When people ask Yecheskiel Cohen what techniques he uses for his astonishing 70 percent recovery rate with severely disturbed children, he tells them: love.
And they don't know how to handle that, because in most institutions love is not a recognized treatment.
"Yes, love, fine," they say. "But what I mean is, what actual method do you use, what is your regime? What do you call your program of therapy?"
And Cohen tells them: love.
The B'nai B'rith Women Children's Home was founded in 1943 in Israel for the children of the Holocaust. Cohen, 46, a psychoanalyst who was raised in Israel, joined the staff 18 years ago.
"With the first kids the problem was fear," he commented during a visit to the B'nai B'rith Women here. "It was nightmares. Even after a child had been at the home a year, he would hide bread every night, take it off with him and hide it as though it was the last bread he would ever see."
Today, four out of five boys at the home (there is room for 70 of them, 8 to 14, and another home for 20 teenagers, 14 to 18) are North African, and their problem is explosive violence. Many are battered children."
"They live absolutely in the present," Cohen said. "There is no future in their minds. If a teacher is working with one child and another child suddenly needs something done to him, if the teachers says to wait a minute, that child reacts violently. Turns his desk over. Throws things. Attack the teacher."
At least once a day a teacher comes to Cohen literally crying with frustration and perhaps physical pain. Most of them are battered themselves, bruised and cut from attacks by the children. Somehow Cohen gets them to stay on.
"It is very bad to change staff. Very damaging to the child. Everyone asks me what our staff turnover is. I try to have them stay with us four to five years."
In a lot of places, turnover is figured in months.
No behavioral drugs are used, either, for they treat the symptom and not the cause, and Cohen fears they will tempt the worker to stop relating to the child.
"Holding him is important. Even holding very strongly. It's very positive for the child. That and constancy. It is so important for the same person to be with them. It comes down to trust."
A month before he left for his tour of the United States, Cohen began preparing the children, reminding them over and over that soon he would be going away for awhile. It is the same with teachers called away for military service; There are no substitutes brought in to take their places.
"Every morning the same two people wake the children up. It is a ritual. And every night the kids ask, "Who's gonna wake us up tomorrow?" Everything's got to be the same. This is what I mean by constancy."
Originally the home was coed, but it turned to boys-only for two reasons, he said: By far the larger proportion of violenty disturbed children were boys, and in most cases the disturbances suffered by girls go in a different direction and can be treated at outpatient clinics.
The first batch of refugee children to reach what was then Palestine were the Tehran Children - many hundreds of war victims collected from Eastern Europe, taken to a camp at Tehran, then brought by train to Cairo and finally the Holy Land. Cohen, who had come to Plaestine at age 6 from Germany in 1938, was one of the schoolchildren who met these Tehran Children at the railroad station.
Some of the victims were so shattered that at the suggestion of Henrietta Szold a special school was formed for them. A few years later the B'nai B'rith Women took over part of the cost.
"We wouldn't expand even if we could," Cohen said. "The staff is almost one-to-one. Even the gardeners, the cooks and drivers, everybody gets to be part of it. And it is hard for a carpenter to fix a window and then see a kid break it all over again - and not be angry. We have to train them."
The Tehran Children are in their 40s now, and so are the children of the Holocaust, and Cohen is discovering a whole new generation of poignant problems that he traces to the death camps, problems of rejection and guilt visited on the heads of children born to camp survivors.
"We can never know," he said. "Part of their lives will always be closed to us. We will never completely understand what they went through."