Senior officials from the Israeli health and education systems convened on March 10, 2011 at Sheba Medical Center to launch a new national program in the struggle against rising violence among youth in schools, homes and the community.
The day-long symposium on youth and childhood violence prevention held for over 200 doctors and educators agreed to form a Health and Education Task Force to reduce the devastating effects of ridicule, bullying and violence among children and youth. The Task Force seeks to implement a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program – Operation Respect – to combat youth violence in Israel.
The American Ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham greeted the symposium and spoke of the ongoing commitment of the United States Embassy to aid efforts to create a safe, friendly, school and community environment for Israel’s children and youth.
Interspersed among over twenty passionate presentations by educators and doctors were performances by The Voices of Peace, a choral group of Jewish, Christian and Arabic teens from Jaffa whose singing brought the symposium to its feet. Their songs, one of which included the participation of iconic Israeli performer, David Broza, as well as the voice of Peter Yarrow (of the famous American folk trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, who is also a central organizer of the symposium) reflected the deep commitment of the doctors and educators to finding new ways to resolve what they mutually see as a critical challenge to the children and youth of Israel.
Conference participants also heard testimonials from 4th and 5th grade students in Israel who have seen a turn-around in their (Arabic and Jewish) schools, by virtue of the introduction of The Don’t Laugh At Me Program. This program is sponsored by the American Embassy, the Center for Educational Technology at the Israeli Ministry of Education, and by Operation Respect -- a US educational non-profit committed to creating safe, bully-free school environments for all children (co-founded by Peter Yarrow and Dr. Charlotte Frank, Senior Vice President of the McGraw-Hill Companies).
The conference was the fruit of collaboration between Prof. Zeev Rotstein, the director of Sheba Medical Center, and his American colleague Dr. Alex Bernstein, the director of the Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery at New York's Roosevelt Hospital.
At the end of the symposium, a Health & Education Task Force comprised of approximately 100 attendees was established, with a Leadership Steering Committee of approximately 20. This Task Force will follow up the symposium with the creation of a pilot model that can demonstrate the effectiveness of combining educational and health strategies to diminish child and youth violence as well as improve the climate of schools and communities.
Peter Yarrow said: "If it is shown that interfacing the efforts of educators and medical professionals reduces the incidence of violence and its ill effects on children and families, then Israel will have found what might be a way for not only this country, but all countries, to diminish and prevent youth violence. That would be an amazing gift to the whole world, and one that would honor the dedicated efforts of Israel for bringing new solutions to combat this painful problem that plagues children and youth, everywhere."