By Sara Bedein
Though his five sons are all grown, Rabbi Mordechai Scharf, 57, is still a full-time dad. Rabbi Scharf and his wife, Shoshana, are busy caring for their two foster children, ages 12 and 18.
Over the past 30 years, the Scharfs, residents of Efrat, have provided a home to over 20 troubled teens no longer welcomed in their own parents’ homes. The Scharfs have cared for up to three foster teens at one time. “A child in trouble breaks my heart,” says Rabbi Scharf. “But the child has to want to help himself. Some kids are not ready to do this.”
Though the foster children’s parents pay a small stipend to the Scharfs, the money barely covers the expenses. Some teens stay at the Scharfs’ only a week; others, a few years. Regardless of the duration of their stay, the Scharfs try to stay in touch with all their foster children, some of whom are already parents themselves.
Some teens stay at the Scharfs’ only a week; others, a few years.
“A number of years ago, we had a 17-year-old foster kid from the North who was kicked out of his parents’ house and sent to us,” says Rabbi Scharf. “Shortly before he came to us, he got in trouble with drugs and was taken to prison. For some time during his stay, he had to be in ma’atzar bayit (home custody); I took full responsibility for him. I escorted him to his day job—he was a delivery boy at a local supermarket. When he was home, he was under my complete supervision. Everybody wanted to put him into a rehabilitation center except for me. I wanted to have a go with him first. He eventually became clean [from drugs].”
Rabbi Scharf also works to reconcile foster children with their families. “After weeks of my badgering the father of one my kids to spend some time with his son, he took him out for a hamburger and a movie. The teen came back so happy. I said to him, ‘I bet it’s been a long time since you did such a thing with your Dad.’ He told me that this was the first time his Dad had ever taken him out.”
Rabbi Scharf has always made family a top priority. When his wife decided to go to nursing school at the age of 40, Rabbi Scharf retired early so that he could dedicate himself full-time to his children who ranged from age 7 to 22 at the time. In the mornings, Rabbi Scharf would attend a kollel which he helped found, but made sure to be home everyday at 1:00 pm to greet his children with a hot lunch and a listening ear.
Rabbi Scharf attributes his great knack with children to his parents. “My father taught me how important it is to spend a lot of time with your kids. As a kid, I remember the excitement of getting up 3:00-4:00 am on Sundays to go golfing with my father. We did lots of father-and-son things together which created strong bonds….”
Rabbi Scharf shares his expertise on parenting on a radio show he hosts called “Teenagers in Turbulent Times.”