Text Box: (C) Yeshiva Bnei Simcha 2018

YBS in the News

Haaretz  -



Fri., July 22, 2005 Tamuz 15, 5765












“We teach them to go beyond what they were told they could do”


The beit midrash in this small, converted yeshiva is hardly bustling, with just two students and another two teachers. On one side, a pair is hunched over an open Talmud, but they make a point of taking many breaks. Across the table, a rabbi teaches a mishna with pictures, sometimes speaking so loudly that he seems to exhaust himself just getting one point across. It's an unconventional scene, to be sure, but then again, Yeshiva Bnei Simcha - the first yeshiva for English-speaking men with developmental disabilities in Israel - is an unconventional place.

Aimed for young adults with various levels of autism and similar disabilities, the yeshiva, which is housed in a Ramat Beit Shemesh apartment, offers an alternative for special needs post-high school religious development. Many adult males, yeshiva administrators explain, could not function in a regular classroom, but want something beyond the menial work they are expected to do when they finish their high school program. And so for many "high functioning" cases, special attention, more one-on-one work and a framework that caters to their disability, provides an environment that allows them to thrive in a way they otherwise wouldn't have.

"The teachers here are very patient with you," says Benny, a 20-year-old student with Asperger Syndrome who had difficulty being mainstreamed. "Before, if you didn't understand something, the teacher wouldn't stop and you would have to ask a friend. But it's hard to learn and sit in a place where you don't understand anything."

The yeshiva, which opened in the fall, moved from the Old City to its current location because the hustle and bustle of the Jewish Quarter provided too much distraction for the two men who are currently enrolled. It was founded by Avi, a 28-year-old student with autism, and his mother - who to date continues funding the entire institution. And as Avi explained, there were simply no other options open to someone like him, who still dreams of becoming a rabbi, despite the very obvious disabilities he lives with.

"Usually, people with special needs end up working bagging groceries, or going to live in a group home after they finish high school," Rabbi Eli Lepon, director of the program said. "There's no existing framework that we know of, especially not in Israel, for these guys to keep studying Torah. There are elementary schools and high schools for special needs kids in the religious world, but there isn't really anything for those looking to continue their religious education past the age of 18."

Rigid schedule

The educational philosophy of Bnei Simcha (literally, "children of joy") is simple. The staff, which outnumbers the students by more than three to one, has backgrounds in psychology, special education and methods of alternative healing. All classes are taught on a one-on-one basis, and though they tried a group format with the two students together, teachers quickly discovered that it wasn't as effective.

In the Bnei Simcha study hall, mishna, for example, is studied with pictures, and stories from the Bible are always accompanied by lessons about charity and helping others. Classes are also always buffered with a sufficient number of breaks, and perhaps most significantly, staff members come equipped with seemingly endless supplies of patience.

"There are men who come to us and we teach them to go beyond what they were told they could do," Lepon said. "They have a chance to learn and study here and we accept them with completely open arms."

The Bnei Simcha schedule is intentionally rigid to fit the somewhat obsessive character of those who have autism and similar disorders. The day begins with prayers, breakfast and then three hours of studying "with many breaks" in the beit midrash. Lunch and free time are then followed with more class time, which in the afternoon is usually dedicated to learning life skills, such as going to the bank, writing a grocery list, or making a trip to the pharmacy to pick up anything as simple as toothpaste.

Part of the community

The evenings are filled with a night activity, like swimming, bowling or playing pool in nearby Beit Shemesh. Twice a week, the students go to the Old City for a therapy session with a psychologist and a visit to the Western Wall, and once a week, the students make food packages for needy families in their neighborhood.

"They like helping people, feeling part of the collective and being part of the community," says Reuven Ashenberg, the yeshiva's director of special needs, who also has a graduate degree in developmental disability. "They try to break through their disability and we know that they can go to the next level - however small a step it is to that next level."

This yeshiva, though, is struggling to get increased funding and recruit more students who can afford to pay the steep tuition of $3,000 a month. The students' two mothers have been fund-raising in the U.S., and Lepon is in touch with religious special needs high schools throughout North America to raise awareness about this new alternative. They're looking to accept another five or so students for next year - which administrators say will also create a more social environment for those currently enrolled.

"This is an important institution," Ashenberg added, "that's unfortunately very needed in the Jewish community at large."




"Yeshiva Bnei Simcha for men with Aspergers Spectrum Disorders

 and Learning Disabilities."







Friday, August 31, 2017 –Elul 9th 5777











Helping adults

with autism marry




Rabbi Dr. Meir Zev Weiner believes in miracles. He believes that with the right training program and

enough personal attention and support, adults with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism can

 live independently, marry and enjoy full and productive lives. And he has evidence to prove it.


It all started in 2003 when, while working with kids at risk in Jerusalem, Weiner was contacted by the mother of an autistic man in his mid-20s. She wanted her son to have an Israel experience like other young Jewish adults. Drawing on his background in education, cognitive-behavioral therapy and rabbinics, Weiner created one for him.


The program started in the Old City of Jerusalem, eventually moved to Beit Shemesh and then to Mevaseret Zion. More students joined the program, which was called Yeshiva Bnei Simcha. The special-needs students shared various campus facilities with the general yeshiva population. They lived in the same dorms, prayed together and went on trips together. Often, the special-needs students would attend regular classes in the afternoons and study one-on-one with the other yeshiva students. This combination gave them a tremendous sense of belonging.


Yeshiva Bnei Simcha operated for eight years. After the 2016-17 program, it was forced to close, due to a lack of funding. As Weiner explains it, one by one, the parents, who were thrilled with the experiences their sons were having in Israel, contacted him to let him know that they were no longer able to afford tuition.


The yeshiva currently has 25 prospective students, but it can’t reopen this fall. As Weiner explains, “We have the clients, but they don’t have the money.”


Weiner credits his passion for helping others to his parents. “As a teen, I always felt athletic and was popu-lar. When we were choosing sports teams, I always said, ‘Don’t choose me. Get this guy in.’ I always had a feeling of inclusion.”


Growing up, his home was filled with people who needed help. He remembers one poor couple from Brownsville, Brooklyn, in particular. His mother brought them into the family home, washed their feet, gave them shoes and socks and fed them soup. Although almost five decades have passed, he remembers the words of thanks from the woman his mother tended to. “May God bless your God!” she exclaimed in gratitude.


He also credits his mother with helping 10,000 couples get married. He recalls going out collecting door-to-door with her and also giving checks to needy couples to help them start their lives together.


When Yeshiva Bnei Simcha began to fold under economic pressure, Weiner brainstormed a new way to help the types of clients who were his students.


Many of the students whose lives he has touched have a tremendous desire to live independently, to be gainful-ly employed and even to get married. But they need help in order to do so. So Weiner, in association with col-leagues like Rabbi Reuven Ashenberg, who serves as the director of education and programming, developed the Autism Center for Marriage and Life Skills.


“Autism is a processing disorder,” Weiner explains. “It takes more time and effort for them to answer questions. People with autism are often socially awk-ward. They don’t make eye contact. Why not? They have trouble getting in touch with their feelings and expressing them. They can’t do two things at once. Focusing on a person hampers their ability to focus on their feelings. So they look away.”


The center, based in the Katamon neighborhood, uses a holistic approach, in a home setting, to teach its clients basic life skills – how to sit next to a woman, what to say after saying hello, how to order from a menu in a restaurant, and the like.


“Our program is based on the pillars of communication and empathy,” says Weiner.


“Our clients might be sloppy,” he continues. “Their shirt is out, their hair is not combed, they have bad breath. They are not aware of the importance of these things. We challenge them to grow. Our clients have a tendency to be introverts, but they are expected to develop the skills necessary to communicate. We encourage them to have opinions and express them. Generally, when they first come to us, they are passive. We want to make them active. We make them do what is hard for them. To grow, they must move forward. And that’s a very powerful program.”


Weiner has helped clients overcome social awkward-ness and progress to dating. He works in conjunction with a Haifa-based organization, called Inbar, that specializes in marriages between people with special needs.


“Parents are very involved in these matches,” says Weiner. “I work with the parents, becoming involved in mediation with the two families. In order to be successful, couples like this need family support because, even if they work, they aren’t making a lot of money.”


Limited help is available elsewhere. Shekel is an organization that helps special-needs people find jobs. These clients get some financial help from the Nation-al Insurance Institute, but, Weiner says, “it isn’t enough to rent an apartment. In addition, they need case management. If a couple progresses to marriage, they need help going to the rabbinate to register their marriage.”


It’s clear that Weiner is a creative therapist, giving personal attention to each of his clients and being flexible in his approach, to accommodate the particular personalities of the young men with whom he works. Ashenberg praised his colleague, saying, “Rav Meir has love, caring and passion. He’s sensitive, supportive and professional, and he is involved with each and every client.”


Regrettably, though the curriculum and infrastructure exists, Weiner and Ashenberg lack the funding to provide much-need- ed services. Over and over, clients, many of whom come from low-income families, drop out due to lack of funding. They start the program and want to continue, but the family needs are too great and they can’t afford it.


Ashenberg relates the tragedy in that. “Rav Meir and the program offer these young men the chance to live independently and be like everyone else they know who is already married. These clients look around and see their friends and family get married, and they’re not able to, without the support of the program. The program gives them the tools, knowledge and therapy that they need to be able to live a productive life.


“If they don’t have the program that they desperately need many of these adult clients will be staying home and be with their parents and not be able to be self-supportive, independent and live their own productive lives.


“This program is desperately needed for adults with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism to live a Torah life and be able to use the resources and educational tools the Autism Center for Marriage and Life Skills can offer them,” he appeals. The Autism Center is currently running a crowdfunding campaign with The Chesed Fund in order to be able to continue to provide services.


“We’ve got a good program. We have great techniques. And now we realize that the funding has to come from outside the families themselves,” Weiner said. “Our whole goal is to help people who want to go on with their lives.”

 Yeshiva Bnei Simcha students on a hike. (Photos: PR)

There are two news articles below: 1- The Jerusalem Post dated  Friday, August 31, 2017 and 2 -Haaretz  dated Friday., July 22, 2005.  Please read these wonderful news articles on YBS and the Autism Center for Marriage and Life Skills.