Seven years have passed since that gray day when Shlomit, her big sister and two big brothers arrived in the Neve Michael Emergency Crisis Center. Shlomit’s end of the story was the most touching as she was the baby of the family, a four year old girl with blond hair who couldn’t stop crying and wouldn’t let go of her sister’s hand on that awful afternoon. As we learned about all they had been through we could barely hold back our own tears or stop shaking our heads. Neve Michael certainly has its share of horror stories, but what had befallen these four innocent children was one of the most shocking tales we had ever heard.

In a word, their parents were brutal. All four children bore plainly evident signs of physical abuse and torture, from fresh open wounds to old ugly scars, from gashes to burn marks. The children’s neighbors, who saw and heard what was going on and reported what they knew to the Welfare Authorities, stated that more than once the children were locked out in the courtyard and forced to hold cinder blocks for hours. The neighbors also said they regularly heard screaming sounds coming from their apartment.

The children had more to say about the horrors that took place indoors, and the stories that came out of them in painful sessions with psychologists were the most heinous tales of child molestation and sexual abuse.

But Shlomit remained silent. The youngest and most innocent, words could not express the horrors she saw and heard, or explain the scars she bore on her arms and legs.

We also learned about the gross neglect. In that horrible household, these boys and girls were not properly clothed or fed, and they never even went to school or made friends. For these poor children, their formative years were a total loss. Whatever could be salvaged from their youth that could count as a normal childhood experience would be gained at Neve Michael.

The years have passed; the scars, physical and emotional, still remain. But their lives have only gotten better since those bad early years. Now they know how it feels to be surrounded by love, to receive a kind smile and tender touch, to be taken care of by responsible adults who feed them and nourish them and educate them. Now they can truly feel that growing up is something to look forward to. And the most promising sign of all is that little Shlomit has learned how to smile.