It was an evening to remember for the scores of guests who flocked to the home of Edmond and Terri Harary on Wednesday night, August 12th to learn about and support the vital work
of the Kesher organization on behalf of our community’s young men and women.

The Painful Truth

To understand the importance of the organization’s remarkable work, let us imagine a giant, pulsating city, brimming with vibrancy, crowded with large buildings and booming businesses, store fronts and peddlers. And at the edge of this large city, a large ocean rages, as constant, powerful wind gusts create massive waves, threatening anyone who dares attempt to pass through it. Yet across these ruthless waters lay a small, peaceful island inhabited by the courageous few people who managed to survive the dangerous voyage across the sea, where they built large homes and beautiful families.

“This, in a nutshell, is our community,” said Rabbi Joey Haber, who opened the evening’s conversation with this analogy, following warm greetings by Mr. Joe Bibi, who spoke on behalf of the organization’s committee members.

Rabbi Haber, who serves as the leader and driving force behind Kesher’s numerous programs and divisions, compared our vibrant, close-knit Sephardic community to a bustling city, where our youngsters are tenderly nurtured and cared for. The peaceful island is the condition of stability which all parents wish for their children – a warm, beautiful home and family. But the journey from the “city” to the “island,” from the nurturing framework of childhood to the serenity and stability of marriage and family, is a tempestuous voyage. The period of late teens and early 20’s is a raging ocean that young men and women must cross to realize their and their parents’ dreams of stability, and this ocean has, unfortunately, claimed numerous casualties over the years.

“While there may be nice programs and activities for our young adults,” Rabbi Haber observed, “when it comes to guidance, and direction – our kids have nothing. And if you’ll take a deeper look, you’ll find that nearly every difficulty and problem that arises is during, or stems from, that age group, from that ocean.”

Rabbi Haber added that this ocean has vastly expanded over the last few years, and now threatens our young adults with problems that may not have existed years ago. While it is true that we have institutions and programs aimed at preventing our children from drugs and substance abuse, these are designed and focused primarily on elementary and high school students. After graduating and moving on to college, however, youngsters enter this new chapter in their lives with no supervision, no guidance, and no direction. This painful truth, Rabbi Haber insisted, cannot go unaddressed.

Kesher, Then and Now

“To have every single community boy and girl between the ages of high school and marriage be connected to our community and rabbis. This is Kesher’s goal.”

This goal, succinctly articulated by Rabbi Haber, is an ambitious one, but Kesher is determined to reach it. The organization began with “Core Kesher,” a program designed to connect over 150 post high school boys with more than 15 community rabbis, who concern and involve themselves with the growth of the young men. Responsibilities include learning with each boy, phone conversations, personal meetings, and Shabbat meals.

Following the success of Core Kesher, Rabbi Haber and the Kesher team began the Kesher Public School Program, where approximately 25 community public school boys are given classes by Rabbi Duvi Bensoussan. The boys are treated to dinner, and are given a chance to connect with the rabbi and other community men who offer their advice, support, and assistance in all areas.

From there began Kesher Israel, where boys returning home from their post-high school year in Israel are paired with rabbis and mentors. Many boys return home from Israel more religiously committed then they were when they left, and the men of Kesher Israel help boys readjust with their families and guide them as they make the crucial decisions that lay before them at this juncture in their lives.

Next began the Kesher Girls Program, where 40-50 girls get together every week with mentors to discuss dating, social life, pressures, and virtually anything that might be on the mind of a young woman. Then came Kesher’s School Liaisons, in which a Kesher representative is assigned to every major community high school and maintains close contact with the school’s students.

The Ezra Shabot, A”H,
Kesher on Campus

Perhaps the most important division of Kesher, however, is the Ezra Shabot Kesher on Campus program, which works with community collegiates, building and maintaining a strong, meaningful connection to our community’s values and traditions.

The program was established in loving memory of Ezra Shabot, a”h, who spent his short life helping people in need, greeting everyone with a smile, and making everyone feel as though he were their best friend. Ezra’s friends and family members agreed the Ezra Shabot Kesher on Campus was the perfect way to honor his legacy of selflessness and love of people.

The program began with a series of classes on Jewish topics for young men. A short while later, as community girls also began seeking opportunities to connect with Judaism and their community, the program expanded to include classes for young women. The Kesher on Campus division quickly became an integral part of the students’ day.

However, staff members began to realize that while all the youngsters were looking to connect, not everyone was interested in Torah classes. In an effort to introduce a variety of avenues of connection, Kesher started bringing our community institutions to the college campus. Institutions like SAFE and Exceed offer the students panel discussions and lectures, offering students advice, guidance and some direction as they navigate their way through their newfound independence in a foreign environment.

Investing in our Children’s Future

The night served as a wake-up-call for our community, and as an appeal for assistance to ensure Kesher’s ongoing ability to connect to our community’s youngsters. Anyone with children standing on the precipice of adulthood understands the fears and concerns that accompany what is otherwise this exciting chapter in a young person’s life, crossing the bridge from childhood to adulthood. It is up to us, as a community, to help Kesher help our youngsters and guide them toward a bright and successful future.

Those interested in learning more about Kesher on Campus, or Kesher’s other programs, are invited to contact the organization at Kesher’s new website is scheduled for launching on October 1, and will feature extensive information about its various programs.

Investing in Kesher means investing in our children and our community’s future. Kesher invites all of us to make this investment, the dividends of which will be paid in the years and decades to come, as our community, please Gd, continues to grow and flourish, and serve as a beacon of light and inspiration to the entire Jewish world.

“They Typically Fail and Then Come for Help”

In its effort to underscore the importance of this issue, Kesher invited leaders of some of our community’s most acclaimed organizations to share their feelings on the subject. Among them was Mr. Ike Dweck of The SAFE Foundation, Mr. Charles Antebi of Sephardic Bikur Holim (SBH), Mr. Sol Wahba of Exceed, and Mr. Jack Cayre of the Sephardic Community Center (SCC). The presentation took place in the form of a dialogue between Rabbi Haber and these distinguished figures, whose responses were nothing short of frightening:

“Ike Dweck of SAFE, can you tell me the amount of children involved with drugs in the 12th grade?”

“In high school, with our drug testing programs, we don’t see very many problems that start in high school, as they’re caught relatively quickly. The problem is mainly post
high school.”

“Charles Antebi, on behalf of SBH, can you tell me how many community kids are involved in hesed throughout high school?”

“Hundreds, if not thousands. Between school hesed hours, and the kids choosing to be involved voluntarily – thousands.”

“And can you tell me the amount of kids involved in hesed between high school and marriage?”

“Perhaps 100… At best.”

“Sol Wahba, of Exceed, what kind of decisions do
our kids make when they’re going into business at
20 years old?”

“What we find happening is that they go in very impulsively. They are determined to make things work. They want to show off to friends and family that they know what they’re doing, but they fail to do the proper research. They don’t have the guidance, they don’t have the blueprints. They typically fail and then come for help – when it’s very late in the game.”

“Jack Cayre, on behalf of the Center, can you tell us a little bit of what it’s like helping our kids that spend late nights hanging out with their friends?”

“In high school it’s easier to reach them; despite the late night events and everything that comes with it, we’re able to reach out and help. They’re closer to us geographically. We try our best to get them after high school, but it’s
a lot harder.”

Photos courtesy of AUDREY SARDAR