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Rachel Ginsberg

They’re committed to building solid Torah homes long after their early years of rejection, rebellion, or at-risk behavior, yet the baggage of the past continues to challenge their smooth return to the fold. Feeling the pain of a demographic dangling in a vacuum, Rabbi Efraim Stauber has created a safety net to help yesterday’s success stories stay winners.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Eleven years ago, Rabbi Efraim Stauber — a kollel yungerman fresh out of Rav Yitzchak Soloveitchik’s beis medrash — walked into the gym on his first day on the job at Kesher, a yeshivah in Jerusalem for young men from religious families who “went off the derech” somewhere along the way. Rabbi Stauber, hired to be the “let’s reintroduce you to Gemara” rebbi to a motley crew of once-frum American boys who’d gotten entangled in the temptations of secular society, scanned his talmidim. They were in various states of dress, which generally featured hostile-looking T-shirts. Some were lifting weights, sweating away to heavy-metal music. One boy, though, was wearing a button-down white shirt, and Rabbi Stauber stuck out his hand in relief, assuming he too was a staff member. Rabbi Stauber remembers that awkward first conversation. “I asked him, ‘So, what’s your position here?’ To which he responded something like ‘Yo, I’m a bochur dawg.’ I was a little confused, but he quickly clarified by pointing at himself and saying slowly ‘I’m a bochur…[pause]’ then he pointed at me and said dramatically ‘dawg…’ Wow. I knew I’d be expected to learn how to ‘chill’ but I was still amazed at the role reversal where he became the yeshivah bochur and I who had just spent 20 years in yeshivah was demoted to canine status.” When the well-meaning, sincere avreich initially planned his transition from kollel to chinuch, he had hoped to teach a Gemara shiur in a mainstream American yeshivah. “But Hashem basically tricked me into teaching at Kesher,” chuckles Rabbi Stauber, who came to realize — from life in those trenches — not to put a label on himself, or on any part of the complex spectrum of personalities he’s engaged with over the years. He’s seen many boys at their worst, but just as many tenaciously struggling to be their best, making a turnaround, reconnecting to Torah values, pulling themselves together, and bravely embracing or reembracing Jewish life. But these “success stories,” he notes, all too often lack the “happily ever after” ending.

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