Friday, February 7, 2014

A Word from the Director: 2/7/2014

As it is not uncommon for me to be on the phone for many hours a day, despite being in Israel for the last week and a half, things were no different. I was happy to be able to reconnect with many of our boys who are there in many different capacities. One evening as the day was winding down, I received two phone calls - both from young men we had been involved with in Los Angeles a few years ago. I will not go into the whole list of rehabs, detox programs, homeless shelters, and jail time each had experienced at different points along their journey, but the excitement of hearing how well they were doing now kept me up the rest of the night. The 30 year old told me that he has been married for three years, blessed with two children, and is currently living in Bnei Brak - a real chassidishe mentsch. He came to Israel with not a penny in his pocket, and began to bake a unique kind of health bread. What started as 10 loaves a week has grown to a full blown bakery that delivers 750 loaves all over the country. He was so proud to tell me about the stable, healthy, self-supporting life he is currently leading. The other boy, 23, originally from Lakewood, who had made the rounds of several programs, couldn’t hold down a job, and had his share of legal woes, has been in the Israeli army for 18 months and just reenlisted into an elite unit for another 18 months. As I listened to him proudly tell of his accomplishments, I recalled the hundreds of hours I had spent listening to his parents cry over his situation, worrying that he may not even live into adulthood.

I share these stories, not to proclaim the success of Aish Tamid, and not to tell you that Israel holds the key to transformation for these kids - because it doesn’t always - but to give parents out there some hope. Their stories certainly were mechazek me! Just because a kid is struggling now, doesn’t mean it will always be like this. These boys had hit rock bottom, and there was good reason to fear for their safety, but somehow, when they were ready (and yes, the efforts of parents, therapy, programs, and many tefillos and tears do help) they pulled themselves together, took advantage of opportunities and support systems being offered to them, and have grown into healthy, responsible adults.

In general, it was touching to see how many boys came to visit as I sat shiva for my father, and asked what they could do to help. Many helped make minyanim when I needed, one boy picked me up from the airport when I arrived and another took me back when I left, and two kids who live in Tel Aviv made plans to meet me at the airport before my departure flight. It was heartwarming to see the married ones, and inspiring to place yet another boy (who had been living in a loft in Meah She’arim doing nothing for months) in a nurturing yeshiva environment.

I would like to thank everyone who came to see me during the shiva for my father and for all the comforting words, phone calls, and cards that were sent. I have a newfound appreciation for shiva and the halachic mourning process. It was an active lesson for me in what true support and help looks and feels like. One last story that occurred during shiva that I wanted to share. At some point it becomes hard for the mourner to keep talking and telling stories, although you are grateful for the presence of those who come to comfort you. There was one boy who came to our house a few times over the couple of days that I sat shiva here. He sat on a couch in the back of the room, sometimes playing with my kids and keeping them occupied, and sometimes just quietly texting, but he was there. Occasionally he would ask if I needed anything, or if I wanted him to bring me a shwarma. I found it comforting that he didn’t want or need anything from me, he was just present, and sometimes that’s all a person needs.

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my assistant Ivan who held down the fort at Aish Tamid for the past two weeks, including running our annual Super Bowl party, and even fielding a few crises along the way. I would also like to acknowledge the boys who stepped up to the plate and did some of the shopping and errands necessary to keep the Drop-In Center running.

Thank you to Allan Genauer for donating a new pool table to Aish Tamid. We are putting it together and are excited to start using it soon.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Gavriel Hershoff

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