Local Group Supports Jerusalem School

Eli Schostak with Boys Town Jerusalem students Meir Chadash and Yitzchok Mishel | Photo provided

Just after the Holocaust, the late Brooklyn-born Rabbi Alexander S. Lichner saw a potential problem facing Israel.

Immigrants, many of whom were children whose entire families had perished in the Holocaust, were pouring into the young nation. Lichner wanted to create a safe place for them, a space where they could receive an education, learn a trade and call home.

So in 1948 he opened Boys Town Jerusalem, a school on an 18-acre campus in the Bayit VeGan neighborhood in Jerusalem that helps boys and young men from disadvantaged backgrounds. Today, that means boys and young men from around the world who come from single-parent homes or poor backgrounds.

“Rabbi Lichner was really ahead of the curve in terms of getting the kids into an environment where they’re supported, and they’re cared for,” said Eli Schostak, executive director of Boys Town Jerusalem Mid-Atlantic Region. “But then we give them the knowledge and the tools to build a foundation, so they can take it with them throughout their lives and then have a true effect and impact on society.”

The local organization raises money to support the school and will hold its annual Harry Levin/Sam Rabinowitz Memorial Golf Outing on June 19 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Huntingdon Valley Country Club. Philadelphia Eagles radio play-by-play announcer Merrill Reese will speak at the event.

“[Boys Town Jerusalem is] a wonderful place,” event co-chair Bruce Goodman said. “The kids are fantastic. Like many older facilities, it needs to be updated, upgraded, and it takes dollars. Events like this help.”

Lichner opened a trade school in 1949, with just 14 boys from Yemen. Four years later, Boys Town Jerusalem moved to its current campus and opened a vocational training school. In the ’70s, the organization started moving toward a focus on technology training, a reputation that it retains to this day. Enrollment reached 1,000 in 1985, where it has more or less remained.

Over the years, Schostak said, Boys Town Jerusalem decided not to expand the program to girls, as there were many other similar programs that served them.

From their disadvantaged backgrounds, the boys and young men at Boys Town Jerusalem have gone on to become leaders in Israel. They include Dan Engelhard, head of the Pediatric AIDS Center at Hadassah Medical Center, and Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces.

Recognizing that Israel would only pay for a certain portion of the private school, Lichner reached out to communities in the United States for support about 35 years ago. That led to the establishment of the local chapter.

“[Lichner] had this massive dream that he wanted to see fulfilled, and he did,” Schostak said. “He would go to different communities throughout the United States, and one of the stopovers — because he had heard that there was a strong connection to Israel — was Philadelphia.”

Many of the people who support Boys Town Jerusalem, Schostak noted, follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents, who were also supporters.

One of those supporters is Bob Miller, co-chair for the golf outing, who has been involved for about 30 years. Miller has visited the school two times — once about 15 years ago and again about eight years ago — and was struck by how happy and engaged the kids seemed and how caring and nurturing an environment the school is.

Miller said the Mid-Atlantic Region expects the upcoming golf outing to be its most successful fundraiser yet. This is the first year the group has committed to 27 holes — in the past, it was 18 — so the group has committed to 50 percent more golfers.

“The school has tremendous financial pressures,” Miller said. “They want to be able to do as much as they can for as many kids as they can.”

Schostak got involved with Boys Town Jerusalem because the organization’s mission appealed to him on a personal level.

“Both of my grandparents were survivors,” Schostak said. “So, throughout my life, I had always had this sense of trying to look for ways to empower people that come from disadvantaged backgrounds. This mission completely spoke to me.”

szighelboim@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729


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