Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Iyar 5761 - May 16, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Torah Umesorah's Inspiring Convention
by Moshe Rockove

Picture the typical rebbi or morah standing at the head of the classroom, facing his or her students at this time of the year. They have been through lots of challenges so far this year: preparing for class every day, giving over the class to the students, making sure they know the lesson, and disciplining them. The rebbi or morah may have to deal with a couple of challenging students -- learning disabled or behavior problems -- that keeps him awake at night figuring new strategies of how to tap into the inner recesses of that particular child. The warm air beckons the children to play outside so the rebbi has one more obstacle to contend with while teaching the class.

Our beloved mechanech could definitely use a breather -- not necessarily a vacation, although he would readily admit he could use one -- but a chance to step out of the classroom for a day or two. He would go to a place where he would meet other mechanchim and share his experiences with them, hear divrei chizuk from prominent roshei yeshiva and mashgichim and expand his teaching capabilities by attending exciting and informative workshops.

Last week's Torah Umesorah Convention provided all that -- and much more. At the five day convention that took place May 2-6, close to 1500 rebbeim, morahs, principals, executive directors, and lay leaders converged on Cherry Hill, N.J., home of this year's convention. They traveled from all parts of the United States and from across the globe. One couple even traveled 18 hours from South Africa to take part in the gathering.

They took part in over 60 workshops and 15 plenary addresses, each geared to a specific area in chinuch where one could find out something new to take home with him.

"The purpose of the convention is multifold," explained Rabbi Shiya Ryback, rebbi in Mesivta of Bradley Beach, N.J., who served as Convention Coordinator. "We want to give mechanchim an avenue through which they could expand their horizons in the chinuch field, so we have all the workshops. The many roshei yeshiva who attend are available to speak privately with those who would like to meet them. For those who live out-of- town, this is especially rewarding for they don't have this opportunity knocking on their door all the time. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the gathering of so many people in the chinuch field together under one roof serves as an inspiration to all those in attendance. Rav Gifter zt"l is reported to have commented that just seeing so many mechanchim gives each mechanech a sense of belonging. With so many people coming this year, the chizuk just multiplies."

This year's convention package came with a couple of bonuses. In previous years the convention was held in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. While the mountainous backdrop added a sense of relaxation to the gathering, it was very hard for people to get to. Some would have liked to attend but just could not find the time to get there and back. This year's location -- Cherry Hill, N.J. -- was very convenient for it was within normal traveling times from cities such as New York, Monsey, Lakewood and Baltimore. Those who had to fly were able to arrive at the Philadelphia Airport, only ten minutes away from the convention site.

The convention this year also featured a full-day Sunday program, which allowed those who could not attend the convention over Shabbos to take part in the exciting convention program.

Inspiring Speeches

The speakers who addressed the audience throughout the convention included prominent roshei yeshivos and mashgichim, such as HaRav Elya Svei and HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky (Philadelphia), HaRav Yaakov Perlow (Novominsker Rebbe), HaRav Aaron Schechter (Chaim Berlin), HaRav Avrohom Chaim Levine (Telz-Chicago), HaRav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler and HaRav Matisyahu Salomon (Lakewood).

In his address, HaRav Levine stressed how one must not give up on a talmid. He recounted a personal incident that highlighted this point. Meir, a talmid in his yeshiva, was experiencing his share of difficult moments. He gave the hanhalla all they could handle. Rav Levine would make a point of speaking to Meir from time to time, offering him warm words of encouragement. One day, Rav Levine walked into the Yeshiva office and noticed Meir there. He suspected Meir was taking test scores from the Yeshiva files, and rebuked him.

Meir eventually left the Yeshiva. Several years had passed when Rav Levine received a $200 check from Meir, made out to the yeshiva. He wrote that he's now back in yeshiva and doing well. When he was found in the office many years ago, he was using the Yeshiva telephone to make long-distance calls. Now that he realizes the error of his ways, he wants to reimburse the Yeshiva.

Some years later, Rav Levine received a package in the mail. He held up the package's contents to the convention crowd. It was a sefer authored by "Rav Meir" himself. He later called HaRav Levine and addressed him as, "Sholom Olecha rabi umori."

Rav Levine wondered, "What prompted Meir to refer to me as his rebbi? He never learned in my shiur nor heard shmuessen from me. I then realized that the words of chizuk I had given him so many years before made him consider me his rebbi!"

"What caused him to turn his life around to become a pure ben Torah and a successful mechaber? It was the warmth that was exhibited to him early on! He never forgot those moments."

HaRav Levine concluded, "Even when one has a difficult student, he never knows when he'll be a source of nachas. We must do our share."

Guests From Eretz Yisroel

The convention was also graced by noted Torah personalities from Eretz Yisroel, such as Rav Zev Leff and Rav Mordechai Neugershal.

In his address, Rav Neugershal pointed out how sometimes it is the subtle messages that our talmidim pick up from us. We should recognize their importance when we're mechanech our tinokos shel beis rabbon. He then related an inspiring story about his grandfather to illustrate this point:

Rav Neugershal's grandfather was placed in a labor camp during the Holocaust, with his children. They worked hard the entire day, lugging heavy stones in a mine from dawn until dusk.

One inmate noticed that when Zeidy worked on Shabbos in the camp, he would have a handkerchief tied around his neck.

"Why are you wearing that?" asked the inmate.

"Because today is Shabbos," he answered

"But you're carrying heavy loads anyway today," he shot back.

"True, I must work today," answered the Zeidy. "But at least my children will know that today is Shabbos and that today is different from all other days of the week. When they see me tie a handkerchief around my neck, they know, `Shabbos is coming.' "

After the war, his surviving eleven children all grew up to be shomer Shabbos. Yet one son concerned him. He was living in Venezuela, far removed from the rest of the family. Who would he marry? When that son got engaged to a frum Bais Yaakov girl in South America, he sent his father his engagement picture with express mail.

"When my grandfather saw the picture, he said, `Boruch Hashem, a nice Jewish girl,' " said Rav Neugershal. "To him that was the sign that `the handkerchief' did its job." He passed away the very next day, content with himself that he imparted the proper chinuch to his children.

The Stimulating Workshops

One was never bored throughout the convention. There were so many simultaneous workshops to choose from during the convention. Some would attend one, then leave and go to another to gather in as much information as possible! In fact, one deaf person came with someone who knew sign language so he could `hear' the goings-on.

The workshops covered the gamut of topics and ideas related to chinuch. For the younger grades, new ideas were presented on how to teach keriah. For the teachers in general, sessions were devoted on how to forge better relationships with students. Also discussed were maximizing a student's potential and dealing with at-risk students. One interesting workshop discussed "Preventing Burnout," how to keep oneself enthusiastic about his or her avodas hakodesh.

The administrators participated in workshops that highlighted new fundraising techniques, marketing strategies and utilizing the community's resources more effectively.

Booths were set up in the hotel lobby for the convention goers to browse at their convenience. One booth showed Jewish computer programs that would enable a mechanech to use modern technology more effectively. (A couple of workshops talked about how to use them.) The Creative Learning Pavilion, set up by Mrs. Donna Zeffren, was on display too. The pavilion is an educational network linking rebbeim and morahs to share new arts & crafts ideas, all categorized by subjects and age groups. Many teachers benefited from the plethora of innovations the pavilion offered.

The Convention's Lasting Impact On Mechanchim

Perhaps the sentiments of those who took part in convention, can be summed up with the following incident:

A rebbi approached Rabbi Yaakov Rajchenbach, president of Torah Umesorah, on motzei Shabbos, and confided in him that he was planning on leaving chinuch. He had experienced his share of difficulties and was ready to "throw in the towel" and give up.

"But after attending the convention, listening to all the droshos that highlighted the importance of chinuch, I have decided not to quit. The convention has given me the impetus to continue."

This story and other incidents like these that were related to members of the Torah Umesorah staff, such as Rabbi Yehoshua Fishman, Executive Vice- president of Torah Umesorah and others, make it worth all the effort they expend in producing such a beautiful convention. (They worked on it for almost one year!) "Our mission was to create an atmosphere where mechanchim could gain on all fronts in their harbotzas haTorah thereby creating a kiddush Hashem," said Rabbi Ryback. "Based on the warm and positive feedback we've received, we can proudly say we accomplished our goal."


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