Youths at a crossroad

Participating in Jerusalem’s International Marathon next week, the Crossroads Center hopes to raise awareness of its activities

Team Crossroads 521 (photo credit: courtsey)
Team Crossroads 521
(photo credit: courtsey)
It seems that runners are everywhere on the streets of Jerusalem these days. Men, women, teens, the elderly and the young, all in training, speeding on foot through the city with challenging inclines and steep drops, all with one goal in mind: to successfully complete one of the tracks in the capital’s third annual International Marathon, scheduled to take place on Friday, March 1.
Seventeen thousand runners from 52 countries are slated to participate in the event, which will include professional runners, IDF soldiers, and an estimated 5,500 people taking part in either the full marathon, the half-marathon, or the 10K after gathering sponsors to raise money for dozens of worthy charities both here and abroad.
But there is one organization participating in the marathon for the first time, that for better or worse is probably more familiar with the streets of Jerusalem than anyone else.
Known as “Team Crossroads,” more than 60 young adults, staff, lay leaders and members of the local community will proudly be taking part in this year’s race to benefit the city’s Crossroads Center, which provides vital services for at-risk Anglo youth.
Since 2001, Crossroads has been reaching out to English-speaking youth who are on the streets – possibly homeless, struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and abuse – as well as teens with social, emotional and educational difficulties.
The Crossroads Center is located in downtown Jerusalem, just a few steps away from the area on Jaffa Road known as “Crack Square” – one of the hubs of at-risk youngsters. It offers a slew of activities, programming and therapies, with the aim of getting them off the streets and providing them with hope.
According to Rabbi Robbie Sassoon, Crossroads’ executive director for the past three years (he goes by just “Robbie”), more than anything, the organization “offers a safety-net for at-risk teens. Our ‘drop-in center,’ which is the home of our therapeutic community, is a safe place for young people to come that’s an alternative to the streets.”
In addition, the organization’s social workers can often be seen on the streets during the late hours of the night, proactively reaching out to teens who might need a helping hand.
As Sassoon sits down with The Jerusalem Post one late afternoon at the center to discuss Team Crossroads and its preparation for the marathon, the conversation is immediately interrupted as an emergency arises.
One of the center’s social workers calls Sassoon into the stairwell to decide what course of action is in the best interest of a youngster who has arrived and who continues to abuse a potentially dangerous drug.
The several minutes that Sassoon is out provide an opportunity to tour the facility and see firsthand what Crossroads has to offer. One group is relaxing in the facility’s social lounge, watching an old episode of Friends . Another is hanging out in the social workers’ office schmoozing with each other and the staff.
Someone brings in a guitar and starts strumming away. Down the hall, another youth is taking advantage of the free Internet to watch music videos.
And around the corner, Tsvi Rosby, the center’s assistant director and a practicing social worker himself, is leading a private therapy session with one of the young people.
When Sassoon emerges, he explains that all of this activity is typical of “a day in the life of Crossroads.”
From the time school lets out until around 10 p.m., “whether it’s cooking and art classes, therapies, access to a game room, free Internet and television, movie nights, or even a home [for those who need it], or shelter, it’s just a safe place to be.”
And that’s where Team Crossroads comes in.
“Here we are on the streets of Jerusalem, and the marathon comes along, and I said to myself, I don’t know of any other organization in Israel that is as intensively involved on the streets themselves as we are,” says the executive director. “So why not bring the same staff, the kids and the community together to elevate our work and at the same time to allow these teens to be and feel a part of a team?” He adds that “on the team, we’re all equals. I’ve raised money [from sponsors], the staff has raised money, and the teens themselves have as well. This is a means for the community to come together... and create some positive energy.”
Reflecting his enthusiasm is a huge sign at the entrance to the center indicating the number of participants running on Team Crossroads and the amount of funds raised, which will go toward the center’s activities.
“So far we are at around $10,000, with our ultimate goal being to raise $25,000,” he says.
According to Sassoon, Crossroads’ monthly budget is about $15,000, just to keep the center functioning and provide basic services.
“[The marathon] has been a unifying experience,” he says. “Along with the staff members, board members and lay leaders running, so far 12 youngsters are signed up, and another dozen will be cheering us on.
But regardless of who is actually doing the running, [some aren’t in shape physically to run], it doesn’t matter; we are all a part of the team, and this is something that goes beyond just the Jerusalem Marathon.”
One of the members on Team Crossroads is 20-year-old Katherine (not her real name). She won’t actually be running, but will spend the day of the marathon cheering on her friends along the race route. Katherine, who has been spending an average of three days a week at the Crossroads Center for the past year and a half, says that she might have considered running herself, but doesn’t want to upset her very religious family, who would consider her running “immodest.” Nevertheless, she says “it is important to show my friends from Team Crossroads support.”
The first time she encountered Crossroads, “it was on the street,” she explains. She was intoxicated one night, and one of the organization’s social workers downtown approached her and handed her a business card featuring a map with directions to the center.
“I put the card in my purse and ignored it for a while. But then, about a month later, I was cleaning out my purse and found it. I saw that they offered cooking classes, and at the same time, my parents were begging me to give therapy a chance, so I tried it out, and liked it,” she says.
“I was alone on the streets,” she adds, “and now [through the marathon], being put back on the streets, with a team behind us, with friends, and a support group, it’s a beautiful thing.”
She says that so far she has raised $325 for Crossroads from family and friends.
“What Katherine actually does on the day of the marathon doesn’t really matter,” says Sassoon. “It’s beyond the running – it’s offering support to friends, and cheering them on. What’s cool is that she’s part of the team.”
Z. another team member, spends time at Crossroads daily because, she says, “my home situation isn’t the best.” She says that regardless of whether she will be “walking, skipping or hopping the 10K,” she is just “very proud to be a part of the team.”
“Crossroads has done a lot for me, and this is good way to give back,” she says, adding that she has cousins and even a “secret admirer” among her sponsors.
“What I like about Crossroads is that here everyone is ‘irregular,’ but in their own special way,” she adds.
“Here everyone feels like you are a regular person and everyone is special, and that’s really cool.”
Z hopes to get her bagrut (matriculation) certificate one day, and would like to join the army.
“I think it’s important to serve your country,” she says.
Another member of Team Crossroads, who not only plans on running but hopes to complete the half-marathon, is Rosby. He and his wife Devora, residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh, have been working with the runners, serving as their coaches.
“I fell in love with the idea of Crossroads participating in the marathon right away,” he says. “It just makes sense. We are so involved in outreach, and people perceive ‘the streets’ in town either day or night in a negative light, so we want to come back to town and to the streets in a healthy way.”
While training with his wife, running through the strenuous hills of Ramat Beit Shemesh, Rosby says he has time to reflect on the greater meaning of the run.
“We were running up a difficult hill and I was thinking to myself, this is what our kids [at Crossroads] go through every day in life. ‘Do I stop? Do I push myself for one more minute?’ Life is an uphill battle, but that doesn’t have to be negative or black, it’s just part of living life. The question is, how am I going to look at life’s challenges – will I be pulled down or overcome?” He adds, “There is pain in running. But it is a healthy challenge. We see this every day in kids who are abused or have other challenges. At Crossroads, we validate that pain and we say, ‘We are with you in that pain, we try to help tap into the other parts of that person in order to discover their strengths and overcome challenges.’”To participate in Team Crossroads or to sponsor runners, visit