fight for each new child who comes to the home, regardless of how challenging they or their circumstances may be. I know there is no such thing as hopeless.
There was another child in the family group home I always felt a special attachment to, as if he were my own biological son. I remember looking at him and thinking that I could never love any biological children I may have in the future more than I love him. Time will tell what mother I will be to my biological children, and whether I’ll be able to let go of the children in the home.”
Behind The scenes
“When I was 23, I attended a meeting with the school principal of one of the children in the home. While I was waiting in the secretary’s office, students were running in the corridor. I’ll never forget how the principal angrily opened the door to his room and shouted at everyone to go back to their classrooms. He then directed his anger at me, mistakenly identifying me as one of his students. It was a comic moment, but also one which reflected how young I was and the responsibility I was carrying at this stage of my life.
That day, I accompanied another child to a doctor visit, and someone asked me if this handsome-looking child was my eldest. In the course of one day, I was thought to be both a high school student and the mother of an eight-year-old.”
“I keep in close touch with those children once they turn 18 and leave the group home. One of them comes to visit twice a week, and we chat by phone daily. He is one of the people most present in my life. On my birthday, he told me that he couldn’t see himself doing anything in his life without coming to me for advice, giving me a sense of meaning and true happiness, further cementing that I’m in the right place. He is currently studying for a degree in education, is married, and has two children.
The Welfare Department invests a lot of money and resources in young children, but this ends at 18, which is entirely too early. For this reason, Orr Shalom opened an assistance program in all areas of life for young adults aged 18 to 27. Understanding this makes it important for me to always guide them and be there for them. We send food boxes to some of our graduates on holidays, and accompany them on errands and doctor appointments. The family group home remains a home for all the kids who lived here, graduated and left. I currently have the same number of graduates as children living in the home.”
“Ever since I can remember, it was important for me to lead a meaningful life. My work was a conscious choice for which I paid a personal price. For years I believed that if it were not for the group home, my life would be meaningless, and that was a source of stress. That was part of my maturing, and I no longer feel that way.
The group home instilled me with confidence that there is hope, that things can be rectified, that it’s possible to grow, and that even when things are difficult you can keep going. I believe that each child is a world unto themselves, and the challenge is to provide each one with what they need in order to grow.
As a little girl, I contemplated the right and wrong ways of childrearing, and I grew up to be a fighter for justice.
I’m currently studying for my degree in social work. I understand that I also need to develop. It took me a long time to let go, to rely on other staff members to take care of the children while I study. I am self-reliant, and just recently taught myself to rely on others; the children have grown up and the home is stable. This changed something in my foster parenting, which proved positive both for me and for the home. When I began my studies, I realized I am a mature person with significant life experience. In class, I see the intersections between theory and life. I know I benefited from the group home, and vice versa. The group home gave me a different perspective on life, and for that I feel very lucky.
As the years go by, my admiration and love for the kids grows stronger. I have an amazing group of children, and I find myself looking at them and feeling elated time and time again.
In March 2022, nine years after she began her journey at the family group home, and a year after our interview, Avivit left the home, and is now in a committed relationship for the first time in her life, embarking on a new independent path.
For Avivit, a remarkably young, altruistic woman, who since the age of 18 raised at least 10 boys at a time, I chose to create a piece of silver jewelry resembling a tree branch growing around her neck, allowing its buds to grow, becoming flowers and then fruit. Each flower bud symbolizes a child, and each makes its way along its own long, complex and difficult path. The branch grows, develops and matures, just like children.
Photo: Zohar Ron