The Baseball Mentoring Connection
by Noach Lipsky
My mentoring experience started by answering an ad in my neighborhood’s Yahoo! Group message board. I was learning in Kollel at the time and my family was struggling to make ends meet. I had experience working with student with special needs, so Kav L’Noar intrigued me as an employment possibility. When I first applied the length of the application overwhelmed me. It started with the normal information (name, address, work experience, educational background), but proceeded with a five-page interest inventory. I was a little overwhelmed initially at the length of questioning. After I started meeting with Yochanan, it all made sense. They made a perfect shidduch. That’s the greatness of this organization. They are not just matching teens with mentors just for them to have one. They look for a perfect fit. Yochanan and I were exact matches. He was a 12-year-old boy with American parents growing up in Israel who loved sports, mainly baseball. Most times we met at the tennis courts/makeshift baseball diamond. We would play and schmooze, mostly playing, but he knew he could talk about anything or nothing. Most days I would pitch and he’d hit. Sometimes he wanted to field, so I would hit him grounders and fly balls. I learned his favorite team was the Angels (mine’s the Cubs). It provoked some fun discussions as to which players were the best and which teams were better and why.
That bat and ball connected us in a way that hasn’t been broken even though we ended our mentoring relationship almost four years ago. That connection was sealed on an all day hiking trip to Ein Gedi.
I was there for him and he knew it. I was able to help him to through the anxiety of preparing for a Bar Mitzvah and all that entails, especially the observances afterwards. I remember he asked a prominent Rav in our neighborhood about how he should put on tefillin because he is ambidextrous. Mitzvah performance was extremely important to Yochanan, but he needed his outlets of sports. He was able to find his niche´ at a Yeshiva in Beit Shemesh. This Yeshiva was for boys just like him. They allowed him to play youth baseball on Fridays in Jersualem, yet he was serious in his studies. The areas in which he was struggling academically improved with the change of scenery. He could be himself and he blossomed. Today he’s getting ready to graduate with excellent test scores. I know this because he emailed me this week about the Cubs offseason signings of free agents.
What bonds you with a teen, whether it’s your child or someone you mentor, doesn’t matter. It’s the bond that matters and every child has something in them to bond with. I’m so happy that Kav L’Noar made this match. It’s meant just as much to me as it seems to have for him. I will never forget that time and I hope to continue my connection with Yochanan, keeping that line open as he grows into adulthood, a new stage of his life that will present new challenges.