Visit to Elem Youth Center
Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Kfar Saba, Israel
November 10, 1999
Nava (Barak), thank you so much. I don't know if all of you can see this, but I wanted to bring it up here now that Nava and I have signed it, and I know that many, many people have already signed it. But it's worth reading because I think this is important, not only in Israel and the United States, but around the world today -- a covenant for the prevention of violence. This is my pledge to take a stand against violence, to avoid verbal and physical violence, to pay attention to the problems of friends, to let people know about violence against children and youth, to alert the authorities about violence, to encourage children and youngsters to speak out against violence.
I am very honored to be here with the mayor, and with you, Nava, and to sign that important covenant, and it's a good idea that I will take back with me to the United States because we are similarly engaged in a national campaign against violence.
When my husband and I were privileged to host Prime Minister and Mrs. Barak last summer, Nava and I started talking and didn't stop. Neither of us can stay awake as long as our husbands can -- they are well-known for never sleeping -- but we talked non-stop about youth violence and about the problems of society that children and young people are contending with, and we talked about how here in Israel and in the United States we were trying to mobilize national campaigns against youth violence.
So, it is very exciting for me, on my first stop here, on my fifth trip to Israel, to be able to come and see young people, and to have the privilege as we have just had, to meet with some of the young people who have been involved with the vans that ELEM has sent out and also here in the coffee-shop and to have a better understanding of what this kind of opportunity for peer counseling and for young people helping themselves can mean.
I am very proud that Americans have played a role along with Israelis in this effort in ELEM. I want to thank Andy Elkin who is here and Steve Shrager of the JDC for joining us. Because, just as we heard from Nava and the mayor that this is a project that is a public-private partnership that involves different levels of government, that involves the private sector, that involves young people and not so young people, it is also clearly a project that further unites our two peoples, because we are both concerned about the effects and impacts of youth violence, both violence against youth and that which young people themselves commit.
So, I am very proud to have signed this pledge. I hope every citizen here in Israel and -- since I may steal this idea and take it home -- I hope every American will also sign. I particularly hope that the covenant which I just read will be heard by adults, because it is not only the young people we need to reach. We need to provide services and opportunities and support for young people, but it is we the adults of the village who have to understand our responsibilities and obligations to children and youth. ELEM has shown what can be done when we come together to provide a safety net for all children in a variety of ways. You know, young people are no different than those of us who are a lot older. We have different ways of thinking, we have different feelings, we have different ideas about what we need, and therefore, one idea that the government or a private organization puts forward has to be matched by many others so that we reach as many children and youth as possible. With warm blankets, and hot coffee, with soft beds and patient ears, ELEM has helped thousands of teenagers: boys and girls, rich and poor, Arab and Jew, native born and immigrants, all who have needed a little support and some patience in navigating the confusing and alienating, and sometimes terrifying years of moving from childhood to adulthood. ELEM has given young people a place to turn, to escape violence, and to avoid becoming violent.
So we are honoring the principle here today, that every one of us should honor, and that is we should leave no child behind, that every child, and every teenager has promise. No matter how frustrating that might seem to some of us sometimes, we have to look deep into the eyes of every young person, and know that that young person has a spark of life that can be re-kindled no matter what terrible circumstances they come from.
I read an essay on the plane coming over, written by one of the young people whom I don't want to embarrass, but I did want to quote from her essay and here's what she said: There was a time when I was drinking alcohol every week. I smoked. I was kicked out of two schools. I spent a time living on the street. Such a shame, and she was such a promising young girl. Well, I still am. I want to thank this young woman for that essay, because that is the message of ELEM. Every young person is still promising. Many times the difficulties that a child, an adolescent, a teenager encounters, are not of his or her making. They are caused by adults who have been neglectful, who have been abusive, who have been in their own ways unable to cope with the challenges of helping a young person navigate to adulthood. But with the help of ELEM counselors, this young woman found her way back to school, and she is serving as a counselor here at the coffee shop. And I believe, from what I've seen and heard, she is thriving.
So to all of the young people and all of the young counselors who are here: we know you have promise. Mrs. Barak knows, the mayor knows, the prime minister knows, many adults here in Israel and in America know. We hope that through efforts like ELEM we will help you realize your own promise. I know that from what I've seen today ELEM will only continue to grow and thrive. As Nava said, I do believe it takes a village, and for many of us throughout the world, Israel has always represented that village. And so this village that we now move from the 20th century into the 21st century has such a tremendous promise and potential. Paying attention to the needs of young people is one of our highest needs and obligations, and I'm very proud to be able to see for myself how well that is being done here.
Thank you all very much.