It was the summer of 2020. After months of uncertainty, camps moving to different states and canceled plans, a number of middle school boys found themselves stuck at home as their summer plans had fallen through. A parent of one of my students approached me asking if I would be interested in hosting a serious woodworking club for her son and a few other kids. By the time the summer was over we had built some fantastic projects, learned many new skills and had an amazing time doing it. Our club had grown to 30 participants with more wanting to join. With that, Yashar Woodworking Club was born.
Not only was our club an unbelievable success that summer, I have seen the continued positive effects it has had as many of our club members who have since become some of my closest high school talmidim.
Speaking with a number of YWC members and parents, we were determined to figure out exactly what created the magic of Yashar Woodworking Club? Here’s what we came up with:
Fostering commitment. All people, and especially teanagers, are hesitant to commit to a long- term goal. At our first club meeting, each member is handed a full set of woodworking tools as well as a custom YWC hoodie which are theirs for them to keep. Once the boys experience the empowering feeling of being entrusted with their own set of tools and “team jersey” they feel empowered and committed to dedicate themselves to learning something new.
Driving creativity. At YWC we have a slogan that is embedded in our logo. That slogan is “Created to Create.” Anywhere you look you will see the ways in which humanity has continued creating with the unbelievable potential that Hashem has instilled in us and in his world. Whether it be using wood to build a high quality shtender or utilizing advanced technology to create a safer world, we all have a responsibility to recognize that we are in fact “Created to Create.”
Encouraging teamwork. At Yashar Woodworking Club, I always insist that my boys work in pairs. Not because they cannot work alone, but because there is something special about the idea of working with others to achieve something greater. Inevitably, boys pick up skills at different paces. A sense of camaraderie develops as each boy acquires skills at their own pace with the encouragement and support of those around them and there is nothing more meaningful than contributing to someone else’s success.
Expanding possibilities. As a ninth grade rebbe, I have seen the following play out time and time again. A boy will avoid new experiences or activities simply because he has never done it before. It could be working with younger kids, engineering or a sport. In a structured environment, with a skilled and compassionate instructor, boys can tackle a new skill set and discover that they are capable of much more than they ever thought they were. It’s their next question that to me is most meaningful: “If I’m capable of building something that I never thought was possible, what else might I be capable of?”
Growth mindset. The phrase “growth mindset” or “growth oriented” is often thrown around but what does it even mean? A number of years ago, I was working for someone in a small business and made a pretty significant mistake. What my boss said to me was something that has stayed with me since. He told me, “A mistake is only a mistake if you learn nothing from it. Otherwise it is simply the cost of education.” How many of our kids are afraid to try new things because they are afraid to mess up or fail? To me, the term growth mindset means that we encourage growth through challenging what we think we are capable of, even if that growth comes in the form of mess ups or perceived failures. At YWC, we always maintain a warm and growth- oriented environment because that is the path to real and lasting growth.
Dovid was a member of our woodworking club but was more of a hesitant and reluctant participant. Nevertheless, he joined because his peer group was doing it. He needed some extra coaxing to get involved but over time, as his skills progressed, he started to push himself harder and became an enthusiastic participant. The crowning moment of achievement came at our last session as he put the finishing touches on his bookcase that he completed. Bringing it home to his family, lugging it into the den, and arranging the books on it, Dovid now has a lasting testament in the center of his home to what some determination and grit can produce. Success breeds success and Dovid and his peers now have the drive to continue to build, create and improve the world around them.
Yashar Woodworking Club meets weekly in Teaneck and is open to all 6th-8th grade boys. For more information or to sign up, contact Rabbi Shimon Kronenberg by phone, text or whatsapp at (551) 299-2375 or visit www.yasharwoodworkingclub.com.
Rabbi Shimon Kronenberg has been working with teens in formal and informal settings for over a decade. He is a ninth grade rebbe at Heichal Hatorah, where he actively works with and encourages his students to develop themselves into confident bnei torah and active members of our community. He is facility director at the Teaneck Jewish Center and the founder of Yashar Group LLC, parent company of Yashar Woodworking Club and Yashar Home Services.