Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Sivan 5761 - June 20, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Planting Torah SEEDS Throughout the Summer
by Moshe Rockove

Pick up an apple seed. Observe it carefully. It's very small and can easily slip out of your hand if you don't hold it carefully. Yet despite its very miniature size, the seed has the ability to grow into a huge apple tree! One little seedling has the capability of producing so much when it is put into the ground and properly nurtured.

Torah U'Mesorah's Project SEED has been planting seeds of Torah in communities across America every summer for the last twenty-five years. It ran programs in four cities the first year; last summer more than 300 bnei yeshiva from 30 yeshivos and kollelim took part in programs in 60 cities across the US and Canada, including four in South America. Their mission was to plant a seed of unadulterated Torah learning for a couple of weeks in the host communities.

The outgrowth of these tiny seeds over the years has been remarkable. Today SEED is considered a major force in preparing communities to raise the level of Yiddishkeit permanently in the town with full time yeshivos, kollelim and mini-kollelim, while simultaneously preparing bnei Torah to become rabbonim and mechanchim.

Project SEED was started in 1974 by Rabbi Gavriel Ginsberg -- currently rosh yeshiva of Ner Yisroel in Toronto -- and Mr. Avi Shulman of Torah U'Mesorah. Their objective was to take an authentic beis medrash ruach and transplant it to out-of-town communities during the summer.

A couple of avreichim would head a group that consisted of 8-12 bochurim for a couple of weeks in various cities across the US and Canada. The townspeople learned one-on-one with the bochurim, heard classes from them, talked to them, and played ball with them. The wives of the avreichim gave classes to the women. This gave the communities a chance to taste for themselves what yeshiva learning is all about.

"Our goal in mind was that these little `seeds' planted during the summer would infuse the community members with a greater sense of appreciation for Yiddishkeit in general, and Torah learning in particular," says Mr. Shulman, who directed the program for twenty years. "They would thus be more receptive to furthering their own commitment to Yiddishkeit and raising the bar in the community by bringing in a kollel permanently. The success we've seen over the years from these summer `seedlings' has gone way beyond any original expectations."

Indeed, many kollelim that opened in recent years in cities such as Boston, Phoenix, and Cincinnati, are a direct result of SEED programs in those communities. A yeshiva opened in South Bend, Indiana as an outgrowth of the successful SEED program that took place there.

Most of the communities that host SEED programs are thereby exposed for the first time to bona-fide bnei Torah. Unfortunately, many Jews have a jaundiced view of bnei Yeshiva. "SEED goes a long way toward dispelling the myths," says Rabbi Yehoshua Bernstein, who was SEED Director from 1995-2000. "They see the boys as they are: nice, good, normal people who are very knowledgeable in Jewish teachings and who take their religion seriously."

Those "in the field" know that in order to influence people, showing genuine concern for them is very important. The communities have the opportunity to observe how Torah elevates a person's character. A participant from Los Angeles wrote, "We had a loving example, all day long of what it's like to be frum and yet normal. I learnt what a bas Yisroel is supposed to act like. It wasn't just about knowledge but about a complete Torah lifestyle."

Another participant from Buffalo added, "They were real mentchen. They always listened to all my questions and they really cared."

Typical SEED Schedule

The typical SEED schedule varies from city to city, depending on the situation in that particular town, but most follow the main outline.

The yeshivaleit learn a regular seder in the morning amongst themselves, as in yeshiva. Some townspeople come in on their way to work and during their lunch break to take in the atmosphere and join in the milchamta shel Torah. Some bochurim go to offices in the city and give a class during the lunch hour. (This idea, called "Lunch and Learn," is very popular across the country throughout the year as well.)

The afternoons are spent in relaxation: going swimming, taking trips in the area and playing ball. A couple of afternoons are reserved for a barbecue with the community in a local park and a baseball game in which the townspeople play against the "scholars." "It's amazing how much these types of informal gatherings go in creating a real bond between everyone!" says Rabbi Bernstein.

The bnei yeshiva also run children's programs with stories and games to entertain the youngsters while exposing them to a Torah lifestyle. Indeed, many boys and girls from these communities go to yeshivos and Bais Yaakov's because of such summer experiences.

At night, the bochurim learn with the townsfolk. Most learn one-on-one with a person, while others learn with a larger group. They learn what they have learnt that morning in-depth, giving the balabatim an taste of authentic Torah learning. The seder usually lasts between one and two hours. Some nights a shiur is given on halacha and aggada by someone in the group or by a guest lecturer.

Shabbos is a special time for interaction and inspiration, for people are off and want to experience the uniqueness of Shabbos. The bnei yeshiva make their own seudos to which they invite families from the town. The spirited zemiros and the thought-provoking discussions brought about by these seudos leave an indelible impression on the attendees. A festive melave malka caps off the Shabbos atmosphere.

Developing New Leaders

The "seeds" aren't only planted in the communities; they are planted in the bochurim and yungerleit themselves to help them plant their own "trees of life."

"When we started SEED we only focused on how SEED would benefit the community. We didn't anticipate, though, the enormously positive effect the program would have on the bochurim and avreichim who participated," said Mr. Shulman. "They come home with an enthusiasm and an awareness of what really goes on in an out-of-town community. They have met dedicated Jews who were willing to grow and learn Torah when they were provided with the opportunity. They have encountered people who remain loyal to Yiddishkeit and Torah beliefs in spite of enormous difficulties and lack of resources that are taken for granted in large communities such as thriving shuls, schools and kosher food stores.

"They also come to recognize the opportunity these communities offer for their own personal growth. They see how a person can literally impact an entire community. This awareness inspires them to look deeper into themselves and see how much they can accomplish in life, more than they originally expected. Many of those who went on SEED eventually went into chinuch and rabbonus as a direct result of their SEED experiences."

"With SEED you're not just teaching. You're also learning," said a SEED leader from Richmond,VA.

Rabbi Avigdor Slatus was an avreich in Mirrer Yeshiva, Brooklyn, when he headed a SEED program to Panama City, Panama 25 years ago. That summer experience inspired him to change his plans of eventually going into his family business. He became a rov in a synagogue in Savannah, Georgia, where he has been instrumental in raising the standard of Yiddishkeit in the community. He brings in a SEED program into Savannah many summers to help him in his avodas hakodesh in the community.

SEED Itself Branches Out

The SEED program itself has blossomed into its own large tree. What started as a summer program has now grown into full-fledged programs of year-round activities such as sister-cities programs, which pairs established Jewish communities with developing ones. Professional SEED utilizes the talents of yeshiva graduates who have pursued careers in business and other professions, who volunteer to visit SEED communities for Torah study and interaction.

Rabbi Yisroel Einhorn, the current SEED director, is busy now putting the finishing touches on this year's programs. "We hope to plant as many `seeds' this year as we planted last year, if not more," he says.


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