Updated: Mar 8
When Adam and Chanie Rosenberg’s high-functioning autistic son reached high school age, they witnessed how difficult it was for him to navigate a typical school
environment with his limited coping skills and awareness. They were faced with a gut-wrenching dilemma. Keep their son in a local yeshivah where there was zero framework to address his unique needs? Or send him to a therapeutic residential center in Utah, which would nurture him in a way nothing else would, but would be completely devoid of Yiddishkeit — no Shemiras Shabbos, no Torah learning, no kosher food? They ended up sending their son to a residential treatment center in Utah, and though they made the right decision for their son, they were greatly pained that it had to come at the expense of being immersed in Jewish surroundings. The Rosenbergs were surprised to learn that many other frum families had sent their teenage boys to similar programs due to the lack of a Jewish alternative. They wanted to spare other parents of children with autism the challenge of having no choice but to place their child in a non-Jewish environment. To this end, they have established Meromim, the first and only frum therapeutic residential center for English-speaking Jewish boys with Level 1 autism, otherwise known as
Meromim will be opening its doors in January 2020, in a modern and beautiful house on a hillside in the pastoral Moshav Luzit, a twenty-minute drive from Beit Shemesh
in the direction of Kiryat Gat. “The center has room for up to 10 boys between the ages of 13 and 17,” says Meromim’s executive director, Netanel Goldstein.
The program will focus on four areas of personal development: academic studies, with a GED-guided curriculum; vocational training; life skills building, with a vision to create boys capable of being responsible and independent adults; and emotional wellbeing, with the provision of a wide range of therapies. This therapeutic angle will cover individual, group, family, animal, and recreational therapy. “The center’s location was chosen to facilitate recreational therapy, as there are numerous beautiful hiking trails. The house also has a large yard at the front and back of the house, perfect for playing sports, relaxing, and growing fruits and vegetables,” notes Rabbi Goldstein. “We also hope to set up a therapeutic animal farm.
“We chose to start Meromim in Israel, not the U.S., for a number of reasons,” explains co-founder Adam Rosenberg. “We ourselves are based in Israel, having made Aliyah, and we personally know of a number of oleh families who had to send their English-speaking sons with autism back to the U.S. for chinuch. We wanted American parents living in Israel not to have to send their children do far away. Another significant factor is that there will be a staff of some 20-25 professionals between ten students, which is, of course, very costly. In Israel, therapeutic cervices cost significantly less than they do in America, so that makes our program much more affordable than if it was located in the U.S. We believe that our program will attract students from America as well as from other English-speaking countries. In the States, tuition for full board residential treatment centers averages at $12,000 a month. Meromim is a non-profit, with tuition fees of $8,000 a month. used entirely to cover the incredible cost of running such a facility. Mr. Rosenberg is quick to point out there is no profit motive in opening Meromim, and all tuition and funds raised will go right back into the school. “My hope is that once we’re more established, we’ll be able to fundraise enough to create scholarships so anyone who needs such a framework for their child will have access to it," he says wistfully.
"We're a frum institution, of course," says Netanel, "but we expect that some of these boys will be struggling with their Yiddishkeit, so our approach to chinuch will be very gentle. For example, we won't have penalties for not getting up for davening or anything like that. No forcing anything down anyone's throat."
The Rosenberg's son has grown and flourished into a wonderful adult," so he's too old for this school,"points out Rabbi Goldstein. “They’re opening up Meromim, the first Jewish program of its kind, purely as a chessed for the community.” May their holy endeavor constantly reach new heights of success.
This article originally appeared in Mishpacha Magazine in the December and January issues.