The Jerusalem You Do Not Want to Know

Along with 20 of my colleagues, all youth directors in the Jewish towns of Samaria, we set out for a very different experience, a special sight-seeing tour that should stand as a wake-up call to all of us.

David Ha'ivri,

11:00pm Saturday night, on the day before Yom Kippur, thousands of Jews were making their way to the Western Wall to take part in the last gathering of selichot before the holiday. As the police in Jerusalem where blocking main roads and re-directing traffic because of the congestion, I too made my way into the center of the holy city. Along with 20 of my colleagues, all youth directors in the Jewish towns of Samaria, we set out for a very different experience, a special sight-seeing tour that should stand as a wake-up call to all of us.
We gathered at Zion Square near midnight to meet our guide, Shimon. The area was packed with thousands of boys and girls between the approximate ages of 13 to 21. Shimon told us that usually there are more. Over the last few years, Shimon has been working as a "hearing aid" for at-risk youth who hang out at the Square. We stood on the platform at the top of the steps leading to Bank Hapoalim, overlooking the Square like a group of tourists would stand with their tour guide before some historical attraction (or in a zoo). Shimon pointed at specific groups of kids and areas of the square, giving the breakdown of who they are and what they are doing.
There are groups of Russian "anarchists," who literally live in the streets and drink cheap vodka that they buy with money collected by younger kids from our settlements. These youngsters tell passers-by that they are stuck and need money to get home. The alcohol bought with this money is then split between the two groups. Thus, a partnership is born. The young "religious" kids are more appealing for their "fundraising" abilities and the anarchists are privileged with the ability to purchase alcohol because of their age. Shimon tells us these anarchists lying on the street in dirty, torn clothes are very intelligent, and when they are not drinking they spend their time reading literature and discussing sophisticated philosophies.
There was another group of kids we saw, also from settlements, but better categorized as "hilltop youth". Like the other settlement kids, many were created by the Gush Katif destruction, when their rabbis and leaders told them that if they pray enough, their homes won't be destroyed. Disillusioned and disoriented, these hilltop youth have drifted to this insane meeting place to drink these poisoned waters of the city. Many are regulars who meet here in the Square and drift to alleyways of deserted buildings nearby to get high by using airplane glue, air-conditioner gas and cigarettes soaked in poisonous insect repellent. All of these cheap and easy ways to get high cause serious damage to the brain. We are talking about many kids from good Jewish homes in the settlements, many of whom have become disillusioned and lost due to broken expectations following the destruction of Gush Katif and the pogrom in Amona.

But Zion Square is not the end of the story. There is also a square down the road known as "Crack Square" where the "richer" kids hang out. These kids deal with some expensive substances like crystal meth. The kids there mostly speak English (guess where they are from). At a not-far-off location on both sides of the local police headquarters, teenage girls rent out their bodies for cash; and in a park on the other side of the open mall, teenage boys do the same. In an unmarked store just around the corner from the Russian Compound police station, drugs and sex are sold freely - and boys with black kippot are seen coming and going.
The police are around, but for the most part they are just there. Shimon told us told us how he saw a policeman's arm broken as he tried to interfere with an interaction made on the street.

Several groups run by the municipality and private organizations try to offer these kids a warm atmosphere, in order to pull them in and let them talk about their problems, and to try to help them. Unfortunately, it seems that at this point the beast is greater then the few hands who are trying to fight it.
Surely, a great part of the problem is that we have been so occupied with the battles that we have been losing in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Lebanon that we haven't realized (or don't want to acknowledge) that there is a battle going on in Zion Square in the center of Jerusalem. Our most precious treasure is being poisoned before our eyes.
Yes, we have been very busy, dealing with incredibly important issues. And we have been through some really hard times over the past few years; we have lost our dearest friends to terrorists and have been beaten and thrown off our land by our own corrupt leadership. We haven't had a lot of time to look around and see what's going on. But, let's not forget; these kids have been there all along. They are hurting no less than the rest of us, and maybe much more. We must now pull ourselves together and win this war.
If, God forbid, we lose this battle, we might not have with whom to win the battles ahead of us on the other fronts. These are our kids and they need help. Are we going to turn our backs on them because we can't deal with this? If we can't, how do we expect them to? They need someone to talk to, someone to hear them out without judging them, and then gently but firmly point them in the right direction.

I, for one, am going to do my best to be there for them. I am open to suggestions and will be glad to cooperate with others who understand the importance of keeping insect repellent and other toxins out of the brains of our youth.