From Boy to Mentsch

An innovative JWI program for boys and men in Baltimore’s Orthodox community used Torah-based values to explore what it takes to be a mentsch.

The Mensch Handbook; How to Be a Mensch on Field and Off; The Leader as Mensch; Raising Your Child to Be a Mensch... If the number of books about the topic on Amazon is any indication, people struggle with how to be a mentsch – a person of honor and integrity.

“Boy to Mentsch,” a three-year pilot program completed in July in Baltimore, explored how to be a mentsch using Torah-based values. The program was coordinated by JWI in collaboration with CHANA, a Baltimore-area organization offering a Jewish community response to people who experience abuse and other interpersonal trauma. Led locally by Shmuel Fischler, LCSW-C, the director of outreach and advocacy for CHANA, this for-men-by-men program promoted open dialogue with boys, fathers, and adults working with young people. It delved into the messages society gives regarding what it means to be a man and how those messages may be contrary to the Torah’s definition of a true mentsch.

The program was funded by a three-year grant awarded to JWI by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, Baltimore community initiative. JWI had sought this federal funding to bring its technical leadership on these issues to the underserved religious community.

The grant enabled JWI to develop a portfolio of resources for the community, including curricula for boys, workshops for fathers, and resources for coaches and camp staff, and for CHANA to implement the project. Posters from the project were displayed throughout the community. The initiative even featured a public awareness campaign in buses, on the radio, and in publications. Over the past two years, interactive exercises and workshops were held for hundreds of boys in day schools, for camp staff and campers, and for fathers and coaches. The skill sets addressed were effective communication/managing anger, conflict resolution, empathy, and being a team player.

Deborah Rosenbloom, Boy to Mentsch project director and JWI’s vice president of programs, is committed to making the program resources available in other locales. “Engaging men and boys in this work is critical to ending violence against women. JWI is immensely proud of the work done in Baltimore and we hope to bring it to other Orthodox communities in the future.”

To learn more about Boy to Mentsch, email [email protected].