How Kasriel Nojowitz and David Hillel are keeping kids at risk off the street // A chance hiring sparks a new initiative by Rabbi Eliezer Brand

Historians are fond of pointing out that some of the world’s greatest discoveries—everything from America itself to penicillin and the microwave—we made by chance. The same can be said about Impact Tech Group (ITG), originally one of several warehouses included in the portfolio belonging to Kasriel Nojowitz and David Hillel. Four years ago, it morphed into ITG, a non-profit that is run by teenage boys. What began as simply hiring their own sons to work with them turned into an ingenious way to save others who have dropped out of the yeshivah system from falling through the cracks, and in the process, prepare them to run businesses of their own one day.

Walking through Kasriel and David’s 12,000-square-foot warehouse in Deal, New Jersey, I can see that this is no small operation. In one corner of the warehouse stands a big desk with several computers on it. The walls are lined with shelves filled with products that will be sold online. Still more shelves are laden with packaging materials. The boys are responsible for labeling, packaging and shipping boxes of various sizes, an undertaking that requires focus, accountability and teamwork. They sport all kinds of hairstyles and wear jeans or sweatpants with T-shirts, polo shirts or just undershirts. I notice that some boys are louder than others; there seems to be a mix of personalities.

“All of these boys went through the yeshivah system and eventually dropped out,” David shares. “Each one has a story. We aren’t a replacement for a yeshivah, nor do we try to attract new recruits. But our warehouse is here for those who need it.” 

And there is certainly a need. David says that they are “inundated with calls from people who are looking to secure a place for a lost soul before he goes off the rails.”

Although we are fairly conspicuous as we walk around the warehouse, the boys hardly pay attention to me because they are totally immersed in their work. “They’re used to people coming to check out the place,” Kasriel laughs when I mention my observation. I’m tempted to approach them myself but hesitant to intrude on their personal space or make them feel like they’re on display.

We go to an office where we can talk without hearing the music blaring in the background. 

“The company operated by this group of boys brings in about $120,000 per month in gross income, with a net income of about $50,000,” Kasriel explains. “We are staffed by 20 boys between the ages of 15 and 21. Aside from selling various goods, they make private-label sales under the company name and resell returned items on eBay.” I am stunned to hear that a bunch of teenagers can sell such large quantities of merchandise. “They’re really motivated and work hard,” he says, promising to let me see what happens when a pallet of returns arrives.

Knowing what it’s like

David tells me that getting involved with kids at risk is a natural outgrowth of his own teenage years. After a childhood spent in five different countries, he left South Africa for Israel at age 13. “My father was a big rabbi who traversed the world, opening Torah centers in partnership with his brother, Rav Yaakov Hillel,” David says. “He brought many closer to Yiddishkeit. But one day, he broke from the pressure. He left everything behind and returned to India, where he was from. It was very confusing for me as a young boy.

“My mother remarried, but circumstances were such that my sister and I had to move in with my uncle, Rav Yaakov. For most of the time I lived there I wasn’t in yeshivah, but Rav Yaakov placed me in Shaarei Chaim, Rav Scheinberg’s yeshivah, for a year. Unfortunately, I had zero interest and dropped out. I was up to no good and worked in some unsavory businesses. When I was 20, I came to America, and with Hashem’s help, made it to Deal. Stevie Dayon, a very successful businessman, gave me a job, and I started spending time in Rabbi Shlomo Diamond’s kollel, where they did ‘natural kiruv.’”

David defines “natural kiruv” as simply showing someone love and support until a yearning for mitzvos is awakened on its own. “I became religious again, quit my job, started learning, got married and stayed in Rabbi Diamond’s kollel for 12 years,” he says. It was at that point that David met Kasriel and the two began working together on various ventures. 

“My background is boring anyway, but especially so after you’ve heard David’s,” Kasriel begins. He comes from a kollel background. “My father was a talmid of Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, who sent him to open a kollel in Melbourne, so that’s where I spent most of my formative years.” The yeshivah he attended in Australia was chasidish, which was new for him. “Being in a yeshivah where the student body was not homogenous helped me to be more accepting of people from all backgrounds,” he comments. “It made me more understanding and less judgmental.”

Kasriel’s father, Rabbi Dovid Nojowitz, is the current national director of Torah Umesorah. Kasriel credits his parents with imbuing him with a desire to contribute to the klal. He and his family live in Deal, which is unusual for Ashkenazim. “Everyone I meet is stunned to hear that non-Sephardic Jews are living here full-time,” he says with a laugh, explaining that his wife was raised in Deal.

Not a pity paycheck

The first teenage hire at the warehouse was Kasriel’s son. At 18, he knew he wasn’t suited to being in yeshivah full time and didn’t consider it an option, but he needed a viable and productive alternative. Before long, he started working at what is now ITG. 

Although Kasriel and David weren’t actively looking for more workers, David’s son soon joined the staff as well. “My son left his yeshivah shortly after his bar mitzvah, following in his father’s footsteps,” David says ruefully. “We tried a couple of more yeshivos, but they didn’t work out. For weeks, he was at home all day playing online video games, and I couldn’t bear to watch him. One day, I asked if he wanted to work in the warehouse, and he replied, ‘Of course! I’m bored sitting at home all day long.’ Both of our sons took to the business immediately. Then my son brought in a friend and then another.”

After the first four boys were hired, Kasriel and David saw how the work environment was having a positive impact on them. The partners decided to create an independent nonprofit dedicated to helping these boys and others like them, putting any potential profits back into the venture. ITG is completely separate from their main business.

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