By Trenna Ahlstrom
“Please remember, that your child was created by a Universal God that entrusted every single one of God’s creatures with inherent meaning and purpose. Just because life in this day and age has become so convoluted and so confusing that they are not able to find their inherent meaning and purpose, it does not mean in any way that it’s not there.” These are the words of Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah.
Discovery Academy does not promote any particular ideology or religion. However, we recognize the importance that faith and faith-based communities can play in recovery. Which is why for the past 25 years Discovery Academy has been working with Rabbi Zippel. Rabbi Zippel helps young Jewish men and women practice their beliefs and maintain their identity while they are in treatment.
Rabbi Zippel came to Utah in July of 1992 as the first Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah. In December of the same year, he received a phone call from Jewish parents in Orange County, California who were concerned for their son who was receiving therapeutic treatment in Provo, Utah at a school called Discovery Academy. Rabbi Zippel had not heard of Discovery Academy. However, Rabbi Zippel traveled the long distance between Chabad Lubavitch’s offices in Salt Lake City and Provo.
Rabbi Zippel soon discovered that there are a significant number of young people from across the world who come to Utah for wildness therapy or residential treatment. Then the Rabbi made a decision which made an impact on the lives of hundreds of young people. He chose to act as what one might call a “lamplighter.”
Rabbi Zippel took inspiration from a spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Rabbi Schneerson instructed, “As soon as one is made aware, that in a certain location there is even one person in need of assistance, just one individual, the solution then is that one should become a lamplighter and set it ablaze in the middle of the public area, and then one will surely see that from every side and direction will come forth people who desire that light…”
Rabbi Zippel then established Project Hebrew Education for At-Risk Teens, which is better known as Project HEART.
“My entire mission statement with Project HEART is to reach out to every single one of these kids and help them discover their inherent meaning and purpose,” said Rabbi Zippel.
As part of Project HEART, Rabbi Zippel travels throughout Utah, helping young people to maintain connections with their Jewish faith. He counsels youth, helps them to practice their traditions, and celebrate holidays. This initiative has helped the hundreds of young people who come to Utah for therapeutic treatment.
Rabbi Zippel’s hard work has earned recognition throughout the state of Utah. In 2016, the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce honored him with a Titan Award. More recently, the local community celebrated the 25th anniversary of the foundation of Chabad Lubavitch. Members of the community shared how important Rabbi Zippel has been to them personally, and to the community at large.
Rabbi Zippel offered these words of encouragement to parents, “If you have a child that is battling issues pertaining to his or her mental health or their out-of-control behavior to their self-harm, to their potentially suicidal behavior, drug addiction, or anything like that, please never think for one moment that you are alone in this. Help is available.”
Parents of Discovery Academy students who would like their teen involved with Rabbi Zippel should contact their teen’s therapist to make arrangements.