Photo by Yossi Borodkin
Depth. Self-awareness. A sense of confidence and appreciation of one’s potential. A real desire for connection with the Aibishter, despite past or continuing problems in life. Practical tools for intellectual, emotional, spiritual growth. Wouldn’t any parent wish for their child to have these?
Baruch Hashem, there are now several mosdos that offer assistance to young Lubavitcher men who are struggling with their Yiddishkeit, or with the “system”, or with themselves.
Each one offers something a bit different, and each one has B”H made a positive impact. No doubt each one is headed by supremely dedicated and self-sacrificing mechanchim. And we need them all.
Yet there is one mosad, a hidden gem, that has been quietly assisting such bochurim with amazingly increasing success over the past ten years. In my humble opinion, it is time for the Lubavitch world to sit up and take notice. This program is worthy of the highest levels of recognition and support.
In our case, we were seeking a solution for our precious child, a gifted and sensitive young man who had just never found his place in any typical yeshiva setting. He was, and is, B”H, an extremely talented, intelligent, and respectful boy – he’s tested gifted and is able to grasp deep concepts and think in multi-faceted, creative ways.
But he is also slightly learning disabled, with a slow working memory and processing speed – which means that he will not easily add new words or concepts to his repertoire, especially in Lashon Hakodesh, Yiddish, or Aramaic, without extra time and effort on his part and on the part of the teacher.
We tried him in a small mesivta, where we hoped he’d benefit from the quiet atmosphere, and it was friendly, but it didn’t help his learning abilities. We tried him in a mesivta known for personal attention, but the personal attention wasn’t tailored to his educational needs, so there was no progress there. No progress meant the opposite of progress. And as we know, one who isn’t going up is really going down.
With deep concern, we sought out every mesivta or yeshiva program that offered any type of personal help or modified program, but none of them seemed right. Then we remembered about “Wilkes-Barre”, officially known as the Bais Menachem Youth Development Program, located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and we dared to hope.
We first heard about it from other bochurim. Wilkes-Barre boys traveled cross-country one summer and made stops for Shabbos in various yeshiva summer programs.
“Those guys look really happy,” a bochur told me after meeting them. And from all the people, parents, former shluchim, and alumni I’ve spoken to about Wilkes-Barre, I have heard the same.
“Boys come out of Wilkes-Barre stronger in their Yiddishkeit, stronger in themselves,” is the consensus. It seems that these guys, who for various reasons were the proverbial square pegs in round holes, finish Wilkes-Barre more equipped to deal with life. They are mentschen. So many of them have formed those real connections – to the Torah values we hold so dear, and also to real, actual people – without which a person can flounder and chas v’shalom be lost.
This is one thing that I truly davened for, something that I wrote in more than one tear-stained pa”n.
“Please let my son find good people to connect with, good teachers, good friends, good mashpi’im. Let him form a real kesher with them, a bond that will guide and support him throughout his life on the derech hayeshara.”
I have noticed that Rabbi Uri Perlman, the director of Wilkes-Barre, who is one of those people who gives you his full attention when he is speaking with you, is pretty hard to reach during the week. Why? A very good reason. He’s spending his time with his students. So are his staff members and faculty. And they are intelligent, and they are patient, and I sense that they are supremely confident. Not confident about themselves, but about the ability of each of their charges to develop and progress.
That is the simple secret of Bais Menachem’s success. A shliach told me, “This is the best place I’ve ever been.” Another said, “Wilkes-Barre? I love those guys.” And another, “If a bochur wants to be helped, he will be helped. If he wants to grow here, he will grow.”
We are so fortunate to have the chance for our son to experience this program! But my happiness is marred by the plight of others. As always, funding limits the reach of the school.
Still keeping its small and personal touch, Bais Menachem could add dorm space and admit more students. What if they cannot? What will become of all the boys on the waiting list who need to be there now? They are also precious neshamos, whose mothers and fathers will not be at peace until their children are cared for as well.
May we all have true chassidishe nachas from all of our children.
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Bais Menachem is having an annual fund raising drive. Make a contribution of $100 between now and you will be entered into a raffle drawing for a $10,000 grand prize and some other great prizes. For more info, click here