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Issue 171 - Sun Block, Anyone?
Moving from Intervention to Prevention
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Mishpacha Magazine

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Dear Readers:

With a heart filled with gratitude to Hashem, it is my pleasure to inform you that my wife Udi and I became grandparents (for the first time) this past Tuesday night when our children Shlomie and Kaila Horowitz had a baby boy. Mazel tov to our mechutanim Ovadiah and Rochel Kranz; to our parents Shlomo and Beile Nutovic and Leibel and Bracha Berger.

Should you wish to share mazel tov wishes with us, please email my wife at She is incredibly gracious and understanding about sharing me with the klal, and I am sure that she will be pleased to hear from you.

May we always share besuros tovos with each other.

Yakov Horowitz

Imagine that you work in a pharmacy during the summer months. All day long, day after day, people hobble into your store suffering from the effects of painful sunburn injuries. Well, you are a compassionate person, so you dutifully guide them to the section of the drugstore where they can purchase the various sprays, creams and lotions that treat sunburn pain. One would imagine that after a while you would be quite motivated to direct all customers to purchase a tube of sun block and a hat. After all, for a tiny investment of time and money, one could prevent sunburn rather than treat it – and avoid many days of horrible anguish.

Ten years ago, when Project YES was created, I was given a sacred mission by the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and the legendary President of Agudath Israel, Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z’tl – to help the children who were not making it in our glorious Yeshiva and Beis Yakov school system.

I am very proud of the lifesaving work that our Project YES staff members and volunteers have done over the past ten years. I am inspired by the outstanding work of the many organizations who have dedicated resources and energy to help our precious children succeed – in school and in life. I am touched by the generosity of the overwhelmed donors who have responded magnificently to requests to fund these programs.

But even a cursory analysis of the teens at risk scene begs the question: "Why aren't we spending more time, effort, and resources on prevention rather than intervention?" Surely there are reasonable steps that we can take to avoid at least some of the heartache of teens at risk – if we have the fortitude and courage to honestly evaluate how we parent and educate our children.

The first step in this process would be to spend some time reflecting on the factors that place our children at risk. Then, moving forward, analyze each of the risk factors and decide what can be done to address them before they become full-blown problems. The challenge with that process is that we all approach this issue with our life experiences and biases.

I was once travelling in a subway train from Brooklyn to Mid-town Manhattan with a close friend of mine who had lived in Eretz Yisroel all his life. He had just arrived in America for medical treatment the previous evening and was rather overwhelmed by the organized chaos of the rush-hour scene in the New York City subway system. After observing several successive stations filled with many hundreds of people trying to squeeze in our packed train, he asked me in all innocence, “Don’t you have k’vishim (highways) in America?”

Well, if you think about it, the response of many or most people to the question, “What is the primary cause for the teens-at-risk crisis?” is rather similar to that of my friend in the subway train. For it is part of the human experience to view things from one’s own perspective. A family counselor might tell you that poor parenting or lack of shalom bayis are the leading causes of teens abandoning Yiddishkeit. A stay-at-home mom will inform you that the explosion of day care caused by growing families, financial demands and working mothers are causing our children – and their issues – to be neglected. A mental health professional may claim that molestation and abuse are leading causes, while the manager of a charity organization will point to grinding poverty as a terrible risk factor. A kiruv professional may inform you that some children just aren’t finding fulfillment in our Torah lifestyle the way it is currently being presented to them.

As we can well imagine, the truth lies with all – and none – of them. For each of the risk factors noted above are genuine ones and need to be addressed if we are to make a significant dent in the number of children dropping out of our Torah society. But no single one of them is the only factor, and it does a disservice to this complex matter to assume that solving any one of the issues noted above would bring the teens at risk crisis to a screeching halt.

I, too, plead guilty to the syndrome noted above. For, although I wear many hats, I am primarily an educator, which invariably affects my view of things. With that in mind, it is entirely understandable that ten of the first twelve columns in this series addressed educational aspects of the teens at risk issue.

However, as the primary focus of this series of essays is to prevent what I see as the clear and present threat of an exponential increase in the number of our precious children abandoning Yiddishkeit in the years ahead, we would probably be better served to broaden the theme of these essays and to scan things from a wider lens in the weeks and months to come.

As is the case with all matters of consequence, we will need the wisdom and guidance of our gedolim when considering how to adapt to the changing landscape of parenting children in these challenging times. But rest assured that if we simply move forward doing exactly what we have been doing in the past, increasingly greater numbers of our beloved children and their parents will come staggering to our at-risk ‘pharmacies’ in indescribable agony – begging for pain relief.

Whatever your personal view regarding the melting ice pack and rising temperatures across the globe; in the arena of parenting our children, the trend of ‘global warming’ is here to stay.

Sun block, anyone?

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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