Rabbi YB Beren and Rabbi Ezra Baldinger– Co-directors, Reyus

BJH: Rabbi Beren and Rabbi Baldinger, it is so nice to meet both of you.

R. Beren: Same here!

R. Baldinger: The pleasure is all ours.

BJH: OK, let’s get down to business, what is bullying? 

R. Beren: The main characteristic of bullying is when one child/children use power to hurt another child.

BJH: What are some examples?

R. Beren: When one child uses a public audience to criticize another child’s failings. When many children “gang-up” against one child. When children use their popularity to exclude others from school games, or from being invited to their houses on Shabbos.

BJH: Can you explain to our readers why the effects of bullying are so harmful?

R. Beren: Each child is so genuinely special. But when a child is a victim of bullying, they think, “How could my friend(s) do something like this to me that hurts so much? I must be worthless.” It is known that unresolved emotional damage of childhood bullying can chas veshalom (G-d forbid) lead to depression, an inability to make healthy relationships, or worse.

R. Baldinger: On the flipside, there is no greater happiness than seeing a group of children who genuinely love and respect each other, despite a given individual’s failings or weaknesses. And we are happy to report that, Baruch Hashem, Reyus is seeing major progress in this area!

BJH: Can you please tell me more about Reyus and this major progress?

R. Baldinger: The mission of Reyus is to create achdus (unity) and address bullying among children. Our vision is to accomplish this using our anti-bullying system, Buildup, that we developed and continually refine at our sleepaway camp, Camp Chaverim. With Hashem’s help, Buildup has been successfully implemented in five different schools, three boys’ schools and two girls’ schools.

BJH:  Do I know any of these schools?

R. Beren: The two most recent “runs” of Buildup were through Bais Yaakov of Baltimore and through Shai Meyerowitz of TACTIC in Torah Institute of Baltimore (TI). These runs were extremely successful because of the incredible staff in these schools. It is no surprise that with Hashem’s help the lives of their students improved.

BJH: When you say “students’ lives improved” what does that mean?

R. Beren: Here is an example from one of the five schools we have worked with (details have been changed for confidentiality):

Before: “The student is unhappy socially with the class and lacks the confidence to make new friends, so the student is constantly seeking to switch classes, thinking that it will solve the issue. The student also seeks attention both positively and negatively from authority.”

After: “This student has a lot more positive interactions with the class, and classmates have actually been taking an interest in things that the student is sharing. The teacher sees this student as being more confident and accepted as a whole in the class.”

BJH: Baruch Hashem! And how did Buildup do that?

R. Baldinger: First, we daven to Hashem that He should help us bring friendship into the lives of these children. Second, we use a system of meetings over a six-week period to become a “Buildup team” that creates situation-specific, concrete action steps to publicly bring out the incredible value of students and remedy acts of bullying. These interventions not only create an appreciation for specific children, they also create an entire culture of friendship and achdus (unity).

BJH: Incredible. I am seriously moved. Does Reyus have a haskamah?

R. Beren: Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, Shlita, has been intimately involved in Reyus, and has written a strong haskamah for our work. In addition, all of the schools that we have worked with have written letters testifying to our success. We also have written support from the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention, who did a full independent study of Buildup.

BJH: I would really want to hear more details about this study, but we are almost out of time. How much do you charge schools for your work?

R. Baldinger: Nothing.

BJH: What?? How do you do that?

R. Baldinger: We fundraise separately for our work from individual donors and grants.As you have heard, a major part of our success is the trust we build with each school. Removing the financial constraint from this relationship has been an essential part of this. We ask the school to pay for the cost of supplies and to write us a letter to show to donors.

BJH: That is amazing. I am sure many of our readers are going to want to get involved. How can they help?

R. Beren:  If they would like to learn more about bringing Buildup to their school, or if they would like to become a donor, they can reach out to me directly, or they can go to our website. Regarding donations, we are a 501(c)(3) and ma’aser may be used.

BJH: It has truly been an honor to talk with both of you and to hear about Reyus. May Hashem give you much success with all that you are doing.

R. Beren and R. Baldinger: Amen!

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