Reb Yisroel Berger was a member of the Class of 1968, the largest graduating class in the history of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. After graduating Torah Vodaath and learning in beis medrash, he spent a few years learning in Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.
Reb Yisroel earns his parnassah as CEO of HPI, his successful technology company; but the focus of his life is the various Torah and chessed projects he is involved with. Reb Yisroel serves as the Rosh Hakahal of Knesses Bais Avigdor, a flourishing makom Torah and tefillah under the leadership of Harav Aharon Kahn in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, where for many years he has delivered the daily Daf Yomi shiur, and is active in many community matters.
Sruli, as his close friends know him, served for several years as a member of the board of directors, giving of his time and resources working to steer the yeshivah to a more secure position both financially and spiritually.
When I began yeshivah, the prevailing hashkafah was to seek a sound secular education to go along with the limudei kodesh, and Torah Vodaath had a reputation for having a solid program. The secular studies had a serious program, albeit with teachers who were only five or six years older than the students. Many of the teachers we had were still attending undergrad classes in the evenings.
Today, many parents are less interested in the secular education their children receive, but when I attended yeshivah, it was an important consideration.
While I was in any particular shiur, I always had a close relationship with the Rebbi or Maggid Shiur, but after I progressed to the next level, I did not keep up my connections. Years later, when I served on the board of directors, I renewed my relationship with the hanhalah and some of my Rebbeim. I came to realize the advantage of having such Roshei Yeshivah and what I was able to gain from them.
My grade, the Class of ’68, was the largest in the history of the yeshivah, so I did not necessarily have such a close relationship with every member of my grade. Still, when we meet at social gatherings, we recognize each other with congenial greetings. However, we maintain our close friendships with those classmates that we were close to while we were in yeshivah.
It’s interesting that while in yeshivah we were surrounded by Roshei Yeshivah of such great stature that we did not realize that we were in the presence of such gadlus. Later, when I entered Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood and I heard how they held my Rebbeim in such high esteem, I realized how lucky I was to have learned from them. Harav Simcha Sheps, Harav Elya Chazzan, Harav Moshe Rivkin, zichronam livrachah, and the list goes on! Today, these Gedolei Torah remain my role models.
Of all the traits that I have picked up over the years, I believe the one which I can attribute most to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath is broad-mindedness, and having a more global view of the world.
When I think back to the shiurim that I heard from such giants in Torah like Rav Sheps, Rav Chazzan and Rav Rivkin, I can’t help but have warm feelings for them.
I believe Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, was a visionary, and he saw that during his tekufah, America needed a yeshivah that would populate the country with ehrliche baalei battim through which communities would be built.
After WWII, he concentrated his kochos on his talmidim in Bais Medrash Elyon, and endeavored to produce men of ruach who could lead the next generation in which Torah flourished in America.
In the 70 years since his petirah, the ramah (level) of limud haTorah throughout the country and throughout the world is thriving. We now have hundreds of day schools, yeshivos, Bais Yaakovs, and kollelim. Bnei Torah are flourishing. I’m sure that Rav Shraga Feivel is proud of what the yeshivah has produced.
My brachah to the yeshivah is that just as it serviced the needs of the community in its first century, it should continue to lead the yeshivos in the next century, producing not just ehrliche baalei battim, but Gedolei Torah of the highest caliber who will spread Torah throughout the world and increase kvod Shamayim wherever they find themselves.