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May 14, 2004 - Image 53

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-05-14

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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house was sunken into the ground up to
our knees and it was empty, except for a
few chairs, an old oven and some
shelves. Vita barely knew how to speak."
It was Vita's grandmother, a member
of the well-known European Jewish
family named Soloveitchik, who initially
contacted the local Jewish community
for help.
Some children come to Beit Yeladim
via Russian orphanages, which vary in
the quality of their care. Two brothers,
Daniel and Ilya, sent from an orphanage
in Chechnya, were beaten by their
drunken father. Both of the children,
who had never seen a piece of fruit
before coming to Moscow, are steadily
recovering from years of malnourish-
ment.
"The children who come from the
orphanages have very serous problems.
You could fill a book," Belyak said.
The children rarely speak about their
own lives outside of Beit Yeladim.
Instead they talk of studying, watching
movies and taking long walks, but their
body language at certain times commu-
nicates other feelings. Yakov, a hand-
some 10-year-old boy with olive skin
and large brown eyes, said he was look-
ing forward to celebrating his first
Passover seder. When asked about Jewish
holidays during previous years, he lowers
his head into the crook of his small arm
resting on the table.
Most of the children are ineligible for
adoption because they either have living
parents seeking to reclaim custody or are
considered too old by baby brokers.
Rather than finding new families for
the children, Belyak and his wife con-
centrate on making the youth facility
feel like a home. The term "orphanage"
is avoided here and the youths substitute
its use with "pension" or "home."
"Each child idealizes their parents," he
said. "But here, I am their father and my
wife is their mother."
Rabbi Berkowitz insists that the
Jewish lifestyle promoted there gives the
children a common identity to help
them bond to another. He also main-
tains that in many cases spirituality fills a
void in the lives of troubled youths who
would otherwise form a pocket for rage
or depression.
"We're giving them both a spiritual
life and a physical life," Rabbi Berkowitz
said. When you're dealing with kids who
have so many problems it helps to bring
them up with spirituality to fill a void so
they won't blame their parents."
Belyak takes a more metaphysical
approach toward the subject. "It helps
because it's on the level of the soul," he
said. "It's medicine that I don't see
because it's on the inside." 0

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53

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