Project ReJewvenation Discusses:

Preventing Crime Within Our Community

Unfortunately, not every crime in our community is committed by "outsiders." Project ReJewvenation has received phone calls from the Shomrim reporting unruly and sometimes even unlawful activity being committed by wayward youths from within our community. In such instances, the Shomrim have worked together with Project ReJewvenation to ensure that the situation is handled with the necessary sensitivity and discretion.

Such instances are, Boruch Hashem, extremely rare, percentage-wise. But they do happen, and even one instance is too many. What would cause a fine frum child to become an outlaw?

Usually, it is a bad influence. Sadly, though, bad influences are often camouflaged and are not recognizable as dangerous until after harm is already done.

For instance, as innocuous a site as a laundromat in the center of the community may contain a video game where teenagers of mixed genders, races, and moral standards assemble to play. No parent would consider a laundromat a "dangerous hangout", but there have been instances where children have bonded with undesirable influences in just such a setting.

Or take, for example, the upstairs room of a popular pizza store, which, until Project ReJewvenation intervened with the assistance of the local Rabbonim, was known "on the street" as the place for degenerate youths to congregate and act.

Even when a teenager is strong in their resolve not to have anything to do with "bad influences," they are still often difficult to recognize. Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, Founder of Project ReJewvenation and Rav of the Agudath Israel of Bayswater, has pointed out in his Parenting Skills Classes, that we teach our children, especially girls, that midos are the primary component of frumkeit, that they should not "judge" other people, and that they should not "look down" on others. Yet many negative influences, including certain criminal elements, are actually "nice people" when you meet them. They will not lie to you, nor speak about you behind your back. They are polite and well-spoken. They look normal, too. So when our children follow their honest understanding of our instructions, and make friends with what they perceive to be a "nice guy", we object. Often our objections are not well-received by those who don't see anything wrong with their actions.

Our children are not aware that criminals and other corrupt individuals look, walk, and talk the same as law-abiding citizens. "In the illustrated Hagados for Pesach," Rabbi Shapiro says, "the evil son is always portrayed as a sloppy, ugly, boorish lout. In reality, the rasha, the tam, and the chacham often look alike. We teach our children that a tzadik can look like an average person, and still be a tzadik inside. We should teach our children that a rasha, too, can look like an average person but still be a rasha inside."

Our children are caught unawares by the outer trappings of the average "bad influence" - which often convey an illusion of normalcy and innocence.

Worse yet, bad influences sometimes come in the guise of actual assistance. Because at-risk and confused teenagers are often desperate for assistance - as are their parents - they will turn to anyone who promises salvation. The results are often disastrous, as in the following examples:

For years, "Mr. Bergman" (not his real name) was involved in helping troubled teenagers. A number of them are actually indebted to him, for he really did help. Not long ago, "Mr. Bergman" was arrested for pilfering electronic and computer equipment from his place of work, supposedly "fencing" (selling) the stolen items through teenagers who he dealt with.

A principal of a local Bais Yaakov school was informed by a teenage girl that her wayward friend, who had trouble getting admitted into a school, was so desperate that she accepted assistance from a member of our community who offered to help get her into a school in return for immoral behavior.

A teenage girl who was having trouble getting along with her parents met a couple in a late-night Kosher restaurant. The couple offered the girl a "job" as a "model" if she would run away from home and take shelter with them.

A man who used to work for a prominent Frum social service organization continued his "chesed" of helping wayward teenagers on his own, until it was discovered that the reason he no longer works for that organization would frighten any parent from letting their teenager near him.

The purpose of relating these unfortunate but very true stories is to issue a word of caution to parents of rebellious youth: Be careful where you go for help. There are many reasons why an adult would want to work with problem adolescents - reasons that range from altruism down. Rabbi Shapiro was once approached by a local kiruv school which requested that he recommend candidates for their new after-school "big sister" program. They mentioned that they had also placed an ad in the Jewish Press asking for applicants.

"Be careful. You're going to get a lot of unstable people responding to that ad," Rabbi Shapiro said.

"How did you know?" was the response.

Rebellious teenagers are vulnerable teenagers. Their families, desperate. All easy targets for unwell or unscrupulous predators.

Project ReJewvenation utilizes only the services of Bnei Torah who have either professional experience in chinuch or counseling in yeshivos. Their standards of supervision are strict, and they will not hesitate to dismiss a volunteer if need be. Of course, there are many capable organizations where parents can seek assistance, including Counterforce and Ohel, to name just two, and every organization has its strengths and weaknesses. But parents, who would never entrust their financial dealings to someone of uncertain competence, ought not to do less with regard to their children.

It is frightening to think of the pitfalls accessible to our innocent children in our own neighborhood, within our own community. No matter how self-contained our community is, there are still dangers lurking for the unsuspecting adolescent. Usually our children make their way through adolescence without falling prey to them, but not always. It is up to parents to educate themselves regarding the dangers to their childrens' well-being, and to teach their children not to "judge wine by its barrel."