I am very privileged to work with many of the kids and teens in our community. I serve as a division head at Camp Kaylie, a teen program director at Congregation Beth Abraham, a counselor at Camp Simcha, the head counselor at Camp Malchus, an occasional rebbe at The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey (RYNJ) and The Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy (MTA) and so on. Throughout my work in our community, I do my best to create an out-of-the-ordinary relationship with the boys that I work with (sometimes at my own financial cost). From the spontaneous trips to 7-Eleven or Carvel and the group outings to Mets, Yankees or Knicks games on the one hand, to the shabbatons, the Friday night dinners and the occasional attendance at their sports games on the other hand (all in group settings of course), I try to go above and beyond for the kids and teens that I work with.
Many parents and educators have asked me why I make such an extraordinary effort in this regard, especially in an age when people are especially cautious about an adult taking an interest in their child. I would like to explain where this drive comes from.
It started in the fall of 2014, a few months after I returned from my second year learning in Yeshivat Sha’alvim. I was full of idealism and zeal to make my mark on Klal Yisroel. Then I had a conversation with one of my rebbeim, Rav Moshe Weinberger, shlit”a (rav of Congregation Aish Kodesh and the mashpia at Yeshiva University). We were discussing what has been commonly referred to as the “off the derech crisis.” I wanted to know why so many of the boys that I was friends with growing up became so disconnected from yiddishkeit. It pained me to no end. And then Rav Weinberger explained an incredible need that he saw in our community. He said that our community as a whole lacks a group of fun, cool and religiously devout college-age men and women who yearn to have a real impact on the lives of the kids in our community. He posited that there is a void that such young adults can fill that parents and rebbeim are not able to (as undeniably important as they are in the lives of children as well). Kids need college-age guys and gals to look up to, schmooze with and aspire to be like one day. While the “off the derech problem” is certainly much more all-encompassing than this one isolated issue, Rav Weinberger argued that the college -age men and women in our community can be part of the solution to this problem. After all, they have typically recently returned from learning in yeshiva or seminary in Israel and have a refreshing sense of excitement and exuberance towards their Judaism. It is thus incumbent upon us, the young adults in our community, to take responsibility for the kids in our community, the very community that has raised us, nurtured us and fostered our growth until this point in our lives.
Therefore, I continue to try and go above and beyond to chill and have fun with my campers, students etc. (always in a group setting, and with constant parental contact), while also showing them what it means to take learning, davening and one’s relationship with Hashem seriously. For example, when I take kids to baseball games, I also make sure to daven mincha/maariv during the seventh-inning stretch at the kosher stand, and to wear my yarmulke and tzitzit with pride. Kids need to see what it means to live a balanced life—with fun and excitement on the one hand, coupled with an undying devotion to Hashem, his Torah and his mitzvot on the other hand.
I thus call upon all college-age men and women in our community to pay it forward. Reach out to your campers, neighbors, siblings and other kids who you know in the community. The kids and teens in our community need us to inspire them and to serve as role models for them. As Hillel writes in Pirkei Avot (1:14), “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
By Avi Rosalimsky
Avi Rosalimsky is currently learning in the Yeshiva University Semicha Program and is active with the youth of our community.