Originally published on JCC Center News of Greater Rochester as a review of “Times Square Rabbi: Finding the Hope in Lost Kids’ Lives”, written by Randi L. Winterman
This is a real book about real people. It is a story about a Brooklyn rabbi, clad in sneakers and a Yankees baseball cap, who travels the bowels of Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx looking for kids, good kids really, whose lives have simply taken a wrong turn. In this book, we are introduced to Rabbi Yehudah Fine, a religious man, educator, family therapist, husband and father, who has devoted his life to helping others. Surprisingly, at the very core of his counseling style is Hilchos Teshuvah or the Path to Meaning and Hope, derived from 12th century writings of Maimonides. Each chapter introduces us to one step in Fine’s 8-step program as embodied by a young kid, grown old and hard from abuse, violence, death and simple, cruel neglect. In this series of very personal vignettes, drugs, despair, AIDS and sex-for-sale play center stage. Still, Rabbi Fine seems bolstered by the courage of these “urban refugees,” whom he finds or who find him, in the bleak hours between dark and dawn. He is driven not by the failures, but by the successes. And he writes lovingly of his search to find hope and meaning amid all of the suffering: “Perhaps the deepest insight we can understand from these kids’ stories, is that we truly are never alone. Not only is that a comforting thought, but having the courage to turn and face our darkness and pain can unlock a wellspring of love and enthusiasm for life that we never knew we possessed.” This is a very readable book that chronicles the impact of one person and the amazing transformation of children, long ago discarded by their families and ignored by modern society. I was struck by the way that Rabbi Fine was able to convert tragedy and a clearly difficult subject into a celebration of life. This book is a must-read for every parent and a not-too-subtle reminder of the fragility of our lives.