Standing directly, in front of the aron kodesh, dressed in the traditional Haredi uniform, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, unflinchingly shared certain realities with the packed crowd that had gathered last Wednesday night at Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem, in Modi’in, Israel.
Rabbi Horowitz’s lecture titled, “Developing a relationship with your kids, so they will talk, even about the most uncomfortable things” was full of uncomfortable topics.
Topics seemingly unfit for the holiness of our sanctuary. Unfit to be speaking about in front of the aron kodesh: Drugs. Alcohol.Sexual Abuse. Learning Disabilities. LGBTQ.
For the last twenty-five years, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, founder, and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey and the founder and director of Project has been on a mission: reach out to marginalized Jewish youth and assist parents in nurturing their children’s potential.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz “gets it” and believes that these “uncomfortable topics” must be discussed, on a walk, at a Shabbat meal, in the classroom, and, yes, in front of the aron kodesh.
YES – Education. Prevention. Prosecution
Rabbi Horowitz’s work as a rebbe with troubled teens opened his eyes to the harsh reality. He felt compelled to take action and serve as an advocate for children a “voice for the voiceless.” In 1996, he penned the article “An Ounce of Prevention,” published by the Jewish Observer, which both shocked and energized the Haredi world.
Publication of his article led to the formation of Project Y.E.S. Affiliated with Agudath Yisrael of America, Y.E.S. offers mentorship programs for teens, a wide range of parenting workshops, and child safety/ abuse prevention classes for parents.
In 2011, “Let’s Stay Safe,” written by Bracha Goetz and illustrated by Toca Leff, hit the Haredi bookstores. Using rhymes and colorful pictures, young (and old) readers learn to spot behavioral signs of possibly abusive strangers, not allowing unwanted touching, and reporting unwanted advances to parents.
To date, more than 25,000 copies have been sold in English. Let’s Stay Safe has been adapted into Yiddish, Zei Gezunt! A Hebrew version for the Haredi community, Mah She’batuach – Batuach! as well as one for the Dati Leumi community, “Le’vetach.”
Breaking with the norms of Haredi society, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz felt strongly that to actually help families, the illustrations, must feature, images of women and girls.
Mah she’batuach – batuach!
Immediately, after landing in Israel, last Wednesday night, Rabbi Horowitz, raced to Bnei Brak, delivering 500 sponsored copies of the Haredi edition of “Let’s Stay Safe” – Mah She’batuach – Batuach! to Leah Kolodotsky, the daughter of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kanievsky, considered to be a leading authority in Haredi Jewish society.
Enamored by the book, she wrote a haskama (a letter of recommendation) for the Hebrew edition, and will now begin distributing the 500 copies to the multitudes of people who visit her home.
Breaking with the norms of Haredi society, at the behest of Rabbi Horowitz, Leah Kolodotsky agreed to be interviewed on Ynet.
Public Humiliation of Abusers
Breaking with the norms of Haredi society
Rabbi Horowitz actively encourages sexual abuse victims to go to the police. Often, he shows solidarity, by sitting in court alongside victims and their families.
Rabbi Horowitz embraces social media. He often posts or tweets on social media warning residents when a pedophile moves into their communities. Recently, he was sued, by the convicted sex offender, Yona Weinberg, for “slanderous tweets.”
Breaking the Silence
Rabbi Horowitz will not be winning any popularity contests. That being said, Rabbi Horowitz refuses to stay quiet and continues tackling pressing issues plaguing the Haredi community.
Here are just some of the issues that Rabbi Horowitz champions.
Life Is Longer Than School
Recognizing the struggles many of his talmidim (students) have had with the pressures of Talmud study, Rabbi Horowitz developed and published the first two volumes of The Bright Beginnings Chumash Workbooks. Today, the innovative Bright Beginnings Haschalas Gemara Workbook for Meseches Brachos for beginning learners is an integral part of the curriculum in over 40 schools.
On a Different Derech
Breaking with the norms of Haredi society, Rabbi Horowitz openly advocates and supports the reunification of families with their non-observant children.
Drinking on Purim
Breaking with the norms of Haredi society, Rabbi Horowitz maintains that from the standpoint of both Jewish law and customs there is absolutely no basis for drinking and or smoking of any kind on Purim.
Women and Judaism
Breaking with the norms of Haredi society, Rabbi Horowitz is horrified by the obsession of women and sexuality. He maintains that over time it will be evident that men intently focused on women, their role in society, and their modesty are often abusers, pedophiles, and sexual predators.
Also, he maintains that women’s faces should not be airbrushed out of Haredi publications. When approached to be a guest of honor at a Haredi dinner, he accepted with the condition that the invitation and all ads include the first names and any illustrative image must include pictures of both him and his wife.
Breaking with the norms of Haredi society, Rabbi Horowitz provides a “voice for the voiceless,” in his empathetic response to a question, posed at a panel about LGBT men and women in the Orthodox community.
Rabbi Horowitz – You Truly Get It
On behalf of Klal Yisrael, thank you, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, for “getting it”!
We are grateful that you understand that things are not always an easy-going, smooth “Baruch Hashem.” Our children’s lives are often frustrating, complicated and confusing.
As parents, we continue to learn from you, to face certain harsh realities, continue conversing with our children, and as a community embracing as opposed to judging. Save our condemning for the condemned.
You have energized us to “get it” and when necessary break with the norms of our society.
Let’s continue talking.
In our homes, schools, and yes- even in front of the aron kodesh!
May Hashem, bless you, Rabbi Horowitz, with many many pairs of sneakers. Sneakers, to help you walk for miles, emphasizing, listening and advocating for the neshamot of our holy children, the future of our community.
What Can You Do
Make sure your home has a copy of “Let’s Stay Safe.” Purchase a copy for your nieces and nephews, your children’s gan, and sponsor copies to be read in other children’s homes.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz will be speaking a few more times before he returns to the States. I urge you to attend one of his shiurim. Your children will thank you.
Subscribe to his blog and be inspired by his strength.
Thank you to KSYM Adult Education Committee, Stuart Schnee, and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz for such an energizing event.
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