Again the phone rings; Eli shoots off an email.
“A young man told me he wants to be a big brother. I asked how he heard of us, and he asked me whether I recognized him. Ten years earlier, as the son of divorced impoverished parents, he was suffering socially and academically, and had received a mentor from Yad Eliezer. I asked if he is still in touch with his mentor. He laughed. ‘He’s like my father! I talk to him all the time!’ I asked him when he knew that the relationship with his mentor was real and lasting. He said, ‘One day he looked through my backpack. There wasn’t much − a torn pencil case, half a broken pencil, a few ratty notebooks. He took me to the stationary store where he picked up a stack of notebooks. He stuffed nice pencils, erasers and markers into a new pencil case until it overflowed. He paid for it all from his pocket. Embarrassed, I asked him why he was doing this. He told me, “You’re a smart kid. I want you to have supplies like all the other kids.” Then I knew that he really cared about me.’
“I told the young man to wait as I checked his file in the computer,” continued Rabbi Yakobi. “Sure enough, I found in the log kept by his mentor that he had taken him to buy school supplies, and since then, his little brother had opened up to him. This ‘little brother’ is now a ‘big brother’ passing on the legacy.”
After the Big Brother program’s first decade, an outside study surveyed 1000 graduates (100 randomly selected from each year of the program). Given the students’ troubled family and school situations, it could not be taken for granted that they would succeed in life. A whopping 87% were in school or holding down a job. For such an at-risk group the figures are a powerful testament to the success of the project.
“Recently a bridegroomcame in on his wedding day. I often get wedding invitations, but an invitation in person on the day of the wedding? That was a first! He came together with his mentor, and said, ‘My father is in jail − with good reason. My mentor is the only father I know. Tonight he and his wife will walk us to the chuppah. If not for you, I don’t know where I would be today − certainly not where I am − more likely where my father is. I had to invite you in person.’ Then the mentor asked if I recognized him. I did. I had arranged for him to have a mentor when he was sixteen years old and still could not read. I was moved to hear that he is working, getting a good education and heading a family. ‘I learned to invest in a child,’ he said, ‘from you.’”
Our interview had ended, but I had one more question for Rabbi Yakobi. “Forgive me if this is a little personal, but I have to ask. Did something in your background attract you to this work?”
“Thank G-d, I grew up in a regular family. Both my parents worked in education and we had dozens of ‘adopted siblings’ who became part of my family. Today all my siblings are involved in education; perhaps it’s in my blood.”
“Well, in that case, your parents must be very proud to have 25,000 grandchildren.”