Itai and his Big Brother cook together at OneFamily
For 10-year old Cheli, life was at its best when her older brother Benny was around. He would lavish her with attention and take her to fun places whenever he had the chance. The siblings had the kind of bond that comes from growing up with a single-parent home. They learned to look out for one another.
So when news came that Benny was killed by a terrorist while on guard duty in the army, Cheli was devastated. In a split second, one of the most important people in her life was gone forever. The void that opened was enormous. It felt like her childhood had been ripped away from her.
Twelve-year old Itai also suffered a shattering loss. In 2014, his father was killed in a road shooting that also left Itai and his mother wounded. Since then, he and his two brothers and two sisters have had to grow up not only without their beloved father but also without a stable male role model in their lives.
Cheli and Itai (as well as his two brothers) are part of OneFamily’s Big Brother/Sister program, which pairs children who need direct and ongoing attention with a caring older role model who will maintain regular, ongoing contact.
Most of the 30 pairs currently in the program meet up weekly, sometimes even twice a week for outings and chats. Most importantly, they help fill the void that’s left with the loss of a parent and sibling, providing unconditional love, a safe space to express feelings, and a chance to feel like regular children doing the thing they love.
Strong Emotional Guidance and Deep Bonds
The activities of the big and little brothers and sisters are as varied as the children themselves but the purpose is always the same – to let the children know someone cares and is there for them for friendship, emotional support, and help overcoming the difficulties of growing up in their painful circumstances.
For Itai and his Big Brother Ze’ev, that means spending time processing the trauma Itaiexperienced. By building a close bond, they have created a safe place for Itai to talk about his father and what Itai can learn from him.
For Cheli, having a Big Sister is a chance to enjoy simple childhood experiences and a break from the difficult and painful atmosphere at home.
Others, like Rachel, whose mother was killed in a suicide bombing, get to feel some of the maternal bond they are missing and benefit from the advice and guidance from someone who understands her needs.
Tal and her Big Sister like to chat while cooking together, and even put together a booklet of their favorite recipes. The strong bond between them provides Tal with a place where feels safe to talk about her loss.
Or Hadash lost his father in 2010. His Big Brother serves as a mature male role model who provides stability and security after many years without a father figure in his life.
A number of other children like to go hiking or swimming in springs with their Big Brothers or Sisters, activities that would not be possible on their own. And since many of them come from shattered families where the parents themselves are coping with loss or injury, the Big Brother program provides the only opportunity.
Someone Devoted Just to Them
All of the children in OneFamily’s Youth Division have counselors assigned to them and speak on the phone each week and see each other monthly. But the Big Brother program is more intensive, with each Big Brother or Big Sister devoted to only one child whom they see each week as well as special occasions such as birthdays and the anniversary of their loved one’s death.
Because the Big Brothers and Sisters play a vital role in the lives of the children, they are uniquely positioned to monitor the children’s growth and progress, and are the first to notice any negative patterns that may develop. This helps the children deal with problems as early as possible, before they impact their lives.
The relationships also give the Big Brothers and Sisters an opportunity to guide and mentor the children and lead them towards a brighter future. They help children who have suffered move through the fragile stages of childhood. They fill in spaces that would otherwise remain open wounds.
The results are easily apparent to anyone who sees the children in the beginning of the process and at the end. Children who are shy start to open up to the world, and many of them go on to serve in elite units in the army and then successful professional careers.
Most importantly, they help them heal on the inside and outside. And that makes all the difference.