When Rov Pam, a”h, gave me the go ahead to do Pre-Marital counseling, I knew in time I would add more topics to my curriculum. But I never dreamed that I would be talking about teenagers at risk to a couple that just go engaged! But the fact remains that I do. Couples are getting nervous about what is happening to our youth and how it will affect their future. It seems as if a war has broken out, and our youth is under attack. At present, yeshivas are at a loss about what to do and have a “zero tolerance” approach to dealing with the problem. Once the child is asked to leave the yeshiva he/she will find it difficult to gain entrance to another. This will start a cycle of rejection, anger, rebellion and finally teenage depression – an “at risk” cycle that our sages were quite aware of, and avoided at all costs
Many years ago, I received a phone call from a Rosh Yeshiva in Brooklyn who stated that he needed my help with one of his staff members, who had once been a student of his. I was working for an agency called The Federation Employment and Guidance Service that provided career testing and guidance. As we spoke, he explained that this rebbe’s class was just completely out of control. He continued to tell me that the rebbe’s wife was having a hard time dealing with all this stress and wanted a divorce. Perhaps being a rebbe was just not for him. He then told me that he had contacted a contractor that he knew who would be willing to hire this young man as an apprentice installing ceramic tiles. “If you feel that he has the potential to do the job, I will make the call” he said, “but first I have a confession to make. In yeshiva there was always a feeling of defeat, on the part of the rebbe, with the boys who were not ‘into’ learning. These boys were different from the rest. So, rather than expel them, we separated them and gave them their own rebbe to work with. As the years went by, these boys graduated and married. Some went to college, others went into business and became very productive in the community. The point is that I was wrong about them! The very same boys we wanted out became the baal-batim of today! They not only support us, but they also support several other yeshivas!” I did not dare interrupt him as he spoke, but I knew he was talking about the bum class-a system class that saved hundreds of youth from becoming teenagers at risk. The Vilna Gaon cites a talmudic passage on the famous pasuk, “educate each child according to his ability.” It was a time in history when the yeshiva world ruled with their heart and followed the words of the Vilna Gaon. It seemed as if the yeshivas gave over the responsibility of the bum class to the yetzer hara, who just took control and changed the name to teens at risk. A week later, I met with the young man, as we reviewed his test scores. He seemed to have some disabilities, but they were manageable. But with time and patience he could learn the tile business. Today, this very same rebbe has his own tile business and helps support the yeshiva in every way.
Because this rosh yeshiva followed the words of the Vilna Gaon and put the children’s priorities even before his very own, he was zoche to save hundred’s of boys from becoming teens at risk, and in turn keep shalom bayis within their homes.
Moishe Herskowitz MS., CSW, is a marriage counselor and maintains his private practice in Brooklyn as founder of CPC. He is an educator, lecturer, consultant and adjunct professor at Touro College. He is the counseling coordinator for Career Services at Touro College and the At Risk Center in Brooklyn. Moishe is presently working as a licensed guidance counselor for the NYC Board of Ed. in Special Education. For more information or to obtain a free brochure, please contact Moishe Herskowitz at 435-7388 or at CPCMoishe@aol.com.