About a Boy

Naf - on the streets since 14, who has been raped, stabbed, arrested and repeatedly let down - is the hero of Moshe Alafi's documentary, on at the Jerusalem Film Festival next week.

Tamar Rotem
Tamar Rotem
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Tamar Rotem
Tamar Rotem

"This is a little street kid, fighting against the whole world

He has long since burned life, he remains a drug addict"

(from a poem written by Naf)

Naf sits on the narrow balcony of his home in one of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem, smoking and gathering his thoughts. He is a restrained type, he measures his words, he does not give of himself; Naf broadcasts something defeated even when he sings in a low voice one of his aggressive rap songs, which usually deal with drugs and with children dying in the streets. The words and the tune have not changed, so what has happened to the charismatic and defiant boy who three years ago organized a demonstration of hundreds of street children in Zion Square?

Naf, short for Naftali Javetz, aged 18, is the hero of the drama of his life. A boy who has lived in the streets from the age of 14, who has been raped, stabbe d, who has smoked soft drugs and recently was also arrested and tried for drug dealing. As if all that were not enough for one boy, he has conducted battles for street youth, fought in the courts to bring the man who assaulted him to judgment, and finally insisted on fulfilling his dream - to become a rapper, to perform and to become famous.

He is also the hero of the documentary film "Naf - Street Kid" by director Moshe Alafi, which will be screened on Sunday at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Alafi h as accompanied Naf from that demonstration in Zion Square until he was sent to the closed youth village of Malkishua in the Gilboa. He filmed him over three years, during which Naf lived in the streets or wandered among neglected apartments and youth clubs belonging to missionaries or to Chabad. Three years of smoking "bangers," as one sees endlessly in the film.

At present Naf lives in the home of his mother, who is supporting him after several years when contact was severed. But cut! It's not a happy end. Naf is not simply at home. He is under house arrest after being suspected of drug dealing, and after he escaped from the Retorno Jewish Center for Prevention and Treatment of Addictions for religious youth, near Beit Shemesh.

In the film Naf looks like his trademark: charismatic, deceptive and charming, with a thousand faces and hairdos. One minute he is manipulative, a tireless consumer of attention, and the next he is exceptionally candid. In life, Naf looks simply like an aging boy, whose battles have vanquished him.

Thrown out

Naf was born to an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem, to newly religious English-speaking parents. He is the fourth of nine children. At the age of 13, when he was studying in an Orthodox elementary school, he became a "shababnik" (a nickname for ultra-Orthodox youth who drop out of school). "I started to cause problems," he says. "I stole from stores with friends. I didn't want to be religious." His parents asked no questions, and threw him out of the house. "They were afraid I would influence my younger siblings," he says dryly.

Naf was sent by the welfare authorities to foster families, but he didn't get along in any of the homes. His father, who in his youth had been a hippie in the United States, would not agree to any deviation from the education he had planned for his son. His mother did not yet have a voice to oppose her husband and to support her son, as she did in the end. Meanwhile, Naf was accepted - conditionally - to study in a yeshiva in Jerusalem. The head of the yeshiva insisted he not return to his old neighborhood, so that he wouldn't hang out with the boys who had a bad influence on him.

After Naf was expelled from one of the foster families, his father received a proposal from an acquaintance, an ultra-Orthodox producer, to host Naf in his home. "I was a handsome boy," says Naf. "When I was 11 years old this producer asked to photograph me for an album of rabbis. He made an entire book for me and already then touched me, but I didn't understand." Naf stayed with the producer for two weeks, and was assaulted by him.

After the assault he went to live in the street. A year and a half later, at the age of 14, Naf complained to the police about the rape. The assailant was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined NIS 5,000.

Director Moshe Alafi heard about Naf by chance. He came to Hut Hameshulash, a Chabad club for street youth. He was horrified when he saw the boys there - most of them homeless. Alafi arrived there just on the evening when they were celebrating Naf's birthday.

"He had amazing self-confidence," says Alafi. "They told me this boy was about to hold a demonstration on Zion Square to protest the attitude of social workers, and the fact that the youth were treated under duress. I immediately knew there was a story here." He says Naf stood out among the boys and girls who found themselves in the street as a stage in their lives and as a youthful rebellion. "Naf is a youth at risk, for whom life in the street is the essence of his life," he says.

Lost faith

The demonstration on Zion Square, which was held in February 2004 in stormy winter weather, was extensively covered in the media. Naf was interviewed and spoke against the social workers and against being treated under duress. He demanded a different attitude from the establishment. On the eve of the demonstration he wrote to Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski: "I am turning to you as the representative of youth in distress in Jerusalem," and asked him to attend the demonstration. But the mayor did not come. At the end of the demonstration, Naf and about another 20 homeless youth settled down with their sleeping bags in Safra Square, in front of City Hall.

In the wake of the demonstration, Naf was invited to meetings with members of the city council and with MKs. He came to the meetings equipped with a detailed program for an appropriate solution for homeless youth, which spoke of building a house - as was done in Haifa - in which the youth would study, work and sleep. But nobody took him seriously.

As time passed, the enthusiasm of his friends died, and they returned to their daily routine of survival. In the film he reads a letter from the mayor in which he is told that he is not a representative of the youth, as he claimed. And that the homeless youth in the city are satisfied with the treatment given to them by the municipality. Defeated, he stopped the struggle.

He was also defeated in the conduct of his legal affairs. In his opinion, the State Prosecutor did not treat him properly: The trial of the attacker continued for three years, and Naf suffered many disappointments. Although he attended all the proceedings, he claims the prosecutors did not bother to inform him when they were postponed. Naf also thinks the punishment was too mild. Alafi says Naf's deterioration began when he lost faith in the legal system. "In the end he collapsed," says Alafi.

During the same period, he was uplifted by the songs he wrote. With the help of good people from the ultra-Orthodox club Zone, he succeeded in recording a single and putting on a few rap performances. But Army Radio did not accept the songs for broadcasting. Another disappointment.

Naf changes identities in every scene in the film. Once he looks like a strange Bratslav Hasid with a large black skullcap on his head, once he is a clubber, once he is a drug addict (although he says he has never used hard drugs) and in the end a yeshiva student.

A few months ago, Naf was arrested and five criminal files were opened against him for the crime of dealing in hashish. Naf claims that someone who sold him drugs framed him. Naf was send to the Malkishua institution, but fled from there. Afterwards he was sent to Retorno, a stricter framework, and fled from there as well. Now he is under house arrest, waiting for a court discussion of his case. He claims he is drug-free and does not want to think what will happen if he is sent to prison.

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