Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Iyar 5761 - April 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Delegation Headed by Rav Matisyahu Salomon Tours Schools in Israel
by Moshe Schapiro

In Kiryat Gat, Israel it's two o'clock and the sun is beating down on the schoolyard. A woman is waiting there with her son. She looks anxious, while he looks like he would rather be somewhere else. At long last the van pulls up and all the rabbis file out.

She steps forward hesitantly. "Please, a bracha," she says to the one with the kindest face, and pushes the boy forward.

The rav extends his hand to the boy, who keeps his in his pocket. The rav pulls it out gently. "May you become a godol in Torah," the rav says. The boy looks up in surprise and steps back. The woman pushes him forward again.

"Rebbi, please, a bracha that he should go to a religious school. He doesn't want to. My youngest children, I caught them in time. But he and his older sister, they!" She dabs at her right eye with a tissue and doesn't finish the sentence. The brochoh is given as requested, the rabbi pinches the boy's cheek, and a bashful smile finally breaks through the tough-guy act.

The rabbis file into a flat-roofed prefab structure, one of a dozen strewn haphazardly in the fenced-in compound. It is unexpectedly cool inside. A fan is cranking away somewhere overhead. Some twenty little girls dressed in blue uniforms have their Chumashim open at parshas Vezos HaBerochoh. As the rabbis enter, they start a cute clap- the-hands clap-the-table clap-the-hands-again singsong of welcome.

Who wants a brochoh from the rabbonim? the teacher asks. Twenty little hands leap into the air. Yes, you in the second row, over by the window, what brochoh would you like the rabbonim to give you?

"That my parents should do teshuvah," she says in a squeaky voice. "That my mother should cover her hair," says another, not waiting for her turn. "That my brother should keep Shabbos," says a third. "That Saba and Savta should reach Gan Eden," says a fourth. "That I should have children who are tzadikim," says a fifth. "That the Beis Hamikdash should be rebuilt," says a sixth.

The rabbonim are looking intently at the children's faces. One of the rabbonim has a smile pasted on his face, but his eyes are getting awfully red and moist. Another one seems to be having trouble swallowing, as though his throat were swollen and he was trying to swallow past the lump. A third is biting his lower lip and gently rocking his head from side to side.

These and similar experiences were characteristic of a two- day tour organized by Lev L'Achim of religious schools in Eretz Yisroel catering to students from non-religious homes.

From Cable TV To Chumash

The tour, held last Wednesday and Thursday, was headed by HaRav Matisyahu Salomon, mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoha, Lakewood. Participants included HaRav Shmuel Yaakov Burshtein, rosh yeshivas Chevron Geula, Yerushalayim; HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, rosh yeshivas Slobodke, Bnei Brak; HaRav Eliezer Dunner, chaver of Shearis Yisroel Beis Din Tzedek, Bnei Brak; and Lev L'Achim hanholoh members HaRav Boruch Shapira and HaRav Tzvi Eliach.

The group spent the day seeing some of the results of all the hard work put in by Lev L'Achim, and then spent the evening (on Wednesday) in the company of many of the workers themselves at the annual Lev L'Achim kenes in Bnei Brak, about which we plan to bring an extended report next week, b"H.

On their tour, the rabbonim met a startling assortment of Israelis of all ages and backgrounds, their only common denominator being their newness to a religious way of life and their fervent desire to increase their growth in Torah and to spread the light further.

Meeting these people was an unsettling experience. Unsettling, in the sense that their words evoked within the listener a kaleidoscope of conflicting feelings, running the gamut from incredulity to amazement to admiration and back to incredulity again.

Take Aviel, a little boy of ten, who stands up in shul every Friday night and delivers a shiur on the weekly parsha. He wears his yarmulke proudly while walking around his anti-religious moshav and absorbs the ridicule and the taunts with amazing courage. On Shabbos, he walks a total of twelve miles to the nearest shul, located in a nearby moshav.

Hearing this boy deliver a dvar Torah to the rabbonim who visited him in Mabu'im, a moshav in the Negev populated by high-income families, one comes away with the certainty that he is an illui and a tzaddik, and that we will be hearing of him in the not-too-distant future. Yet as recently as twelve months ago this same little boy was in a public school, running around the crime-infested schoolyard without a clue in his head who Rashi was.

The story of Aviel's father, Ron, is just as startling. Ron was a high-salaried employee for a cable television company when a Lev L'Achim enrollment worker showed up at his door and engaged him in a discussion about his children's education. The argument was short, since the enrollment worker did little more than echo the facts being splashed in newspaper headlines on an almost daily basis: the public school system's low scholastic level, the increasing incidents of crime and violence on school grounds, the apathy and the "who cares?" attitude of teachers and principals. So it didn't take Ron too long to agree to give religious school a try.

Aviel soon started exercising his powers of persuasion on his father, and a few weeks after the start of the school year there was Ron, attending a weekend seminar on religion. A few more weeks of follow-up by Lev L'Achim kiruv workers, and Ron was committed.

There were only two problems: his job and his wife.

Ron felt extremely uncomfortable about earning a living by hooking up people to cable television and playing a part in bringing all that filth into people's living rooms. And his wife, a bank manager, remained committed to a non-religious way of life.

The solution to the first problem, Ron explained to HaRav Matisyahu Salomon and HaRav Hillel Hirsch, was simple: he quit, and he is now proudly unemployed and looking for work. He has received several calls from his former employers asking him to reconsider, promising him that he will not be expected to work on Shabbos or Yom Tov, and offering him a substantial raise. But no, he says, I'm not having anything to do with that filth. It's not tzanua. Did you ask a sheila about this? one of the visiting rabbonim asked him, obviously concerned about the man's situation. Yes I did, Ron answered.

Ron's second problem is more serious. What good is it to send his son to a religious school every day only to have him return home to a non-religious and somewhat antagonistic mother? So Ron meets Aviel's school bus and spends the afternoon and early evening learning with him in one of several botei medrash in the region. He takes Aviel home at eight o'clock, shortly before his bedtime, and keeps a close vigil on him until he tucks him in.

"I can manage," he says to the rabbonim. "I'm an adult, I know what the truth is, and nothing is going to move me away from it. But what about my child?" he says with tears welling up into his eyes. "How much longer can I keep him by my side like this?"

Yiras Shomayim In A Spiritual Wasteland

HaRav Eliezer Dunner, when asked for his impressions, said:

"I'm speechless. It's unbelievable. Children coming from a spiritual wasteland, in such a short time they have developed such yiras Shomayim. It's so simple to them, and they want nothing more than to bring their parents back as well. We are seeing the fulfillment of the last posuk in Novi, `He will return the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers!' (Malachi 4:24).

"Such little children, we have been meeting 7- and 8-year- olds, and it's not that they are being brainwashed. The school does not force them to wear a yarmulke, it's all up to them. I heard about this project, but I never imagined that it would be taking place here in such a big scope. We're hoping to see great things from these children."

Asked why he thinks it is happening only in Eretz Yisroel, HaRav Dunner answered, "Perhaps the reason is that we are not trying anywhere else. Here Lev L'Achim are attempting to do it."

According to HaRav Dunner, Lev L'Achim's enrollment campaign will have long-term effects on the Torah community in Eretz Yisroel:

"In just a few years' time, the community will undergo a tremendous growth. They are talking about thousands. In my day, a baal teshuva was a rare thing, almost like a ger tzedek. Today it is happening in masses. Lev L' Achim's chiddush is that little children can bring back their parents -- and it's working, it's getting bigger. The only thing that is stopping them is funding. Otherwise, there is no limit. This program is huge. It is a tremendous zechus to be involved with it. Think of each child, all of his mitzvos, the mitzvos of his parents, his offspring and their mishpochah. Each child is an investment."

Parents Need Help, Too

Yet when all is said and done, the battle remains an uphill one. This was one of the messages the rabbonim heard loud and clear, over and over again.

The facts are that nothing happens by itself. Behind every miracle story is an overworked, underpaid, sleep-deprived, caffeine-driven Lev L'Achim worker who makes his life hefker for the cause.

During their tour of schools -- from Rechassim's "Ohr Chadash" school in the north all the way to Ofakim's "Afikim" school in the south -- the rabbonim were given a good picture of the kinds of conflicts and problems that Lev L'Achim's enrollment staff confronts on a daily basis, as these comments from students show:

Illai: "I wanted to be at home for the Seder, but I also didn't want to. I wanted to be at home because I wanted to be together with my family. But I wanted to go to one of my teacher's homes because I wanted to do the mitzvah of eating the matzo in four minutes."

Nir: "At first I learned in a chiloni school, but it was bad there. They cursed and hit all the time. The person who enrolled my younger brother in a religious school, Asher Malka, came to my house and talked to my parents about transferring me as well. Now I tell my mother to eat only Badatz [a glatt kosher hechsher]. She said to me, `Slowly, slowly.' I keep Shabbos and everything. How about my mother? Well, not yet, but hopefully soon."

Mor: "I used to think Torah was stories. Today I believe in Hashem. When I was in a chiloni school, I didn't know what gemora and mishna was. Now I know. I did teshuva, and I hope my parents will, too."

How do the children manage at home if their parents are not religious? HaRav Salomon asked Dina Etinger, the principal of Chinuch Atzmai's school in Yad Rambam, where approximately fifty per cent of the students were enrolled by Lev L'Achim.

"We help the children cope with their parents in several ways," she explained. "One way is to get the parents more involved in what their children are learning at school. Lev L'Achim sends bnei Torah to the children's homes and they help parents gain a better understanding of what their children are doing at school. Another way is to use P.T.A. meetings for outreach work. Lev L'Achim will bring a lecturer to talk about how to become a better parent and educator, for example, but in actuality, he will give a kiruv shiur in disguise. The point is to give the parents a greater appreciation for what their children are learning in school and, hopefully, to make them want to become Torah observant. This, of course, is the best solution."

And most of the time it works, Mrs. Etinger says. But it doesn't always. Such as the time when the parent with the earring and the ponytail threw a tantrum in the middle of the P.T.A. meeting when he realized what was going on.

"I came here to speak with my child's teacher about how she is doing in school," he screamed in outrage at Mrs. Etinger, "not to hear some rabbi preach religion at me!" The man stomped out of the school auditorium and stood by the entrance, pacing back and forth and voicing bitter criticisms throughout. After about twenty minutes of this, a Lev L'Achim worker approached him and quietly talked him into returning to his seat. After the lecture, the worker assured him, he could vent his wrath to his heart's content.

The man returned to his seat, and no more was heard from him until the end of the shiur. When everyone filed out of the auditorium, he was still sitting there, transfixed to his seat. He went up to the Lev L'Achim worker and declared that he wanted to drive the lecturer home because he had a few things he wanted to talk to him about. Shortly thereafter the man went to an Arachim seminar. Lev L'Achim continued the follow-up work, and today he is a baal teshuvah.

"Despite all the difficulties involved," Mrs. Etinger said to Rav Salomon, "I wouldn't give up this job for anything. What I am achieving here, I could never have achieved teaching in a regular religious school."

A Sechar That Is Impossible To Calculate

HaRav Matisyahu Salomon spoke on several occasions during the tour. His first drosho was in Netanya, to the students of "Minchas Shai," a mesivta for children in grades 7-9 who began learning within the last year and who already look and behave like regular yeshiva bochurim. The rabbonim davened mincha together with the mesivta students and were moved by the intensity of the davening. "I wish they would daven like that in my yeshiva," said one of the visiting rosh yeshivas.

Other members of the delegation were impressed by the students' midos. Throughout davening, they kept offering chairs and siddurim to the guests, and after davening, they insisted on carrying their things to the van.

Rav Salomon spoke passionately to the students of "Minchas Shai":

"I want to tell you that you were mechazek me. We know that Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves us, and that He does miracles for us every single day. But today I felt it stronger. In all my years, this may be the strongest I've ever felt it.

"What we have seen here is not chazoro biteshuva, it is techias hameisim. Hakodosh Boruch Hu, through good shlichim, has given you boys chaim -- chaim to recognize the emes, to understand what is tova, what is brochoh.

"I want to tell you a tremendous story that I heard from HaRav Shmuel Greineman, the brother-in-law of the Chazon Ish and a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim.

"He said that there was a time in Europe when the yeshivos didn't have any money, and there was a danger that they would close down. A group of rabbonim sat at the house of the godol hador, the Chofetz Chaim, and tried to come up with a way to solve the problem.

"They sat there for hours, but they couldn't come to a decision. The Chofetz Chaim was heartbroken. He could not move, he did not have an answer, and he was concerned what would happen to the yeshivos. They went to sleep and hoped that maybe tomorrow they would think of something. The Chofetz Chaim, however, did not go to sleep.

"One of the rabbonim thought of an idea. He would give up his sechar for putting on tefillin in exchange for sustaining the yeshivos. He wanted to get up the next morning and before putting on his tefillin, say to the Ribono Shel Olam, `I hereby give the sechar of my tefillin today to the yeshivos, please sustain them.' But one doesn't do such a thing without asking, so he went to the Chofetz Chaim and found him in the same position as when he had seen him last.

"He said, `Rebbi, I have an answer,' and he told him what he had planned. The Chofetz Chaim looked at him and said, `Hakodosh Boruch Hu won't accept it.

"`But why?' the rabbi asked.

"`Imagine if a child found a one million shekel bill,' the Chofetz Chaim answered. `Not understanding the value of the bill in his hand, he walks into a toy store and tries to buy a toy with it. The storekeeper will tell him, "You don't understand the value of this bill. Go to your father, he'll explain it to you. One doesn't buy a toy with a bill of one million shekels."

"`The same is true of tefillin,' said the Chofetz Chaim. `If you would understand the value of this mitzvah, you would know that it is not possible to give it up in order to sustain the yeshivos. The sechar of putting on tefillin once is worth much, much more than sustaining all of the yeshivos.' And so, the man understood.

"Here we're not talking about putting on tefillin," HaRav Salomon continued. "We are talking about your lives, that you should be full of mitzvos like a rimon, talmidei chachomim, bnei Torah and yirei Hashem. Every word of tefillah, of talmud Torah, so many mitzvos! There is so much sechar that it is impossible to calculate it. All we can do is rejoice in our portion -- Hashem gave us His Torah, which is eternal life.

"May Hakodosh Boruch Hu help you be matzliach in your lives, become talmidei chachomim yirei Hashem. May you be zoche to build Torah homes and raise families dedicated to Torah.

"And tell all your friends about this school and get them to come here. And may we be zoche to welcome Moshiach Tzidkeinu speedily and in our days."

The rabbonim saw and heard more beautiful things. So many more.

Such as the child who said matter-of-factly, "My parents ask me questions about separating milk and meat. If I don't know the answer, I ask the rav and I tell them what he said."

And there were also moments of humor. Like Arye Elul's little speech:

"One day I got up with a good feeling inside and told my mother that I want to wear a yarmulke. She said, `Your friends in school will laugh at you,' but I said, `I don't care.' A few days later, I asked her for tzitzis, and she bought them for me. Then I told her I wanted to go to a religious school, and she agreed."

One of the rabbonim asked exuberant little Arye who told him that it is good to wear a yarmulke and tzitzis and to go to a religious school.

"Oh, that. Well, Tzivion [a Lev L'Achim worker] told me." Ah. So it didn't happen by itself. But this didn't slow down Arye, "who is always in a state of Elul," as one of the rosh yeshivas put it.

"Before I started coming to this school, I would go to shul and daven. I didn't know how, but I took a siddur and tried to follow. I also asked the person sitting behind me to show me the place. I would read Shir Hashirim on Erev Shabbos. Oh, and once I gave a brochoh to someone in the hospital who was about to die, and the person got better."

"A kleine Shmuel," one of the rosh yeshivas commented when the laughter died down.

But here's the thing: Arye wasn't joking. He was dead serious. He and thousands of kleine Shmuels throughout Eretz Yisroel are undergoing a form of techias hameisim, and they are on fire. Lev L'Achim's enrollment campaign has reached critical mass. It has created a mass movement that cannot be stopped.

Where this is going to take us, no one knows for sure. But those who are part of it know that their reward will be great indeed.


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