When a teenager is struggling with emotional or behavioral issues like defiance, depression, or drug abuse, deciding how and when to get help can be overwhelming and confusing.  David and Marion were desperate for help with their 15 year old son, Jason.  In addition to failing at school, Jason had begun stealing from home.  Although he had been seen by numerous therapists and was being treated with a cocktail of psychiatric medications, nothing seemed to be working.

"We began searching the web for some therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center that could save Jason's life", said David.  "It was clear to both Marion and I that David was heading for deep trouble and was breaking apart our family.  After exploring numerous options, a local mental health counselor referred David and Marion to the Matara Therapeutic Boarding School and Jewish Residential Treatment Center.

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Matara was founded by Dr. Simcha Chesner, a clinical psychologist who had previously founded Yeshivat Bnei Chayil, the first Israeli High School for boys with ADHD and behavioral or emotional challenges.   "Education in general and Jewish education in particular has tended to focus on elitism.  We have set up hundreds of preparatory schools to get our kids into Ivy League Colleges, but we have devoted a pitiful amount of innovation and resources towards creating programs for kids who think and behave out of the box", stated Dr. Chesner.  "I founded Matara in Jerusalem to provide a program that offers the warmth and wisdom of Jewish tradition together with the cutting edge of psychological and educational technology at the particular location on this planet that connects all Jews throughout all generations.  We need to open up the hearts and minds of young men who are on the verge of tuning out the world and closing down their own potential."  Towards this end, Dr. Chesner established Matara for Jewish boys between the ages of 14-19 who need to discover their personal strengths and develop positive connections with the world around them.

Dr. Chesner's mission required finding and bringing together a multidisciplinary team of the finest professionals who would be able to turn his vision of a Jewish residential treatment center into a reality.  When Alan Simanowitz, an expert in special education made aliya from Teaneck, New Jersey, he was recruited as Matara's Director of Educational Programming.  "I believe that we teach students, not subject matter", stated Mr. Simanowitz.  "We develop a very individualized and personal mentoring approach with each of our students.  They become part of our family, and we view ourselves as part of the Matara family.  Much beyond having them merely achieve a high school diploma, our goal is to provide each boy with a diploma for life preparation.  Our boys need to learn to make positive decisions. Each boy needs to learn that he is ultimately responsible for his successes or failures and his happiness or misery.  Our boys are active participants in their learning. We teach them how to live."

Students at Matara learn a variety of courses in General and Judaic Studies.  Matara is affiliated with the University of Missouri-Columbia High School which provides a United States recognized college prep high school diploma, and with the Bnei Chayil Academy of Jerusalem which provides students with an opportunity to acquire an Israeli diploma as well.  The curriculum is varied to include a breadth of academic courses, Judaic studies and vocational training opportunities.  "We use a model of mentoring, wherein each boy learns to relate individually to successful individuals in the professional world", explained Mr. Simanowitz.

In addition, Matara offers an extensive program that focuses on the Land of Israel and helps students develop self-confidence through extreme challenges in nature that include hiking, mountain climbing, scuba diving and a variety of water sports.  Personal physical training and training in art or a foreign language is also available to students.

Students are housed with staff families.  "We do not believe in an institutionalized dormitory", stated Dr. Chesner.  "Part of healing the child involves providing him with a corrective family experience.  We take the boys into our homes and live with them as part of our own family.  The same dynamics that emerged with their parents, begin to emerge with us.  However we are able to deal with the issues in a therapeutic manner in real time.  Each student is in effect receiving intensive life therapy on a 24/7 basis."

Dr. Chesner claims to view Matara as part of his wider personal mission to provide alternative education for Jewish children that the regular system has failed to provide  "The work is incredibly intensive, but our success stories are so rewarding, that as we continue to grow, our staff is becoming more and more energized”, Dr. Chesner explained.  “There is nothing more gratifying to us than seeing the natural loving instincts that exist between parents and children be rekindled.  The strength that stems from the family is simply irreplaceable."  In order to achieve healing within the family, students at Matara engage in weekly video conference family counseling sessions with their parents.

Ben is a 17 year old boy who will be graduating from Matara in the upcoming months. He stated the following: "When I came to Matara, I hated everyone, including myself.  It's incredible, but the people here have shown me my own strengths, and once I began to see the good in myself I started seeing the good in my parents, in Judaism and in the world around me.  My life became a better place to be."

Matara has a website at jewishresidentialtreatment.com that describes the programming in greater depth.  In addition, the professionals at Matara can be reached for personal inquiries by sending an e mail to [email protected].
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