Handcuffs Behind My Father’s Back

They understand the least yet often suffer the most.

Children whose parents are in prison experience fear, confusion, shame, and isolation from situations completely out of their control and comprehension.

With neither warning nor explanation, they witness armed police officers enter their homes, handcuff their loved ones and disappear with them into the unknown.

As Avi – who lived in Hollywood, Fl at the time – explained about the fateful morning when he watched his father taken away, “Fear went through me that I wouldn’t see my Dad for a long time. Maybe never. ”

He was seven at the time, but his memory highlights a typical child’s reaction and the ensuing trauma.

“I remember waking up to loud knocks at the door around 4-5 in the morning…an officer took me and my sister and put us on a couch and started to talk to us. To distract us from what was actually going on.”

While his older sister immediately understood what was happening, he initially thought “it was cool. The way the police all dressed.”

But the “second I saw the handcuffs behind (my father’s) back, I started breaking down in tears.”

He credits his emotional stability to his mom—“the strongest person I know”–who with remarkable composure and resiliency, made her children’s lives normal and happy.

And he thanks G-d for connecting him with  Aleph, who—“saved  my childhood and helped shape who I am today.”

While his mother struggled to make ends meet with the sudden loss of her husband’s income, Aleph helped her and her children emotionally, socially, and financially.

“Rabbi Zvi was a big part of keeping my mom strong, which kept us strong.”

His mother spoke honestly to her children, explaining everything that was happening to them. And she changed their perceptions to help them adjust.

When they had to sleep in the car, for example, “she said it was like a camping trip.”

And when they had to go to the market but had no car to load the bags into, “she took me, my sister and a couple of friends on our bikes, and turned it into a trip.”

“She made everything so much easier,” he says, recalling his mother’s strength and endurance.

Aleph, meanwhile, helped his mother secure a new job with a more livable salary and sent Avi and his sister to summer camps for several years.

“Those are summers I will never forget,” explains Avi.

But Aleph’s help didn’t only extend to vacation time.

“A bunch of small things happened frequently—like having us go to Sunday school, introducing us to Jordan who took a group of us for bar-b-ques, Torah lessons. All the fun parts of my childhood came from Aleph. Thank G-d for Aleph! ”

Aleph repeatedly “filled in the gaps where my father should have been. I never felt deprived because Aleph helped us feel that we weren’t missing anything.”

When the time approached for his bar-mitzvah, Avi worried that his father’s absence would “be embarrassing for me and for my family.”

So Aleph arranged for Avi to have the event at 770—complete with a welcoming community and a host family.

On the day of his bar-mitzvah, Avi had “someone who stood next to me, where my father would have stood,  as I was doing my Aliyah, reading Torah, everything. He calmed me down.”

And for the Shabbos meal afterwards, Avi was seated “next to the father of the house, and made to feel a part of the family with a whole gathering around me.”

An occasion that he was dreading turned into one of the most meaningful experiences of his life. Because of Aleph.

If not for his summer camp experiences, the unconditional emotional support, the financial and logistical help with services and resources, and Aleph’s ongoing commitment to involve the family within the community, Avi knows his life would likely have turned out very differently.

After his father’s release, Avi and his family moved to Israel. Today, he is a Navy Sergeant of the Israel Defense Force, responsible for weapon maintenance and ship navigation.

“When we’re on a mission, I’m the one that shoots” he explains, adding that he has been trained to stay focused on the enemy even in situations “where you are shivering and your fingers are freezing (from the icy waters).”

His sister also completed her army duties in Israel and is currently studying at an Israeli university.

Poised, accomplished, and grateful to Aleph for believing in him, Avi sums up his life with a simple yet powerful statement:

“You could come from nothing and become something if somebody believes in you.”