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Members of the Jack E. Gindi Oraita Club in Acco recently visited Retorno near Kibbutz Tzora, southwest of Jerusalem. Retorno is a substance abuse rehabilitation center.

The teens who visited Retorno in early December are 17-18 years old and have a variety of problems, says Chaim Pelzner, Oraita Director. “Most of them smoke and have anger management issues. Some have gotten into fights and other kinds of trouble,” he says.

“They came to Retorno thinking it would be boring,” Pelzner says. But by the end of the day they were asking questions, participating in discussions, and showing they had learned something about themselves. “It’s clear that the day’s activities had a real effect on them,” Pelzner says.

What was so engaging? In addition to discussions with some of the teens who are at Retorno to recover from substance abuse, the Oraita teens had a series of their own activities.

Left: Trust exercise. Helping blindfolded friend walk through a corral with horses.
Right: Horseback riding

This included a trust exercise: One teen was blindfolded and had to walk through a corral where several horses were running loose. His friends had to direct him so that he wouldn’t get hurt. The blindfolded teen had to trust his friends enough to understand that they would not let him get hurt. The teens without blindfolds had to take responsibility for a friend who needed help. They also went horseback riding.

This is the first time an Oraita group visited Retorno. “It was so successful that we want to arrange for Retorno madrichim to visit Oraita clubs around the country,” Pelzner says. “We also hope that teens who come to Oraita for three years will have at least one experience at Retorno.”

“One of our goals is to give teens the tools to help them effect positive changes in their lives,” says Oraita Director Chaim Pelzner. “We hope that Retorno will become one of these tools.”

“Oraita is based on neighborhood clubs around the country,” Pelzner says. “Our madrichim are wonderful at providing warmth and love. But they have very little experience in preventing more serious problems like substance abuse. In that sense, they’re less professional than the Retorno madrichim.”

That is the reason Pelzner is interested in furthering the contact between Oraita and Retorno. “Some of their madrichim had very serious negative experiences when they were more or less the age of Oraita teens. They were able to make a conscious choice to change their lives in a positive direction,” he says. “They’ve succeeded in sticking with the positive choice they’ve made. That’s part of the reason they’re successful in dealing with substance abuse. Because they’ve been there themselves.”

“Another goal we have set for Oraita is to give teens who may come from problematic backgrounds the tools to help make changes in their lives. Our madrichim are essential for the success of this process,” Pelzner says. “But they aren’t babysitters. They are facilitators who help troubled or difficult teens turn their lives around,” he says.