Harav Yaakov Aharon Prosky, shlita, has been a talmid in the yeshivah ketanah, mesivta, beis medrash and kollel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. During the half century of his association with Torah Vodaath, he experienced its roots in Williamsburg, the move to Kensington, and as a Maggid Shiur in today’s beis medrash, he shares in its blossoming success as it enters its second century spreading Torah in America.
When I was ready to enter elementary school, my family lived in Williamsburg, which was beginning to turn more chassidish. Yeshiva Torah Vodaath had already moved its mesivta and beis medrash divisions to Kensington, but the elementary school was still located in Williamsburg.
My uncle had learned under Harav Dovid Lebowitz, zt”l, when he was Rosh Yeshivah in the early 1930s, and because of that connection, my parents chose Yeshiva Torah Vodaath over Yeshiva Yesodei HaTorah of Vien, the only other non-chassidishe yeshivah located in Williamsburg at the time.
On the day I entered yeshivah, my mother brought me and after leaving me in my classroom, she sat down on a bench located in the hallway near the office of the Menahel, Rabbi Avrohom Pincus, z”l. Rabbi Pincus approached her and said, “Mrs. Prosky, you have done your job of bringing your son to learn Torah. Now, it is our time to do ours, which is to teach your son.”
My mother got the message, and felt confident that Rabbi Pincus would see to it that I was well cared for. She left the building, and from that point on, I was a Torah Vodaath talmid.
Although the mesivta and beis medrash relocated to its permanent quarters in Kensington in 1967, the elementary school remained in Williamsburg until 1974, when the yeshivah realized that its clientele had transferred to other neighborhoods, namely Boro Park and Midwood.
I was in fourth grade when the elementary school moved into the dormitory building at 452 East 9th Street, and for several years I traveled by school bus to Kensington. The bus carried several Lower East Siders, who traveled first to Williamsburg and then joined us on the bus to Kensington. I enjoyed traveling with the Speigles from the East Side, as well as with Tzvi Chaim Dishon.
In first grade, I had Rabbi Tzvi Wasilsky, z”l, who was a talmid of Harav Elchonon Wasserman, Hy”d, in Baranowitz, yet chose to become a melamed tinokos in our yeshivah. Rabbi Wasilsky infused us with a tremendous dose of emunah and yiras Shamayim, and in retrospect I realize that he was employing many innovative methods. He used visual aids way before they became in vogue; he brought in a chicken to show us how to shlug kapparos.
He had a small cabinet next to his desk, and on the door he had an assortment of candy wrappers on display to show us which ones had a proper hechsher and which ones did not. As he walked through the street, he would spot wrappers thrown away on the ground, and if there was one not in his “collection,” he would bend down and pick it up.
I remember that we had a Rebbi who was a single bachur, Rabbi Chaim Yehudah Shapiro, who was a very good Rebbi and left us with a positive impact.
In tenth grade, I had Harav Dovid Schweitzer, shlita. We were learning Maseches Nedarim that zman, and we covered a lot, managing to begin the fifth perek (Hashutfin) by Pesach, which is over 45 blatt, and we had a written test every Sunday. He imparted to us Torah hashkafos, which uplifted the entire class.
In beis medrash, Harav Avraham Brody, zt”l, displayed tremendous ahavas haTorah, and showed us what it meant to be areingetuhn (fully engrossed) in learning. My Rebbi muvhak, Harav Reuven Fain, zt”l, provided us with unbelievable klohrkeit (clarity) and hekef (all-encompassing range). We witnessed incredible yegias haTorah (toil in learning) and saw firsthand the proper hanhagah of a talmid chacham. He worked on developing Nesi Elokim, yet he was grounded besocheinu.
I learned Yoreh De’ah from Harav Avraham Pam, zt”l, and my chavrusa at the time was Reb Shimon Edelstein. One day, Rav Pam went through a Shach, and after shiur my chavrusa and I approached Rav Pam and asked why he meant to explain the Shach as per the explanation Chavas Daas and not the Pri Megadim.
Rav Pam explained to us that he had a kushya on the Pri Megadim’s pshat, so he chose the Chavas Daas. By listening closely to the way Rav Pam read the words of the Shach, my chavrusa picked up that Rav Pam was making a conscious decision in how he explained the Shach.
Hagaon Harav Yisroel Belsky, zt”l, had a way of encouraging us. Once, during supper time, I was learning in Rav Belsky’s shiur room, since I wanted a quiet place to review a Chazon Ish with which I had a difficulty. Rav Belsky came in unexpectedly, and asked me what I was learning. I was a bit embarrassed to tell him that I thought I had a kushya on the Chazon Ish, but he encouraged me to ask it to him. He reviewed it with me, and told me, “The question is a very good one. Don’t think you can’t ask. One should never be shy to ask a question if he does not understand.” This gave me encouragement and direction in my learning.
Of course, Harav Yitzchok Yaakov Sekula, shlita, who was the Menahel Ruchni, was a driving force in guiding and assisting the talmidim and the yungeleit in continuing on the path of growth in their learning. Most of the talmidei chachamim of my tekufah in beis medrash and kollel owe him a personal debt of gratitude for enabling them to develop as they did.
When I entered beis medrash, people would say, “If you get stuck on anything during night seder, just go over and ask Reb Mordy Bressler. At the time, he was amongst the older bachurim and was learning under Harav Elya Chazan, zt”l, and we saw his tremendous hasmadah and klohrkeit, and he was so welcoming that we were not intimidated to ask an older bachur for help.
What special character trait did you gain from Yeshiva Torah Vodaath which you feel is unique to the Yeshiva Torah Vodaath talmid?
To mention just a few: they have a certain breitkeit, and they are accepting of Yidden of various backgrounds and minhagim, and they have a sensitivity to the tzibbur. They have chashivus for every Yid and realize that each individual has a maalah, a value, which adds to the tzibbur, and that person’s mesorah has intrinsic value… the Klal is big, not just one type.
What are your fondest memories of your Yeshiva Torah Vodaath experience?
When Harav Elya Chazan, zt”l, returned to yeshivah to say his first shiur klali after suffering a heart attack, there was an electricity in the air. Although our Rebbi told us not to go since we would not be able to comprehend the shiur, we went anyway. Sure, we did not get the shiur, but experiencing the simchah, the kvod haTorah, the freilech atmosphere, was memorable.
What would you like to see in the future for Yeshiva Torah Vodaath?
For nearly half a century, I have seen a lot of limud haTorah. I daven that the yeshivah continues to see great things in its second century.