What is mifal?
Mifal identifies and targets communities with under-served youth, and establishes structured afternoon programming to keep those children off the streets after their school day, and to provide them with a safe, loving environment in which to flourish. These programs are run by mentors from within the community, who recruit, educate, and nurture the children. The mentors serve as teachers, big brothers, guidance counselors, and role models for these underprivileged youth.
Mifal’s activities are by no means limited to the afternoon programs; we provide an entire support network for both the children under our care and their parents. Especially important are our placement services: In Israel’s unique socio-political environment, finding an appropriate school can be daunting for even the most well-adjusted families. For those from the lower end of the economic spectrum, this task seems insurmountable. Mifal has an office dedicated specifically to determining which school would be most appropriate for each one of our graduates, and ensuring their acceptance into that school.
Baruch Hashem, our unique formula has borne fruit: Nearly all Mifal’s charges graduate from our program, are successfully placed and guided throughout the remainder of their schooling, and go on to become productive and well-adjusted members of society. They are active within their communities, and five Mifal graduates even serve as Mifal mentors!
Many Americans are familiar with Rav Binyomin Wilhelm as the legendary founder of Yeshivas Torah VoDaas. Despite the insistence of many that Torah could not be transplanted to American shores, Rav Binyomin stubbornly insisted that the Torah is eternal; his dynamic vision and tireless labors forever changed the landscape of American Judaism, and were a primary driving force in the establishment of the Yeshivah system and observance of the Jewish communities here today.
In 1969, after many years of work, Rav Binyomin retired to Eretz Yisroel, hoping to live out his years in well-deserved peace and serenity. He was confronted, however, with a situation that caused him great pain: He saw that there were many children in poor communities who spent many hours of the day unsupervised. After school, their parents were still at work, and they were therefore left to roam the streets. Rav Binyomin feared that the influences of coarse elements of society would corrupt these pure and innocent children, and he decided to create an organization that would provide them with structure and warmth during the afternoon hours. Characteristically undeterred by the predictions of those who said his dream could not come to fruition, Rav Binyomin went on to establish what he regarded as the crowning achievement of his life – Mifal Torah VoDaas. To those who continued trying to discourage him, Rav Binyomin would say, “The amount of energy we would need to expend to heal a single one of these children after he strayed down the path of meaningless vacuity, is enough to keep dozens of them from choosing that road to ruin, by showing them love and encouragement in maintaining productive lives!”
Forty years later, Rav Yisroel Belsky — a grandson of Rav Binyomin — took the helm of Mifal. Under his guidance, the organization adapted to meet the challenges of a new generation, adding a focus on children who are hyperactive and/or not studious. Mifal provides a safe space for these children, showing them that their lack of interest in scholastic achievement does not detract from their inherent worth. Rav Belsky’s leadership heralded in an era of tremendous growth in the number and size of Mifal’s branches, as the organization moved to respond to the tremendous need by increasing their outpouring of love and support for Israel’s most vulnerable children.
Today, led by Rav Yitzchok Scheiner, Rosh Yeshivah of Kamenitz, and Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, Rosh Yeshivah of Slabodka, Mifal has forty-two branches serving over 1500 children from all parts of Israel.
Mifal By The Numbers
Shalom showed up to a Mifal program one day when he was about nine years old. The Mifal rebbe noticed an unfamiliar boy peeking in, and invited him to join the class. From the outside, Shalom looked like a regular kid — black kippah, peyos behind his ears, etc. — but from the very first day, it was abundantly clear that his appearance was deceiving. Shalom was tremendously disruptive and chutzpahdik, and would regularly erupt in uncontrollable rage. It was clear that there was something very wrong with this boy’s life.
Far from being deterred, the Mifal rebbe was determined to do everything in his power to help Shalom. He began making some discreet inquiries about the boy’s living situation, so that he could figure out how best to help him. The story he uncovered was shocking, but unfortunately not so uncommon in Israel’s poorest communities: Shalom’s father had never been a part of his life, and, in fact, it was likely that he was not even aware that he had a son! His mother worked hard to provide the basic necessities of food and shelter, but had neither time nor energy left to feed Shalom’s emotional needs. After school, the boy was on his own for the long afternoon and evening hours, and the lack of stability had created the problems that he displayed so clearly. To illustrate how alone Shalom was, when his Mifal class had a contest where the boys were given prizes for answering trivia questions on the telephone, he sadly told his rebbe that he couldn’t participate: the only phone in his household was his mother’s cellphone, and she didn’t get home from her job of cleaning houses until 11:00 P.M.!
At that point, Shalom was enrolled in a cheder in fourth grade, but his rabbeim were unable to deal with him. Out of sympathy for his difficult home situation, they refrained from punishing his outbursts, but he was essentially left to his own devices even during school hours. Shalom’s sensitive soul was aching for some love and care, and this lack expressed itself in countless provocations and disrespect towards his rabbeim and peers.
The Mifal rebbe immediately took a special interest in Shalom, and, beyond providing him with a structured and productive framework for his afternoons, showed him the affection and tenderness that he so desperately needed. No matter what ridicule or abuse Shalom would hurl at him, no matter what mischief he devised to disrupt the class, his rebbe would always smile at him, and shower him with kind words and compliments for his achievements, no matter how seemingly insignificant they were. Slowly, Shalom began to realize that he couldn’t push this rebbe away no matter what he did. Finally tasting security, his heart and soul opened up to bask in this unfamiliar warmth, and he began to allow himself to behave more properly.
Shalom’s emotional maturity continued to grow by leaps and bounds, nourished by his Mifal rebbe’s unconditional love and devotion, and fueled by the skills and knowledge the program provided him with. Even when most boys his age left the Mifal classes, Shalom remained; this was his true home! His rebbe views him as his own son, and they both wept joyous tears on the day that Shalom received his acceptance letter from a prestigious high school. They continue to speak on the phone at least once a week, and his rebbe always marvels at how an angry, untrusting, rebellious boy has grown into such a fine young man: sensitive to others, respectful and polite, and, above all else, confident and secure in himself.