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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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."