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Playing It Safe

Michal Eisikowitz

“It takes a community to protect a child, and it takes a community to allow abuse,” says Debbie Fox, founder of Safety Kid in Los Angeles. Eli and Shani Verschleiser, a dynamic couple from Flatbush, want to make sure their own city’s schools are safe, and have brought Safety Kid to yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs in Brooklyn as well. With parents and educators involved, they want to make sure there are no holes in the safety net.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Eli Verschleiser has zero patience for bureaucracy, dawdling, or even public recognition. Recipients of his incisive, no-fluff, arriving-within-seconds e-mails get the gist quickly: this is a man who gets things done — and fast.

Born and bred inLakewood, and today the president of United Realty Trust, Inc., a public company on Wall Street, this well-spoken father of four has built a reputation as a savvy investor, doing deals with moguls the likes of Donald Trump.

But behind the shrewd businessman lining is a golden heart fueling a fiery passion for helping out those less fortunate, and he and his wife Shani have become particularly drawn to tackling underdog causes and stuffed-under-the-rug initiatives that promise little glory. For years, the Verschleisers have been mainstays of Our Place, a Brooklyn–based center for Jewish teens struggling with substance abuse and related issues.

This past year, the Verschleisers have added to their chesed repertoire perhaps their most ambitious — and timely — project yet: Magenu, theBrooklyn children’s safety initiative.

As part of their multifaceted vision, they’ve brought the nationally renowned Safety Kid program — painstakingly refined for the frum community by Los Angeles mental health professional Mrs. Debbie Fox — to numerous Brooklyn yeshivos.

“Our goal is clear,” says Shani. “We want to empower every child inBrooklynto stay safe.”

Eli, a quintessential empathizer who himself had been in and out of half a dozen schools as a teenager and can intimately identify with those feelings of failure and hopelessness, says he gravitated toward the often emotionally wrenching work at Our Place, which is both “incredibly rewarding and incredibly painful. It’s gratifying to help guide troubled kids through their maze of pain to a healthier place. But we’ve also watched dozens of our boys and girls overdose — and even lose their lives. And whether in the middle of the night with barely a minyan, or in the middle of the day with crowds of hundreds, the pain of burying these teens is excruciating.”

 

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