Mendy’s Story (Part II)
In last week’s column, readers became acquainted with Mendy, one of six siblings who grew up in a dysfunctional home where their parents never saw eye-to-eye and managed to make life utterly miserable for their children in the process.
Mendy’s turbulent upbringing exposed him to abuse not only at his mother’s hand, but also by his so-called educators who would resort to hitting him when he wasn’t up to par – in accordance with the rebbe’s standards for learning and behavior.
Things improved somewhat for Mendy when he transferred to a yeshiva in Far Rockaway (from Borough Park), but his respite was not to last. At the age of 16, he made aliya with his parents and some of his siblings. (Two older brothers stayed behind, as they had moved out of their parents’ home much earlier.)
While this move abroad was designed as an attempt (ultimately failing) to salvage his parents’ rocky marriage, it uprooted Mendy from his much-improved environment, in a Far Rockaway dorm, and cast him right back into bleak surroundings completely devoid of any human warmth, let alone love.
It didn’t take Mendy long to search out undesirable friends and to rush headlong into the illusory comfort of alcohol, drugs and the like.
When Mendy was about 17 – his parents were separated by then – a Good Samaritan, a New Yorker, recognized Mendy’s desperate straits and arranged for him to stay at Ohr Samayach. Though Mendy was thus spared the anguish of his suffering at home, he didn’t exactly make an instant turnabout (of his way of life).
Mendy subsequently encountered a nightmarish ordeal that started out as his 18th birthday celebration with so-called friends and ended with their abandoning him in the middle of nowhere, leaving him in a wretched and drunken state all by himself – a haunting experience that gave rise to a fierce determination never to be faced with such loneliness and misery again.
With the help of a benefactor who appears at his side, Mendy not only escapes his mother’s abuse but is rescued from a self-destructive lifestyle.
Our curiosity is piqued
Rachel: Mendy, may we reveal the identity of this person who materialized like an angel from heaven to save you from your slide into a bottomless pit?
Mendy: Sure, I don’t see why not. He is a well-known figure [in the Orthodox Jewish community] and is known for his philanthropy. His name is Moshe Binik.
What accommodations did he make for you upon your arrival in New York?
I was introduced to someone else, another stranger to me at the time, who lives with his wife and children in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and who has made it his life’s mission to rescue boys who are “lost” and homeless.
With your background and history, and the frazzled physical and emotional state I can just imagine you were in when you arrived here, what made you place your trust in someone you had never before known or met?
Well, to be honest, I didn’t. It’s not like I had where to go, so I figured I’d take advantage of a seemingly generous man’s offer, do my own thing and abscond once I’d get back on my feet.
How did that (your plan) end up working out?
I had never experienced a real family life. This man – and his incredible wife – taught me what family is. I also learned about the beauty of Shabbos and experienced real Yiddishkeit.
You say he “taught” you. Did he give you lessons? Did you attend a class?
No, nothing like that. He “taught” me simply by example. His home was open to me. He and his wife and their children embraced me as though I had always been part of their family and accepted me the way I was. I learned by observing them and came away with my own conclusions.
Did you live with this family in their home?
No. This man, Avi Fishoff (whom Moshe Binik put me in touch with), settled me into a comfortable home not far from his own. They have this second house – known as Home Sweet Home – especially set up to accommodate kids who are in need of a home away from home. [Avi initially intuits who would benefit from his guidance and the warmth he and his family altruistically dole out.]
You returned here at the age of 19; today you’re 25. Obviously, Avi’s confidence in you was well-placed. How far have you come since the time you first became acquainted with the Fishoffs?
To give you a good indication, this past Chanukah we had a get-together with all the “graduates” of Avi Fishoff’s generosity – fifty to sixty of us. When I first settled into HSH, there was one other boy there. The average stay there is about a year; mine was 14 months. Today some of these boys are married with families. All of us have improved the quality of our lives, to say the least. Today I live on my own, strive to work part-time, have a learning shiur every night and volunteer at Home Sweet Home to help others down on their luck.
What about your blood relatives? Are you in touch with them?
I’ve heard nothing from or about my mother (and two younger siblings who stayed with her). I have become closer to my father, though; he visits here every so often, and we are otherwise in touch by phone on a regular basis. Family is important, you know. I am also close to my older brothers.
Do you have any advice for parents?
Unconditional love! Never close the door on your kid’s pain. Explore it and try to fix it. Shutting a kid out is detrimental and will only make things worse.
Mendy, you – like your wonderful mentors – have a heart of gold. Your past ordeals have given you a resilience and maturity beyond your years. May Hashem continue to light your path, and may you find strength and hatzlocha in all your noble pursuits.
Note to readers: Avi Fishoff mentors parents of kids in crisis and can be contacted atAviFishoff@aol.com. Avi does not charge a fee for his counsel but welcomes donations in any denomination towards the upkeep of Home Sweet Home, which is run by volunteers only. Parents of “kids in pain” can also inquire about a free anonymous support group.
Any reader in a position to offer Mendy assistance in the way of a viable livelihood or shidduch can contact Mendy through this column at Rachel@jewishpress.com.
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