Friday, April 29, 2011

Letter #1

This week we received a wonderful letter from one of the boys involved in Aish Tamid’s programming:
Many know of Aish Tamid only as just another neighborhood Shul. For a lot of us teenagers, we found a second home at Aish Tamid and have great opportunities through the teen program. The things I love most about Aish are the relaxed Jewish environment where my friends and I can all hang out and the study program that gives us time to study when not in a classroom – for either the GED or normal school tests – with a tutor able to answer questions and guide us through challenging assignments. Aish Tamid has guided me along the road to graduation, and now I will be attending college full time in the fall at SMC, with high test scores in Literature and Math. Aish Tamid has also helped me and many of my friends find jobs in the community as well.

Any night we feel, we are always more than welcome to "drop in" for any number of reasons, whether it be to hang out and kick back while rooting for the Lakers or Dodgers over food with friends, or even in extreme cases in which anybody facing a crisis situation can reach out to and seek help from Rabbi Hershoff. We can deal with the sometimes-challenging issues of our age and get through them with the best-proven family/community/cultural guidance imaginable. I, for one, was in a very tough place with school, having been in independent studies for all of my senior year and lacking guidance and direction in life – as well as a family dealing with issues far beyond my control.

One day a friend of mine brought me to Aish so the Rabbi could tell me about his study group for students such as myself, students in independent studies and needing to study for the GED. I instantly knew that I had found a place to help me succeed and give me the tools to be able to confidently say that I am on a road to a much brighter future than I’d ever previously imagined for not only myself, but my family as well. All the guys at Aish are like one big family. We always help each other out whenever needed, and are available to one another at any moment’s notice. This circle of Jewish friends who all care about one another and truly want to see each other achieve success in life is an amazing thing to have at hand.

I am eighteen years old and currently a senior in High School. I credit Aish Tamid for helping me to be able to experience working (at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf) and being on my way to receiving my high school diploma on time. I have a much stronger sense of self, morals, and much more thanks to Aish and the programs they have provided myself and the community. For this, I am indebted to and thankful for this gift I have been blessed with – a second chance that Aish Tamid has given many of us.

A Word from the Director: 4/29/2011

It’s great to be home and getting back into my normal life routine again after Pesach break. The texting on my phone had been non-stop throughout Chol HaMoed and as soon as Yom Tov ended, with all the boys eagerly waiting to return to Aish Tamid and our programming activities. I do a lot of preaching for people to work, or be in a school program, or go to the gym, or get up for davening on a consistent basis. A strong sense of self-esteem is critical in taking the initial step. I feel the first way to deal with someone’s self-esteem is to make them feel productive, giving them a reason to get up in the morning. Once they are in a productive mode, then we can initiate the process. As they proceed, we can then show them their accomplishments along the way, which continues to boost their self-confidence.

This week we have unfortunately been dealing with someone who is incarcerated, and of course the trauma that the family has been dealing with. We have been dealing with available resources, including Rabbi Landau, Howard Winkler, the Alef Institute and Carrie Newman. We appreciate all of their help and efforts. We should never have to experience that with any of our children, but it does happen. The question is always “do we run to bail them out or are we enabling them by doing so?” We have to teach them a sense of responsibility to some degree. Every situation is different, of course, and we obviously do not want to see any of our kids, Chas Veshalom, spending time behind bars.

Enabling is a very interesting concept, something that we as parents do very well. We do it out of love for our children, but at times we do more harm than good with it. I have copied a definition and a few examples from Internet of the Mind:

In the true sense of the word, to enable is to supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity to be or do something -- to make feasible or possible.
Here are some examples...

• Repeatedly bailing them out - of jail, financial problems, other "tight spots" they get themselves into
• Giving them "one more chance" - ...then another...and another
• Ignoring the problem - because they get defensive when you bring it up or your hope that it will magically go away
• Joining them in the behavior when you know they have a problem with it - Drinking, gambling, etc.
• Joining them in blaming others - for their own feelings, problems, and misfortunes
• Accepting their justifications, excuses and rationalizations - "I'm destroying myself with alcohol because I'm depressed"
• Avoiding problems - keeping the peace, believing a lack of conflict will help
• Doing for them what they should be able to do for themselves
• Softening or removing the natural consequences of the problem behavior
• Trying to "fix" them or their problem
• Repeatedly coming to the "Rescue"
• Trying to control them or their problem

One personal story about enabling: I take pride in the fact that I do not enable by giving out money if I have any suspicions of substance abuse or addiction. Having said that, I will sometimes pay for food or gas, though this can also be enabling. A few weeks ago on Shabbos afternoon during my nap, my kids woke me up to tell me that somebody broke into my car and walked out with a bag. The trunk was not locked and I didn’t think I had anything to steal and, nu, what can I do. After Shabbos, I checked the car and there was nothing missing. The following Tuesday, a certain individual came over to to me to tell me that he had a very nice Shabbos. I asked, “Where were you?”, and he told me that he had been sleeping in my car. He had nowhere else to sleep. Although this was very sad, I was enabling him by leaving my car unlocked. Needless to say, even I enable as well!

We have a special visitor from New York, Rabbi Mitnick, who was one of the founders of “Our Place”, one of the first drop-in centers and at risk programs in New York. He is also a Rebbe at Kamenitz and was a Rebbe at TAB for many years. If you would like to meet with him, please call the office and we can arrange a meeting.

A few of our older working teens have joined together to help pay for an in-ground basketball hoop in the parking lot. The boys are very excited. It will be a half court and we will hopefully have it painted. We will keep you posted.

We want to thank Selma Fisch for sending over boxes of snacks and soda for the boys to enjoy. We have many kids in the building during the day, either for the gym, the GED class, or to just hang out. We appreciate this generosity and it will definitely go to good use.

Lastly, I have had numerous requests from students regarding yeshiva placement for their year abroad in Eretz Yisroel. Additionally, there are many yeshivot in the East Coast for high school students, which I inquired about over Pesach. At some point, I may take a yeshiva road trip to the East Coast in order to be better educated on how to direct you all. If you have a son that needs a yeshiva, please feel free to contact us at the office.

We should all have an easy adjustment back into our normal life routines.

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Gavriel Hershoff

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Word from the Director: Pesach 2011


That is the theme of Pesach. What is freedom? We see rebels in countries around the globe fighting for freedom. Is that true freedom? What happens once they become free? Do their lives really improve? For most people freedom means the ability to do whatever they want whenever they want. Freedom is a lack of restrictions and often a lack of structure. So how can we truly feel free, as “bnei chorin,” if as shomrei Torah and mitzvos we have chosen to adhere to a lifestyle that has many added responsibilities and extra restrictions? The question our children ask us, and we may even ask ourselves at times, is “why?”

As many of you know, I am a substance abuse counselor who believes strongly in the “Twelve Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Twelve Step program is a spiritual way for an addict to hand his unmanageable life and his will over to
G-d, and to ask G-d for direction and guidance. In return, a relationship is created with frequent self-evaluation and constant contact with that Higher Power.

For the record, it doesn’t only work for drug addicts and alcoholics. We all have some unmanageable element in our lives. For some it may be an addiction to drinking, smoking, or food. For others it’s our jobs where we find ourselves putting in far more hours than we spend with our family. Perhaps there is an anger management issue, or maybe we are perfectionists. For most of us, there are areas in our life which are unmanageable. The premise of the program is that we believe that all of our troubles are our own making. It comes from a certain level of self-centeredness; we feel that we are in charge of everything. We have everything under control. But when one comes to terms with that fact that not all aspects of our lives are “manageable,” we start to realize that maybe there is Someone greater than us who takes care of us and is controlling the world.

We have to stop trying to “play G-d.” We must come to the realization that we need help managing our daily lives and must therefore improve and strengthen our relationship with Hashem. We have to decide that from here on in Hashem is going to be the Director and we are His actors. He is our Father and we are His children. Yes, that sounds like Rosh Hashana, but the principle applies here as well! Once we truly accept this then all sorts of remarkable things follow. Our all-powerful Father in Heaven provides what we need if we stay close to Him and do our best to perform His Mitzvos. Bearing this in mind, we will become less preoccupied with ourselves and micromanaging our lives, and more interested in seeing what we can contribute to the lives of those around us. As we become conscious of G-d’s presence, we begin to enjoy peace of mind, and we discover that we can face life on its terms and be better prepared to accept the challenges that come our way.

We pay lip service to the fact that Hashem runs the world and He makes sure we have what we need. But how many of us work 60-80 hours a week with little time for anything else? How many of us get angry and blame ourselves when our children aren’t living exactly the lifestyle we would have chosen for them? What are we showing by acting that way? Is Hashem in control, or do we still think we are in charge? We actually do believe that Hashem is in charge, and deep down we want Him to be in control, but we vacillate. Often we want Hashem there when we need Him, but otherwise we are ok seeing Him in shul on Shabbos.

“Ain lecha ben chorin ela mi she’oseik ba’Torah- the only one who is free is one who is involved in Torah.” Why? Because just like we didn’t know how we would cross the Yam Suf, or how we would eat for 40 years in the desert, we need His help to raise healthy Shomer Shabbos kids in Los Angeles in the year 2011. We want somebody to take care of us and be in charge, otherwise life often doesn’t make sense. Following the Torah and doing Mitzvos is our part in the relationship.

And that, my friends, is true freedom…

Rabbi Gavriel Hershoff

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Word from the Director: 4/8/2011

I would like to start by thanking all of those who came over to me with comments about the past few weekly newsletters. I appreciate the feedback and constructive criticism. Please feel free to comment. My e-mail is

When I went to yeshiva, the worst thing that ever happened to anybody was when a boy was called and told that he had to come home and deal with a parent who had just passed on. To me, the thought of sitting on an airplane by yourself going home to such a loss was such an unbearable thought. The inability to say goodbye and the lack of closure even today is an unbearable thought.

This week a student who we have known for five years had to come home to an almost similar situation. His mom has been hospitalized for the past few months while the son has been serving in the Israeli army. The father told him on Friday that the situation is deteriorating and that he should take the first flight home after Shabbos. He took the first flight and unfortunately, his mom passed away Shabbos afternoon at 6:45 Los Angeles time, while the boy was air bound. He would be returning for the funeral in Eretz Yisroel the next day. I get the chills just thinking about it.

There is no answer to why, but we can be supportive and let him know that he is not alone. The question is always how do we continue during challenging times and how do we teach our children to handle life on life’s terms. I think a possible answer is teaching resilience. We live in a world where we like to cushion our children and provide everything for them in both a physical and emotional way, and Baruch Hashem for the most part we are able to. Often providing more than what we grew up with. We often try to shelter our children from knowing about the struggles and challenges of others. I worked for many years in a high school and spent many hours with parents calling me to change or fix the kids’ grades. Of course, we want the best for them but are we teaching them to survive when the going gets tough.

Resilient children are hopeful and possess high self worth. They feel special and appreciated. They have learned to set realistic goals and expectations. They have developed the ability to solve problems and make decisions, and thus are more likely to view mistakes, hardships and obstacles as challenges to confront – rather than as stressors to avoid. Resilient children are aware of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities but they also recognize their strong point and talents. They have developed effective interpersonal skills with peers and adults and are able to seek out assistance and nurturance in appropriate ways.

I have compiled a partial list of ways to raise a resilient family:
• Communicating effectively and listening actively.
• Loving our children in ways that help them feel special and appreciated.
• Accepting our children for who they are and helping them set realistic expectations and goals.
• Helping our children experience success by identifying and reinforcing their strengths
• Helping children recognize that mistakes are experiences from which to learn.
• Developing responsibility, compassion and a social conscience, by providing children with opportunities to contribute.
• Teaching our children to solve problems and make decisions.
• Discipline in a way that promotes self-discipline and self-worth.
• Attribute positive meanings to a situation
• Maintain family flexibility

I would like to thank Moshe Fogelman for sponsoring our Thursday night barbecue at Aish Tamid.

Aish Tamid provides dinner for our 30-40 students, five nights a week. For sponsorship, please call our office at 323-634-0505. We should all have a restful and meaningful Shabbos with our families.

Rabbi Gavriel Hershoff

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Word from the Director: 4/1/2011

Last night was the Shloshim of our dear friend Ori, O.B.M. His younger brother made a Siyum Mishnayis in his memory. It was an evening of inspiration and tremendous Chizuk for all. His mom asked me to share a Facebook message that she received from one of Ori’s friends. It is a very clear message that has been on the forefront as of late, and is being addressed by prestigious individuals, including the President of the United States. The names of individuals are left out in order to protect the innocent:
It’s been about a month now and I still think about Ori everyday. Unfortunately, I don't have the best memories of Ori. I think about the harassment he would go through on a daily basis. He definitely did not have it easy at school. I think of how hard it must have been to be picked on constantly, and to be publicly humiliated on a daily basis at school. I still can’t imagine….just how hard it was for him.

I wish I could go back in time and maybe I could have made a difference when we were in a school together. But being an adult now, I know that can’t happen, so I need to use this situation as a lesson to be learned. A lesson on how bullying can destroy a kids self esteem and cause great harm to a kids life down the line. I have learned a huge lesson from this experience and know I will act differently if I see young kids teasing others. G-d willing, I will teach my kids not to bully other kids and to reach out and defend a kid if he is being bullied. Reaching out to a kid like Ori could have made all the difference and I will regret that I did not do more forever.

It’s kind of interesting the day I heard the tragic news about Ori I immediately knew it was from the bullying. I called my mom the morning of the funeral and I told my mom to tell her class not to bully. I told her to tell her class that this tragedy was a direct result of someone picked on as a kid. It took me until now to realize that was the message.

I am really so sorry for your loss.
I believe that this is a very strong message. Bullying occurs daily in every school, in every system, unfortunately even within our community. The effects of bullying must be brought to the forefront in our schools and given the attention it deserves.

Have a good Shabbos

Rabbi Gavriel Hershoff