:: A Call to Rabbanim toTake Action
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Director, Project Y.E.S. -Agudath Israel of America
Editor’s Note: The unfortunate reality of today’s children at risk (as defined and described below) requires an immediate and targeted response to ensure that the next generation of committed Jews remains that way. Rabbi Horowitz, one of the prominent professionals in this field, will be addressing this urgent topic at our Annual Rabbinic Conference, February 7-8, 1999 at the Danbury Hilton. See page 5 for further details. What follows is an brief overview of the issue.
Due to the recent explosion in the number of ‘drop-out teens’ in our communities, and the shocking attendant incidents of public chillul Shabbos, promiscuity and substance abuse, it is clear that an organized communal response is essential, if we are to have a meaningful impact on reversing this frightening trend.
While it is evident that many of the strategies needed to be implemented are within the chinuch framework, there are,nevertheless, steps that can be taken by local rabbanim which will go a long way in reversing the trend.
While it is critical that the rabbanim must be involved in dealing with the problem, I urge that a shul member be designated to coordinate the community response to the problem. He will be designated to attend meetings, plan activities, see to it that targeted teens who are in need of services in fact are receiving them, and report to the rov regularly.
What follows is a brief synopsis of some issues which will have to be dealt with in order to service this population of youth.
While later stages of rebelliousness become quite pronounced, some subtle signs manifest themselves months and even years before. There are telltale signs of substance abuse that, with even a minimal amount of training, one can learn to detect quickly so that help for the at-risk teen and his/her family can be sought in the hope that an addiction doesn’t become full blown.
Moreover, one abuse will frequently lead to all sorts of other related infractions. Early intervention and effectively beamed services can often eliminate a great deal of individual and familial heartache. There is, as can be expected, a great deal of denial in our communities over these issues. A well-trained, sensitive individual in each congregation will be an invaluable resource.
There are services available to which communities can turn. Some of these include:
Torah Umesorah’s Counterforce Program (718-854-7730) can assist elementary school children with many school-related issues.
Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. (718-375-3900) can offer counseling, yeshiva placements, ‘big brother and sister’ programs (a project which now is undergoing great expansion), and other forms of personalized assistance.
Ohel Children’s Home (718-851-6300) offers professional help for individuals and families in need. They are currently developing resources for substance abuse.
Many of the teens complain of having nothing to do on a long Motzaei Shabbat, a long (winter) Friday night or a (summer) Shabbat afternoon. Here is an opportunity for well-planned activities to alleviate the boredom and the “hot-spots” for trouble which could result.
Additionally, rabbanim can be helpful in the following ways:
1. A virtual small army of volunteers is needed to work on these matters immediately. Rabbanim are best suited to identify and recommend such individuals to us.
2. Rabbanim must take the lead in consciousness raising and generating genuine public concern.
3. My greatest concern is that as our issue comes to the fore we will find all sorts of solutions and even programs being suggested. Some of these may not be entirely in keeping with our primary goal of reclaiming these teens for a vibrant future life within Torah and mitzvot.
It is my considered opinion, that a committee of rabbanim to coordinate these efforts and draft the necessary guidelines be formed.
I conclude with the sentiments of Pirkei Avot: The task is huge, time is pressing but it is not one’s responsibility to do everything. I urge you to start.
Rabbi Horowitz is Menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam, Monsey, NY
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