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Building confidence and self esteem


Sept 4, 2019

Jacob was a belligerent troublemaker from the minute he walked into his Boys Town Jerusalem seventh-grade class at the start of the school year. The reason for the wiry youngster’s behavior soon became clear: the situation at home for Jacob and his family, Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, was catastrophic. “Sadly, Jacob is one of our many students in distress,” explained BTJ Junior High School Principal Rabbi Yehudah Rosencrantz. “To give them a chance to advance, we’ve initiated a new program with a bold approach towards transforming these low-functioning students into confident, capable leaders.”

The newly-initiated Leadership Course, designated for a majority of the Ethiopian students as well as for other students in difficult home situations, takes 15 seventh and eighth graders straight to the great outdoors each week. Here, in forests surrounding Jerusalem, the youngsters are challenged by a three-level program of outdoor games, obstacle courses, and IDF-style army training to foster teamwork and personal empowerment.

Under the careful supervision of a trained instructor, the Boys Town Jerusalem students are thrust into facing unconventional situations in an unfamiliar outdoor setting. From “rope circle” balancing as a group, where one false move collapses the human circle, to survival skills and navigation, the boys are forced to invest major efforts in problem-solving and teamwork. From there, the path opens to developing communication and trust - and rising to excellence.

“No matter how weak a student may be in his social and educational life, he needs to experience success,” explains Rabbi Moshe Netanyan, the 11th grade BTJ teacher who coordinates the new program. “Working together in this challenging outdoor locale gives a boy that option, gradually helping him to open up, strengthen his character and develop his coping skills. This is what makes leadership!” According to the rabbi, placing these “special” students in a course clearly designated for leaders raised their low self-image from the start. Best, word of their great experiences circulated throughout the school, making “regular” students beg to join.

“Upcoming activities include rappelling, archery (making their own bows), and a variety of group-focused activities,” Rabbi Netanyan says. “Each demands physical, mental and emotional strength to overcome fears and go forward. I can also see that the bonds being forged between the boys are in themselves a source of healing and power.”

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.