ח' סיון התשע"ח

Zionism: The Cry of the Children in Palestine

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Author: Henrietta Szold

To the Executive of the Vaad Leumi, Jerusalem, by Henrietta Szold, on September 13th, 1936.

I desire to express my appreciation to the Vaad Leumi for the plan graciously conceived by it of establishing a fund for a social service purpose in honour of the seventy-fifth anniversary of my birthday, and also to those who lent their effective aid in the execution of the plan, which eventuated in the collection of a substantial sum. The names of those who co-operated with you are not known to me, nor the names of the contributors to the fund. I must, therefore, leave it to you to transmit the expression of my gratitude to them.
Earnest consideration has led me to the conclusion, that among the social service problems occupying us in the Palestine, I should like to see this fine give in my honour devoted to the welfare of the child and the youth…
The universal truism takes on vivid colouring in a country of immigration, and in an immigration country par excellence like Jewish Palestine-in-the-building the welfare of the child must be regarded as a consuming, ever-present task. Jewish Palestine is faced with the unique duty of effecting a double synthesis, the synthesis between the Jewish past and the Jewish present, and the synthesis , among the fragments, the jetsam and flotsam, of World Jewry that make up "the gathering of the exiles". The Jewish groups which partly seep, partly are catapulted into Palestine from the Asiatic East must make the painful adjustment of static habits and the psychology of a past epoch to advanced modern standards coupled with a hectic progressiveness that brooks no delay. The process hews a wide cleft between parents left behind in the race and the children oblivious of the pangs of adjustment. They, the parents and their children, do not speak the same language; they have different behaviour standards; they stand opposed to each other not only with the traditional antagonism of fathers and sons, there is the added virus injected by, the total lack of comprehension on the side of the bewildered elders and lack of filial reverence on the side of the youngsters. Parental authority is lost in the shuffle, and long unutilized national talents among the Yemenites, the Persians, the Bokharans, among all the fragments coming together to form a reconstituted body, continue to lie dormant, unexploited.
There is another circumstance that cannot be left out of account in summing up the pedagogic influences and difficulties entering into an estimate of the intellectual and moral cost of solving the child problem in Jewish Palestine. The builders of the Jewish National Home while erecting it are standing shoulder to shoulder with a group characterized for the present by a lower standard of living. Until it is elevated by the introduction of compulsory education and other social legislation touching the control and training of the child, meticulous care must be exercised against allowing the lower standard to be taken, stealthily or openly, as the criterion of conduct and attainments.
The background from which a Jewish system of child and youth care disengages itself is highly diversified ancient achievements, ideals, and obligations, checkered fortunes in widely-separated localities in the course of epochs, old and new associations of comprehensive scope, recent attachments and connections, modern national and social aspirations. Component parts so varied and the attitudes that cement them forbid the belief that a single creative act can evolve a valid system. The situation and the problem call for eternal vigilance and unremitting action.
To imply that Jewish Palestine is not alive to the obligations towards its young generations would be a falsification of fact. One has but to scan the list of organizations, societies, and undertakings on behalf of the child and the youth existing in Palestine, to realize the interest in child care pervading the community and the sense of responsibility towards the child that activates its leaders and workers. Or, one has but to remember, that from the earliest Bilu days through all the phases of fifty years of pioneering and under the most trying ordeals a Jewish school system was maintained, to be forced to admit that the Jewish public conscience on the subject was always alert in Palestine. Or, again, one has but to hear, that in the year 1935-1936, the Jews of Palestine, either in the form of tuition fees or in the form of taxes, paid over LP. 300,000 for education, to conclude that there is no need to labour the point, that child care is recognized as a paramount duty in Jewish Palestine.
And Yet! - there is another series of facts which clamor for a hearing. For example, during the last four years the Jewish community has not been allowed to forget for a moment, that it has an affrighting and growing juvenile delinquent problem. In Jerusalem alone, in the course of four years, 232 youth offenders were apprehended by the police and found guilty before court of misdemeanors of varying degrees of gravity. The causes of those behavior manifestations are equally varied- poverty carrying with it inadequate and crowded housing, mental and psychic defects, evil associations and the temptations of the street, absence of leisure hours occupation under supervision, insufficient schooling, lack of training due for the practical tasks of life, degrading home influenced due to the neglect of irresponsible parents or to inharmonious relations between the parents. The interpretation of these causes singly and collectively is that in Palestine, as everywhere else in the worked, the percentage of crime due to actual criminal instincts in the young in the pre-adolescent period is comparatively small. The sin lies upon society, which permits the preva lence of anti-social conditions. The so-called offenders and delinquents are in fact patients and physically warped by the circumstances of their life, or they may be unfortunates afflicted with congenital weaknesses. In the former category of cases there would be hope of cure if they were redeemed, from their surroundings; in the latter there would be hope of at least a degree of reclamation if they were placed under such special instructed care as would supply the training calculated to evoke latent powers counteracting or overcoming deficiencies.
The foremost instrumentality to these ends is family welfare work conducted on a case-work basis. From it the broadest platform can be projected for the successful application of methods of child care. It probes and diagnoses and treats and uncovers and paralyses the root causes of delinquency; and seeks out the suitable opportunities for cure and reclamation. Family welfare work has been accepted und the constitution of the Knesset Israel, the organized Jewish Community of Palestine, as one of the tasks of every Local Community, the centre around which operate all other local social undertakings and the regulator of the institutions that serve the underprivileged. In the course of the last five years, social service bureaus for family welfare work, with trained workers, assisted by bands of volunteers in charge, have been established in as many as eighteen localities. If they are not yet up to the mark, it is because the general organization of the communities has not advanced to the point at which taxation supplemented by freewill contributions yields the considerable sums required by the heritage from the past of an unusually heavy load of chronic cases and by the specific task of an exacting immigrants' service.
In respect of closed institutions, Palestine has a much completer record than in extra-mural social work. There are orphanages, children's villages, day nurseries, babies' hospitals, which yet fall far short of meeting the requirements of the underprivileged, the defective, the feebleminded, the psychopathic, the neglected, the misfit and maladjusted, the exposed young girl, the delinquent. Latterly a few such institutions have been established.
The Municipality of Tel-Aviv has blazed the way by setting up Homes for the neglected child, while there and elsewhere in the country individuals on their own responsibility and with their private means have created limited opportunities for the placement of children in need of specialized care. The central bureau for the placement of children attached to the Vaad Leumi has exploited them to the utmost. At the same time it has penetrated into private homes in city and village and opened up the suitable ones to the reception of children with peculiar needs and difficulties, or as temporary shelters during periods when immigrant parents are seeking permanent settlement. The worst of the delinquents are sentenced to the Government Reformatory at Tul Karm. But the institutions of Tel-Aviv are available only locally, the Homes organized by psychologists and educators of behavior problem children are not under public control, the adjustment of private homes to specific needs is a protracted educational process, and Tul Karm cannot regenerate Jewish boys, because, with Arabic as its language of instruction and intercourse and its entire program directed to the requirements of Arab life and thought, it is not in a position to bring Jewish influence into play, while for the endangered young girl practically no provision has been made. In short, in respect of closed institutions there are still serious gaps, while many of the existing institutions call for radical revision.
Delinquents and offenders, neglected, abandoned, and problem children happily do not constitute the whole or even a large part of Palestine's child population. Its bulk is made up of sound, healthy, normal children. But the provisions made for them are not correspondingly sound and sane. Consider the record of the children of elementary school age. There was a time when the Jewish community of Palestine could claim that practically one hundred percent of them was getting primary education. The boast is of the past.
To-day the conjecture, based, to be sure, on incomplete statistics, is justified, that not many more than one-third of our boys and girls pass through the eight classes of the elementary school. Another fair conjecture, based on observation and partial statistics, local or in special restricted fields, is that one-third leaves school between the ages of eleven and twelve, while a not inconsiderable proportion of the girls of the Oriental communities is wholly illiterate. What is the reason for this regrettable state of affairs among the People of the Book in its newly-erected National Home? Again poverty is discovered as a main cause, inability to pay school fees, coupled sometimes with parental cupidity, which exploits the child unscrupulously. As lack of communal means he stood in the way of establishing the required institutions for the various categories of the underprivileged, so the poverty of individual parents has withdrawn a considerable number of children from school at an early age, either because tuition fees cannot be met, or the earnings of the child are an indispensable addition to the family income. On the other hand, the school authorities would be in a quandary if all children of school age were entered as pupils. There would be no room for them. As it is, there are classes with more than sixty on the rolls. The hardships entailed by this situation fall with particular severity upon the child of the new immigrant. If compulsory education had been achieved, the evil would have had to be cured. Or if our social services in respect of family welfare work were properly supported by taxation or endowed by generous contributions, the result would also be an approximation to the one hundred percent attendance in the schools of the Vaad Leumi together with the Talmud Torah, the institutes of the Agudat Israel, and private schools. And there would be no leakage into the missionary institutions, into which, its estimated, no fewer than a round thousand were drafted during 1935-1936.
The most disappointing item in the child program as now executed is the Kindergarten system. Nowhere in Palestine, except in Tel Aviv, is the Kindergarten made available to the people unable individually to bear the cost. Yet, in Palestine it is of fundamental importance from the point of view of language, of health, of good habits, and the working mother. In respect of the Kindergarten the public conscience must be educated.
At the Social Service Conference for the year 1934-1935, the third of the annual gatherings for the consideration of social service questions under the auspices of the Social Service Department of the Vaad Leumi, the sole subject was the child in Palestine. In the course of the vivid discussion at the conference, it was brought out, that to a certain extent, the large percentage of early quitters from the schools was to be ascribed to failure to provide for pre-vocational education, the training of the hand, according to a unified, supervised system, leading up to thorough, practical vocational training, for which also opportunities are only beginning to be created. In a large number of cases manual training, in addition to its fundamental educational value, makes for the firmest attachment to school work of aggressive lads of eleven and twelve, by reason of its promise of a lead streak into practical life. It counteracts in both impecunious parents and impatient child the desire to escape into the street by the way of petty gainful occupations like bootblacking and newspaper vending. The discussion also fixed as the source of untold evil the many unsupervised leisure hours during which boys run the streets, beleaguer cafes and cinema houses and garages and are drawn within the purview of gang influences. The towns and the larger villages demand, for the sake of their child population, recreation facilities, clubs, additional playgrounds, supervised play and sport, fostering of the scout movement, establishment of youth people's libraries. In short, the discussion, participated in by men and women in all walks of life, revealed that, young though the Jewish communities of Palestine are, the dangers of the street have already made inroads upon the simplicity and integrity of child life that cry out for therapy and prophylaxis.
During the two years elapsed since the Conference on the child there has been noteworthy progress along recreational lines. The Department of Education of the Vaad Leumi has inaugurated activities stimulating and crystallizing the scout movement; the Municipality of Tel Aviv has attached a series of afternoon clubs to its schools; the Histadrut Nashim Ziyoniot has busied itself with the formation of clubs; in Jerusalem a settlement with clubs and a variety of youth activities has been opened as an accessory to one of the two District Offices of the Social Service Bureau of the Kehillah; a movement is on foot to deepen and extend the settlement idea with the view of devising ways and means of counteracting the meretricious pleasures of the street and giving content to the long afternoon hours during which the schools do not claim their pupils; and related to it the existing Guggenheimer Playgrounds are under consideration as the focal points from which camping and hostels for excursionists and hikers will be developed. The movement for the enlargement of recreational facilities reckons not only with the needs of the child of school age, whether or not at school, but also with the youth legitimately at work, for whom it can provide the continuation schooling and the mental, spiritual, and art stimulus the pre-adolescent and the adolescent hunger after. In particular, evening activities offer the young girl an escape from deadening drudgery and the spiritual darkness of illiteracy to which many of them are doomed in the Oriental communities. A survey made two years ago by the Youth Organisation Noar Oved in Jerusalem disclosed, that hundreds of girl children from the age of nine up to the time of release through an early marriage -a release which often opens the door to a servitude of an even worse kind -are engaged for a pittance from seven to seven daily in the scrubbing of floors and similar work in homes and public places, without the possibility of acquiring elementary schooling.
In general, the problem of the girl forms the apex of our subject. To describe the perils of the situation in respect of her, the perils known to all lands of immigration, requires a chapter in itself. The Battei Halutzot, two in Haifa and one in Tel-Aviv, offer a certain measure of protection to the girl immigrant in the early days of her Palestinian sojourn and in the periods of unemployment, and the clubs, classes, lectures, and entertainments for which they afford the possibility and the place are safeguarding opportunities. But even when they are supplemented by technical training classes leading to worthwhile occupations and expanding the sparse employment possibilities open to girls and women in Palestine, they still leave the problem of the protection and the advancement of the young girl unsolved. There remains a wide field in which productive effort can be exercised.
As in all manner of social service, so on behalf of their child and the youth the crowning activity should be that culminating in social legislation, which on the one hand should tend to nullify the need for social service, on the other hand should fortify the social service machinery and the values attained through communal effort. In Palestine legislation in respect of the child and the youth is in its beginnings. The statute books guard the child in certain definite fields of work. In the matter of early marriages restricted progress has been achieved. A probation system for boys has been helpful, and promises far more in the near future. But the lacuna in child and youth legislation are so serious and the enforcement of the laws as formulated is so halting that pioneer work is called for. The attention of the social worker should be directed first and foremost to the development of such action as will lead by quick successive steps to compulsory education, the legislation that takes precedence of all other in promoting the well-being of the child and assuring its mental and moral health.
A Plan for Coordination
Such is the picture of the efforts and attainments on behalf of child and youth in Palestine. It is a canvas which lacks neither colour nor harmonious design. Though occasion was taken repeatedly to note and stress the need of supplementing what exists, it can yet not be gainsaid that the stock-taking shows a not unsatisfactory inventory.
From the survey, there seems to emerge a twofold task: the creation of new institutions and undertakings and the co-ordination of what there is into a balanced design. Such co-ordination is the purpose of the plan herewith submitted, in the hope that an orderly process of development may be inaugurated.
The plan has been evolved by means of formal and informal discussions, in official and non-official circles, among men and women active in social service and among onlookers and observers. It is designed to cement and consolidate, to devise a method whereby new activities for the furtherance of child and youth welfare may be suggested and developed as the considered opinion and advice of authoritative experts, carrying with them the promise of co-operative execution by the united forces engaged in the various fields of child care. One result should be a degree of public supervision over the manifold activities on behalf of the child and the young; another, a method of raising adequate funds for central as well as special purposes within the frame of the plan, while not in any wise trenching for the present upon the autonomy of the several and sundry constituent undertakings that accept the co-ordination proposed. It is to provide at once a forum for discussion and an organ for execution. The central body demanded by the plan as its corollary shall be the exponent of public opinion on all that bears upon the child and the young. It shall function as the guardian of minors in all circumstances and emergencies, economic and legal, and as the representative of the Jewish community vis-a-vis the Government in the formulation and implementing of social legislation touching children and young people.
The proposal is that all the organizations and institutions devoted to child care and youth activities shall join together in a single body, whose plenary organ, presided over by a representative of the Social Service Department of the Vaad Leumi, shall be composed of one delegate from each constituent, organized body. Authoritative individuals, interested, experienced, and competent, shall be invited to attach themselves to the plenary body. From among the members of the central body, equally those delegated by the constituent societies and the individuals invited to join it by reason of their competence, a working committee shall be appointed for the consideration of all propositions for the founding of new organizations and for new activities and undertakings by the constituent societies. The value of the proposals recommended by this semi-popular committee shall be passed upon by a committee of experts, psychologists, educators, physicians, social workers, and lawyers adept in the framing of legislation.
This committee of experts shall draw up a program of surveys with a view of facilitating discussion and decision looking to action. Subsidies for the implementing of the approved proposals shall be allocated from a central fund administered by Trustees, thus ensuring public endorsement and supervision of a large body of the child and youth undertakings serving the Jewish community. The central fund is to be raised, not through membership dues, but by a single country-wide collection augmented by the contributions of approving friends and promoters. If justified by the prospect of attaining a large fund, only the interest should be used alike for administration and subsidies. There shall be no interference with the special collections of the constituent bodies nor with their special autonomous undertakings, unless eventually, as cooperative action gathers impetus and strength in the course of the years, and the co-ordination reaches the stage of consolidation, a united collection and chest may be envisaged. For the present such extreme unification must be classed as a pious wish, whose practical value must be left to demonstrate itself by the experience of years of joint action.
In summary form the scheme is articulated thus:
The Thesis: Co-ordination of child and youth welfare work:
1. A plenary body consisting of representatives of all organizations concerned, together with competent, outstanding persons, under the chairmanship of the Vaad Leumi.
2. A secretariat in the Vaad Leumi.
3. A working committee appointed by the plenary body from among its members.
4. A committee of experts.
5. Trustees of a central fund.
6. The central fund to be raised through an annual country-wide, house-to-house collection, the nucleus being a sum of approximately LP. 4,000 raised in 1936 at the instance of the Vaad Leumi.
7. The eventual consolidation of the collection of funds for child care by all agencies concerned.
The plan is here set forth tentatively. It is submitted in the hope that its main thesis -the co-ordination of all child-caring and youth activities -may be found acceptable by the thinkers and workers in the child and youth section of social service work. It is furthermore submitted in the belief, that child care and youth encouragement are the most urgent and solemn of the tasks laid upon the people of the Messianic hope, the people, that is, which looks forward optimistically into its future and the future of mankind, and is fortified by the conviction that human nature and character are infinitely perfectible. It is here within thrown open to discussion and unlimited modification of its proposed form of organization. The advocates of its underlying idea cherish but a single wish, that an informed, responsible public see the problem of the child and the young in the whole and seek its solution speedily and thoroughly as is demanded by its gravity. Their hope and prayer is that the cry of the children in Palestine may be heard and heeded for the sake of the good of the people to whom the children belong.
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