I picked up Times Square Rabbi: Finding the Hope in Lost Kids' Lives at the used book store during my winter vacation, and I was looking for something appropriate to read during Yom Kippur. Rabbi Yehuda Fine is a certified family therapist, who spent much of his time as an outreach worker to teens and young adults in crisis on the streets of New York City. During his time as an outreach worker, Fine developed an eight-step guide for people working through their own spiritual emergencies, loosely based on the writings of Maimonides’ Hilchos Teshuvah. Fittingly enough, Teshuvah, usually translated in English as “return” or “repentance,” is a central concept for Yom Kippur.
Each chapter contains a short discussion of one of the eight steps to reclaiming a life, followed by anecdotes describing people that Fine worked with. I quickly found myself skimming the opaque discussions of the steps to get to the stories about the young adults. While the youths depicted are composites of the many young adults that Fine worked with during his years in NYC, and the stories are lightly fictionalized accounts, I found myself drawn to the stories of success and pain.
Times Square Rabbi was published in 1997 and a couple of things kept sticking out at me. I kept being struck by the absence of cell phones from most of the narratives. While cell phones were available and a few people were texting, having a cell phone was a rarity especially for people who were struggling, and smart phones were not yet on the scene. Not unexpectedly, HIV/AIDS had a prominent place in several stories. Another change from today is that I found striking was while AZT was available, anti-retroviral “cocktail” therapies for HIV/AIDS had not yet been developed. So the prognosis for the young adults who were HIV positive was more dire than today.
Times Square Rabbi is the 3rd book in a row that I have given 3.5 stars, all for very different reasons. I hope the next book is a winner.