“Religion is for people who wish to avoid going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there. Yehudah Fine is a spiritual rabbi who has dedicated his life to helping young people emerge from hell, and to prevent their reentry into it.” (Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, Founder and Medical Director, Gateway Rehabilitation Center)
Following is the introduction to an interview with Rabbi Yehudah Fine, done in 2000. A link to it, and to a more recent interview, can be found at the bottom:
Talking with Kids:
An Interview with “Times Square Rabbi” Yehuda Fine
Interviewed by Chris Mercogliano
Originally published in the Journal For Living, Number 21, 2000
For ten years he prowled the pre-dawn nether world around Times Square. But his goal, unlike the other middle-aged white men he passed in the night, wasn’t to score drugs or sex from homeless, strung-out teenagers. Rather, his self-appointed, one-man mission was to throw them a lifeline, to help them find a way off the streets and back to the daylight world of the living.
Sometimes he worked miracles, sometimes not. Some young people were determined not to be saved. Others reached for the rope, but were already suffering from diseases such as AIDS, in which case he helped them to make peace with themselves and their lives before the end.
In time he became known as the “Times Square Rabbi.” That he was an ordained member of the clergy was far from apparent, however. He wore blue jeans instead of a khaki suit, and a New York Yankees cap for a yarmulke. His deeply held spirituality translated easily into the lingo of the desperate, deserted young people who made up his midnight “congregation.”
In “Times Square Rabbi: Finding the Hope in Lost Kids’ Lives” (Hazelden 1997), Yehuda Fine grippingly recounts his decade of search and rescue work in midtown Manhattan. Although at least as many of the individual stories contained in the book end tragically as happily, the reader is left with a profound sense of hope as Rabbi Fine — Yehuda to his kids — shows again and again how redemption can be located even in the most hopeless circumstances.
Yehuda, sensing the growing burden on his family — his wife, Ellie, and three teenage children — and fearing that he might be consumed by the ever-present darkness in his work, decided in 1994 to leave behind the mean streets of New York City and proceed to his next calling. Together they moved eighty miles north to a beautiful home set on nine acres at the feet of the Catskill Mountains. Here Yehuda, when he isn’t crisscrossing the country staging workshops for both teenagers and their parents in the public schools and at national alternative school and homeschool conventions, is busy putting the finishing touches on his latest project, a book of advice to parents of teenage children. In addition to an emerging career as a writer, he is also on the guidance staff at Yeshiva University. On the third Wednesday night of each month he can be found hosting an on-line conference at America Online’s “Addiction and Recovery Forum.” [Please note: This article was written in 2000. I believe that Rabbi Fine lives in Florida as of 2013.]
It should be noted that Yehuda’s work in and around Times Square was not his first stint with kids on the edge: After graduating from the University of Washington in the late sixties, he created a school for the children of migrant farm workers in the Sacramento Valley. Later, he founded and directed an award-winning alternative high school for teenagers in Northern California that is still going today. It was after that that he moved to New York City to begin his rabbinical studies and then the training as a family therapist that led to his work with throwaway teenagers and whenever possible, their families as well.
Five months ago [note: this article appeared in 2000], Yehuda was involved in a near fatal head-on automobile accident that shattered his pelvis and one hip socket, almost beyond repair. A walking (not yet) airbag commercial, as he likes to refer to himself these days, he and I enjoyed the following conversation in the combination baseball shrine and holy room that sits about a hundred crutch hops behind his house.
(To read the actual interview with Rabbi Fine, see:
(For a 2010 interview with Rabbi Fine, see: