New York – Two weeks ago, I buried my brother. After a lifetime of struggling and pain, his body could not contain his soul anymore. His soul was not thinking of my heart when it left, it paid no attention to the pain I would have to endure from a broken heart. My love couldn’t save him.
Let me tell you our story. The first thing you should know is that he wasn’t really my brother, well, at least we didn’t share the same parents. What makes someone a brother? Is it only blood? How many broken families have we seen, where brothers can’t even be in the same room as each other? Is that really a brother, or is brotherhood a much deeper thing? I think that being a brother must be earned. I think that being a brother means that you love someone unconditionally, you are there for them in the good times and the bad. You can give them advice and still love them when they don’t take it. You believe in them even when everyone else has given up. If this is what a brother is, then he was very much my brother.
How did I become so close to someone who is not related to me? Simple, I have hundreds of people whom I feel this close to. Maybe not as close as I was with him but almost. This is my story.
I run a drop-in center for boys in Brooklyn, N.Y. called, “Our Place”. A drop-in center is a place where teenagers can hang out in a safe environment. They can choose to just hang out and get a hot meal or they could get help. Most of the guys that come down are struggling with some real terrible life situations. Most people view these kids in a very negative light. I have heard all of the name calling, names like, Bums, Drug Addicts, Criminals, Delinquents and many more. These are words that help us to distance ourselves from a very harsh reality. We put labels on these kids because it makes it easy for us to push them aside, to avoid dealing with this terrible problem in our community.
Watch below YouTube clip about Our Place a Brooklyn, NY org. helping frum runaway kids.
Well, I think that there is a problem in our community, but it is not that our children are misbehaving. It is not even that they are going off the derech. That has been occurring since there existed a Jewish Nation. If you look through our history, the most consistent phenomenon you will find, is that there were always young people misbehaving and many, many of them went off the derech. The problem is that our community, that has more kind and generous people of any community in the world, a community that has built hospitals, clinics and charity organizations for any possible cause, this community that I am so proud to call myself a member of, this community, can label their own children and cast them aside. We have so many Kiruv yeshivas and organizations. We are working so hard to bring people back to Hashem. Look back four or five generations in any one of these Jew’s families that we are bringing back and you will always find a man with a beard and yarmulka and a woman with a tichel. What happened to their kids? How did we lose them? I’ll tell you how. We were afraid. We were scared that one rotten apple will ruin the barrel. So if someone was misbehaving, we just let them go. Well, if you go back five generations and take ten boys and ten girls that went off, their descendants could fill the biggest Kiruv yeshiva we have.
In Our Place, we don’t have ten boys and ten girls. We have hundreds a year. As of July first this year, we have had 556 boys come to our center. This number does not include the additional hundreds of boys and girls that have come to our other two programs (Our Place Girls and the Living Room). If you add in the hundreds of phone calls that the staff and I have taken, from people who never come to any of the programs, we have well over a thousand suffering souls a year. Although Our Place is the largest center of its kind in the Jewish community, we are dealing primarily with people from the Flatbush area. What about the kids in Boro Park, Crown Heights, Williamsburg? What about the Jewish communities in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and the staggering number of kids that are suffering in Israel? How can we look away?
I remember asking a very wealthy and generous man if he could help us with our work. He responded that he was well aware of how bad the situation was, but he felt that it was a waste of money to deal with these kids when they are already in their teens and twenties because that’s already too late. He informed me that he was putting his money into early intervention because maybe we can prevent this before it gets too bad. I found myself agreeing with him from a business point of view. In business, there is a concept called “acceptable loss”. This means that in order to improve the whole, you may have to snip off some of the loose ends. When I left his office, I felt so ashamed that I was able to see that logic and maybe even partially agree with it. I thought, “This is not business, these are G-d’s children, these are our children. Can there possibly be an acceptable loss when it comes to Jewish children? Can we just cut someone out of our family because they have become inconvenient? “ My other thought was, “Isn’t what we are doing when we are helping these kids, early intervention? Are we not preventing generations of Jews that will have no connection with Hashem or the Jewish community? Are we not preventing the dysfunctional families that these young people might eventually have, if they don’t get help with their emotional issues now? Most importantly, are we not preventing the deaths of so many of our little brothers and sisters that will never have a chance to raise Jewish families of their own?”
As I sit here in anguish over the loss of my brother, I think about all of my other brothers that are suffering. Who will save our children? Who will save the Jewish people?
Every morning, in “Modeh Ani”, we thank Hashem for returning our souls to our bodies. We end by thanking Him for believing in us (“Rabah Emunosecha”). We are saying that Hashem returns our souls as an act of faith. He says, “I am giving you this soul because I believe that you can do something with it today.” If Hashem has hope in every single Jew, what gives us the right to give up hope in “some” Jews? What better way to convince Hashem to bring the geulah than to show him that we will never give up on even one of his children.
Sony Perlman MSW is the director of OUR PLACE NY, a drop-in-center for kids from the frum community. He has over a decade of experience working with kids at risk. He also has a private practice. If you would like to contact him call OUR PLACE 718-692-4058 or email him directly at [email protected].
Editors note: The above article is not a paid advertisement, nor an endorsement of OUR Place , it simply highlights the tremendous amount of Kids at Risk in our Frum community, and one of the many organizations in New York that are trying to help. If you know of any other Organizations helping troubled teens, please email us and will feature them.