24 Hours to Save a Teen Life

Sending a teenager 6,000 miles away to live with total strangers is a frightening proposition for parents.  But Ben’s parents were more frightened by what their son’s life had become. After years of academic failure, social isolation and emotional problems, Ben had simply “checked out” – he refused to go to school or risk getting involved in any other activity. Hearts in their throats, Ben’s parents put their child on a plane.  At the same time, they put their trust in MATARA – a unique therapeutic boarding school in Israel.

Starting today (Tuesday, April 12th) at 2:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, MATARA has a one-time opportunity to significantly increase the hope it offers to students like Ben.  If, over 24 hours, the school can achieve its fundraising target of $120,000, each gift will not only be matched – it will be quadrupled (details and opportunities to donate at

Ben’s father points out that the greatest gift of MATARA – the name means “goal” in Hebrew – is how it puts his son’s goal of having a healthy self-image, and a productive life, within reach.

“Some kids get involved with drugs or alcohol, but our son had overdosed on negativity,” his father recalls. “A long string of tutors and therapists had been unsuccessful in breaking through the heavy emotional armor that was Ben’s only way of protecting himself from what he perceived as a hostile and dangerous world.  At the same time, he had zero self-awareness; it was as if he was frantically attempting to look away from what he was afraid he would turn out to be.  MATARA – a Jewish residential framework that accepts teenagers on the Autistic spectrum, teenagers with behavioral issues, teenagers with learning disorders, and teenagers with emotional diagnoses – created a new script.  Ben’s hopelessness was replaced with a realistic understanding of his natural strengths.  Gradually, he began to experience himself – as well as his family and the Jewish world – in a more positive light.”

MATARA was founded by Dr. Stuart (Simcha) Chesner, a clinical psychologist who has made a tremendous impact on the understanding and treatment of at-risk children within the Jewish community.  In 1993, he founded the Bnei Chayil Academy of Jerusalem, the first school in Israel dedicated exclusively to providing top quality general and Jewish education for adolescents at risk with ADHD, learning disabilities, Asperger’s Syndrome, behavioral issues and emotional disorders. In 2006, Dr. Chesner founded the MATARA Jewish Residential Treatment Program as an alternative for Jewish youth who need an intense therapeutic and educational program.  He says that, for some children, the all-encompassing support of a residential program is what’s needed to hit the “reset button” on a life that seems to be spinning out of control.

“Every student who enters Matara becomes an extended member of our family.  That’s where the real therapy occurs based on mutual respect and human dignity,” says Chesner, who is the author of three books and many articles on dealing with challenging children, and has presented his research findings at the Israeli Knesset as well as professional conferences throughout the world. “Kids with special needs often possess incredible internal strengths.  They just don’t fit into the square pegs that culture and school expect.  When we help them feel safe enough to connect with themselves, they begin to come out of their defensive armor, and we all benefit. We just need to teach them and ourselves to recognize this energy and to harness it in the right direction.”

Dr. Chesner’s approach to the at risk adolescent, (NBCD-Neurobehavioral Cognitive Dynamics) has been adopted by the Israel Ministry of Education as the cornerstone of an integrated treatment program for children at risk.  The school’s emphasis on Torah study and Jewish values serves as model for establishing healthy peer relations and taking on adult responsibilities.  Individually-tailored academic curricula and personalized instruction are geared toward full high school matriculation (recognized both in the United States and Israel).  College prep – such as SAT preparation – and vocational training are also offered. Separate MATARA residential programs are available for boys and girls.

But whatever an at-risk child’s educational, developmental or emotional needs, according to Chesner, a positive change in life starts with the same thing: a change in attitude.

“When you see and treat students as successful, and tell him every day that they are successful, they start believing that success is a real option,” he says. “Once they recognize their unique strengths and abilities, they can develop a new direction in life.  That’s our goal – and that’s what MATARA is here for.”

MATARA’s one-day funding challenge will remain active until Wednesday, April 13th at 2PM EST. To donate, please visit

For more information about the MATARA Jewish Therapeutic Boarding School, visit 

To contact Dr. Chesner directly, send an email to 

About the Author
Sandy Cash is a US-born, Israel-based songwriter. To find out more about her music, visit