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At-Risk is At Risk
A Purim Column
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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3/11/09

At-Risk is At Risk

A Purim Column

With the economy heading south, we are all looking for ways to cut back on our expenses. I guess that’s good news for Motel 6, pawn shops and “Dollar Stores,” but it’s a pretty lousy development for anyone running a non-profit organization (like me, for example) because practically everyone except bankruptcy attorneys earns less money in times like these. Less money means less charity giving. Gulp.

So, recently, with Purim in the air, an idea grabbed hold of me: How about thinking outside the box (kinda easy for me to do – that’s where I live), and search for innovative, inexpensive ways to solve or improve the teens-at-risk crisis for all of Klal Yisroel?

So; in the spirit of Chodesh Adar, here are some ideas:

How about artificially aging all eighth-grade boys and girls who are not succeeding in our school system by making them look like they are in their early twenties? For a few hundred dollars per child, we can retain the services of professional make-up artists and instruct them to give the girls some laugh lines, and add facial stubble and thinning hair for the boys. I think that would solve things for lots of the kids overnight, at a tiny fraction of what we pay for tutors and tuition for at-risk schools. Why you ask? Because, let’s face it. Some kids – no; some people – are just not cut out for a 12-14 hour school day. If restless adults in their fifties pace like caged tigers in shul with their reading glasses and arthritic knees after 30 (15? ...5?) minutes of davening, why in the world would you expect their teenage counterparts with boundless energy to sit in a chair for a 2-hour gemara shiur? Look; we all know that if these jumpy kids survive their miserable school experience, many of them utilize their vigor constructively and become amazing adults. So why not ‘get with the program’ and just pronounce them grown-ups?

Hey; come to think of it, this brainstorm might also help alleviate the shidduch crisis, due to the fact that there are more at-risk boys than girls. Making them virtual twenty-two-year-olds would add far more young men to the shidduch pool. And these bachurim will be exempt from spending time in “the freezer,” so the benefits would be immediate. It would also save time and money. Think of how many more trees will remain standing now that parents and shadchanim will be printing and reviewing much shorter “shidduch resumes” for these kids.

To make sure this idea would fly, I decided to run it by some of the kids I work with. One of the teenage girls, though, was unimpressed and had some ideas of her own. “Ra-bbi, nt; bt u really nd 2 lose this at-risk label. First of all, it’s, like, so yes-ter-day. Whteva! And, like, soz, bt wd u want to b called an at-risk something? If ur wife kept breaking pl8s in the kitchen, wd she like to b called an at-risk balabusta? And B4 u ask me 2 activ8 the alarm clock in ur bbry, remember that I’ll call u an at-risk techie or just wake-up challenged. lol. cas. rofl. tty l8r and wb2me.

I walked away thinking that she had a good point. Then, it hit me! Why don’t we just cut out the labels altogether (you know, best bachur, metzuyan, at risk), and go to a color-coded-card scheme that kids can carry in the privacy of their wallets, along the lines of homeland security colors (red is most at-risk, followed by orange, yellow … you get the picture). Better yet, let’s do white for best bachur all the way to black for highest risk. Or maybe the other way around, with black being the preferred color. Whatever.

And speaking of labels, here is another idea. Why don’t we do a dual mentoring program? After all, we all know what happens in real life – all the ‘A’ students become lawyers, accountants and comptrollers and wind up working for the millionaire ‘D’ students who started businesses while the braniacs were still in school. So; here is the deal. We write a new type of Yissachar-Zevulun contract. Participating A students are matched with D students in 5th grade. Then, the A students tutor the D students and help them study for all tests throughout their school years. In return, the D students commit to supporting the A students while they are in kollel (I think one year of support for each year tutored is about fair), and then promise to give them training and a job when they leave kollel.

Talk about a win-win idea.



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