Nesivos: The Way Forward
February 10, 2022
“Your child does not belong in a classroom.”
“No one wants to be her friend.”
“Why is he always angry?”
When a child or teenager is not behaving as expected, to whom do parents turn?
“Yaakov* was sixteen when he became subdued and distant, a shadow of his former, lively self, and we had no idea what was going on. He refused to talk,” Ayala* shares. “His rebbi said he needed stronger chinuch at home, my neighbor thought he could use focusing pills, and Zev* and I felt like he was just in need of attention. Family members, friends, rebbe’im—everyone gave us advice, and we listened, but it was clear that we were not getting to the heart of the matter. In the meantime, Yaakov was showing interest in the street kids on the corner, and we all knew that things would get more serious if we didn’t act fast.”
Fortunately, they did—by contacting Nesivos.
On the front lines
Nesivos, a nonprofit Lakewood-based institution founded and directed by Rabbi Binyamin Greenspoon, LCSW, and Rabbi Yishai Ghoori, is dedicated to guiding and supporting teens who struggle psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, or socially, along with their families.
“We work hand-in-hand with local yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs to ensure that boys and girls are getting the help they need,” Rabbi Moshe Tendler, executive director of Nesivos, says.
“Of course, before we try to solve the issue, we need to define it,” Rabbi Binyamin Greenspoon notes.
“We ‘zoom out’ and look at all the pieces within the child’s life.” Rabbi Ghoori explains. “The academic performance, social functioning, emotional condition, family structure, and history—every aspect of a person’s background can affect behavior, so it’s important that we see the bigger picture.”
“Once we called Nesivos, the whole picture changed,” Zev says, “They listened to us and spoke with people from inside and outside the yeshivah who knew Yaakov in different settings. They gave him a comprehensive psychological assessment and diagnosed him with social anxiety.”
“Although the diagnosis was overwhelming, we felt a certain relief,” Ayala shares. “We finally understood what Yaakov was going through, and everything just made sense. There is no comfort like clarity.”
Once it identifies the challenge, Nesivos becomes the nucleus of intervention, collaborating with clients, families, schools, and therapists. Providing complete case management as well as mentors, advisers, and support groups, Nesivos essentially walks with the client as they recover and go on to lead a productive, meaningful, and successful life.
Nesivos works to create an individualized plan of action and find the professional that could best fit the client. The organization has access to numerous frum therapists who are experts in various approaches to treating clients of all ages and personality types.
“Finding the right therapist is like finding the right shidduch,” Mrs. Michal Lan, LMHC, a therapist at Nesivos, attests. “We work tirelessly to make sure the client gets the therapist that can ‘click’ with them for optimal results.”
“Finally, we were able to get Yaakov the help he needed so badly,” Ayala says.
Above and beyond
Just as a client’s background is multifaceted, so should be the support. Beyond collaborating with the therapist, school, and home, Nesivos educates and guides all those involved to create a therapeutic environment for the client.
“When a child or teen is understood and supported not just by their therapists and mentors, but by their parents and teachers too, the recovery is much easier and greater,” Rabbi Greenspoon notes.
He makes it sound easy, but it is anything but. As Dr. Yossi Shafer, clinical psychologist at Empower Health Center, points out, “It is incredible how Rabbi Greenspoon and his team direct and coordinate the support between everyone who works with the client.”
Biweekly parent support groups led by Nesivos therapists educate parents about their children’s condition and demonstrate techniques to help them heal. Support groups also offer a safe and comfortable environment for parents to connect and obtain feelings of normalcy and understanding. These groups empower families to remain optimistic and restore equilibrium in their homes.
The only professional mentoring program available to our community, this initiative is designed as a healthy outlet for youth to connect with a positive role model. Under the direction and supervision of licensed mental health experts, highly trained and qualified mentors meet one-on-one with clients and act as caring older siblings, sharing and enjoying friendly and supportive relationships. Mentors guide young adults in making responsible choices such as pursuing educational and career goals, developing life skills, and dealing with day-to-day challenges.
“I would argue that mentorship is one of the strongest interventions out there,” Rabbi Yehoshua Basch, LCSW, clinical director of Mentoring Services, says. “Because it is not strong or forced, but rather, a relaxed, nonthreatening, and enjoyable experience, teens are more willing to cooperate, and positive change inevitably happens. Sometimes it is the only program a teen is willing to participate in, and we use that as the first opening for therapy until they agree to go.”
“Parents often tell me, ‘I’m finally able to talk to my child!’” Rabbi Tendler shares. “Mentorship is an incredibly effective way to get children to open up and express themselves.”
The importance of feeling confident in one’s abilities and successful in their everyday activities is well known. When a teenager is not doing well on the academic front in school, low self-confidence, rejection of peers, and failure to succeed impede the healing process. Nesivos’s job placement program enables youth to get a job and pursue a career, bringing structure and functionality to their days. By working closely with employers, Nesivos ensures that clients are conforming to the responsibilities of the workplace, effectively boosting their confidence, performance, and overall productivity.
“Keeping youth from falling through the cracks is our core mission,” Rabbi Greenspoon attests. “We are connecting all the community resources to nip issues in the bud so we can prevent risk, confusion, and pain.”
Nesivos continues to partner with schools and community organizations in establishing awareness, training, and networking events to create positive change.
“We are trying to equip the ‘boots on the ground’ because they are the ones dealing with our children on a daily basis,” Rabbi Ghoori explains. “Imagine a world where every parent and teacher could recognize the signs or conditions of a developing challenge—the change would be unprecedented.”
Rabbi Tendler adds, “Our community deserves a lot of credit for keeping up with the constant changes and advancements in the mental and emotional health field. People need to know that vulnerability is a big part of the healing process, and sharing your story will enable you to get the help you need.”
As Rabbi Greenspoon emphasizes, “We need people to know that help is out there—and that reaching out for it is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
The way forward
“I don’t know where Yaakov would be without Nesivos,” Ayala shares. “They have truly given him a new lease on life. Today he is a thriving adult.”
“I can’t think of a more meaningful tzedakah,” Rav Elya Brudny declared. “Nesivos is saving today’s boys and girls from falling away from Yiddishkeit and productive lives. This is true hatzalas nefashos.”
Rabbi Greenspoon concludes, “Everyone deserves a chance, and we won’t give up on any child in need of help. We must support our youth in leading spiritually and mentally healthy lives so they can build Yiddishe homes of their own.”
These children are our children. These children are our future. They deserve a way forward.
*Name changed to protect identity