A Chaburah Grows in Brooklyn

by Ben Zion Wolff

Asu kitos v’isku b’Torah, lefi she’ein haTorah nikneis elah b’chaburah — Form groups and be engrossed in Torah, since Torah can only be acquired through [learning in] groups. (Berachos, 63b)

After spending several years learning abroad, a young bachur plans his return to the United States to begin the next stage of his life. He is mature, independent and eager to chart his course for the future. The choices for a returning ben Torah are somewhat limited. While there are numerous yeshivos for the pre-Eretz Yisrael bachur, the post-Eretz Yisrael bachur has fewer options.

“Bachurim returning from their years of learning in the bastions of Torah in Eretz Yisrael are faced with a challenging situation. Many wish to join the popular mekomos haTorah which are bursting with a conglomeration of bachurim converging, but some are not comfortable undergoing the pressure to find their bearings in a crowd. With siyata diShmaya Yeshiva Torah Vodaas established a new chaburah, Bais Medrash Chaim Yisroel, under the direction of the Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Yitzchok Lichtenstein, shlita. A returning bachur can join this energetic chaburah of post Eretz Yisrael bachurim who have melded into a unique chaburah where they can continue shteiging in a calm and pleasant atmosphere. “Over the past few years, the talmidim in Bais Medrash Chaim Yisroel have grown into a close-knit group, and they welcome the newcomers each zman, combining to form a chaburah which grows together.””

The Rosh Yeshiva instills a ruach of shteiging and hasmadah working closely with a group of Ramim under his aegis that actualize his aspirations. One who enters the Bais Medrash during any seder is immediately taken by the ruach haTorah. Harav Shlomo Cynamon, shlita, R”M of second seder, comments, “The growth of each bochur is palpable from day to day. The olam is talking in learning and the ‘rischa d’Oraisa’ fills the air.”

“I grew up in Toronto, and learned in Passaic and then in Brisk in Eretz Yisrael,” says Moshe Yehudah. “After learning in Lakewood for three and a half years, I heard that some of the bachurim I knew from Bais Medrash Govoha had joined a new program in Brooklyn, in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. I felt that I needed a change of scenery, and I decided to try it out for a zman, thinking I’d return to Lakewood.

“Sure enough, I got engaged a month later (perhaps meshaneh makom meshaneh mazel — change one’s place, change one’s mazel), and I really wanted to remain. The chevrah and the atmosphere appealed to me, since it was a smaller, close-knit group and a certain warmth permeated the chaburah. My wife is from Brooklyn, and although she has lots of family in Lakewood, we stayed in Brooklyn after our wedding as I joined the kollel. Virtually all of those who joined at that time remained as well. I’ve been here fourteen months since my wedding and I plan to remain, at least for the forseeable future.

Harav Akiva Neuhaus answering a talmid’s question.

“I feel there was a real need for just such a chaburah. There are bachurim and yungeleit that would like to live  in Brooklyn for any given reason, and for quite some time had difficulty finding the right place to learn and continue shteiging. The chaburah in Bais Medrash Chaim Yisroel at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas provides a strong makom Torah where a returning bachur can become part of a chaburah and continue his aliyah while residing in Brooklyn.”

One of the unique features of the chaburah is the blend of pre-Eretz Yisrael and post-Eretz Yisrael groups. “One of the best aspects of this chaburah is the way the Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Yitzchak Lichtenstein, shlita, set up the relationship between the various ages,” says Moshe Yehudah. “In this chaburah there is no shtoltz, the older or more advanced talmidim never rebuff those not in their circle. The groups do not ostracize anyone, and everyone is accepted as they are. This atmosphere was engendered by the Rosh Yeshivah and the other Ramim, and we are one cohesive unit.

“On the other hand, there are some differences between the pre-Eretz Yisrael and post-Eretz Yisrael bachurim, and in some ways each group needs its own space. For instance, the post-Eretz Yisrael bachurim may discuss shidduchim over lunch, and that is not a relevant topic for the younger bachurim to join. So, the yeshivah set up separate dining rooms for each group providing them with their own zone. This works out very well, and everyone respects these boundaries.”

The Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Yitzchak Lichtenstein, explaining a point to his talmidim.

Shloimy was a talmid of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas throughout mesivta, and then transferred to the Yeshivah Gedolah Shaarei Shmuel in Lakewood after he graduated.

“After learning in Lakewood for two years, I heard about the success of the chaburah and decided to return. I knew some of the bachurim from my high school days, and some of the Rabbeim as well. I came back, joined the pre-Eretz Yisrael group, and then passed over Eretz Yisrael, to learn in the ‘post’ group. I am thrilled with my decision, because the chaburah has met my expectations 100%.

“The beis medrash is divided with an imaginary line, with the ‘pre’ group on one side and the ‘post’ group with the kollel on the other side. There are different Ramim for each group who circulate and help generate an energetic environment for the talmidim. Although both groups learn independently, the resounding kol Torah that emerges helps create a ruach which strengthens everyone. The Rosh Yeshivah sits on one side part of the day and shifts to the other side later. You may call it ‘separate but equal,’ meaning that each group gets what it needs, yet at the same time it is part of the whole.

Harav Lichtenstein delivers a daily blatt shiur for pre-Eretz Yisrael bachurim, and a weekly shiur klali to the entire beis medrash. “The shiur concentrates on a clear mehalech in the sugya, focusing on understanding the Rishonim and preparing the talmidim to be able to learn properly,”Harav Lichtenstein says. “Baruch Hashem, we’ve seen them shteig and develop, and we hope to continue along this path.”

The rischa d’Oraisa in the beis medrash.

Yosef was learning in Eretz Yisrael. As COVID hit, he decided that he would rather return to the states while his chaveirim chose to remain in Eretz Yisrael. Yosef’s Rebbi suggested he come to Bais Medrash Chaim Yisrael.

“My Rebbi was familiar with the Rosh Yeshivah and the formation of the chaburah, and he strongly recommended I go to Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. I was a bit apprehensive coming to a yeshivah without friends, but I discovered that the yeshivah provides you with a chevrah,” Yosef says with confidence. “In short order I became friends with all the bachurim, because of their openness and accepting manner of the bachurim. There are no barriers, no competitiveness and no shtoltz. The warmth exuded by the Rabbeim and talmidim is conducive to helping every bachur shteig in his own way.

“Although the blatt shiur is geared for the pre-Eretz Yisrael talmidim, and the post-Eretz Yisrael bachurim are not obligated to attend, I personally chose to go to the Rosh Yeshivah’s shiur, and I really enjoy it forits depth and clarity.”

Harav Dov Ortner with a talmid.

As they spend more time in the yeshivah, the bachurim develop a personal relationship with the Rosh Yeshivah and the other Ramim. “There is a great advantage to having a Rebbi with whom you can be close during these formative years,” Shloimy explains. “I know there are people my age who keep in contact with and seek advice from their Rabbeim from their pre-Eretz Yisrael years. Although this is admirable, I feel that having a Rebbi who knows my current situation is extremely valuable. The Rebbi knows what I need at this stage in life and can guide me accurately. Over Yom Tov, I joined some twenty other bachurim who enjoyed the seudah with Harav Dov Ortner, which helped us forge an even closer relationship.”

To accommodate the various groups, several noted talmidei chachamim were retained to serve in shoel umeishev positions for the growing enrollment.

“The Ramim have different styles, and the talmidim understand that each one has distinct advantages. While one can help you understand pshat, another can point you to the lomdus on the sugya,” says Moshe Mordechai, a yungerman who learned in Yeshiva Vayelepol  before joining the chaburah. “Depending on what I am looking for, I may seek out a particular shoel umeishev. At times, the line for a particular one is just too long, so I will ask whoever is available at the time.”

Harav Shlomo Cynamon speaking with a talmid

For sixty years, Yeshiva Torah Vodaas has had a prominent kollel since it was founded by the Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Gedalia Schorr, zt”l. In the past few years, the yeshivah has sponsored several different kollelim, and the various chaburos focus on different fields. “Kollel Nachlas Dovid, named in memory of Reb Dovid Kestenbaum, z”l, is the flagship kollel of the yeshivah and has been with us for decades. In more recent times, several new chaburos have also developed in the yeshivah. These include a Choshen Mishpat chaburah started by Harav Chaim Yisroel Belsky, zt”l, a branch located in Khal Emunas Yisroel in Boro Park, and several others,” Rabbi Yitzchok Gottdiener, the executive director of the yeshivah explaines. “The kollel chaburah in Bais Medrash Chaim Yisroel, as our new beis medrash is called, is unique in that it is interwoven with the post-Eretz Yisrael chevrah and also provides an opportunity for a bachur settling in Brooklyn to continue on with his chevrah after his marriage.”

While the yeshivah is located in the Kensington neighborhood, most of the yungeleit live in Midwood, which is not quite walking distance to the yeshivah.

“The yeshivah has provided the yungeleit with the wherewithal to become a strong group and remain together,” says Moshe Mordechai. “Besides the learning in the beis medrash, which is something we all value, the yeshivah rented a place for us to have a Shabbos minyan close to our homes so we can carry over the camaraderie to our families and personal lives. We get together and have Harav Yehudah Friedman, a shoel umeishiv in the chaburah, as our Rav, and we celebrate family simchos as a group as well.”

Talmidim of the beis medrash as they learn together.

Gershon, a yungerman who hails from Montreal, shares another degree of friendship that the chaburah enjoys. “When one of the chevrah makes a siyum or gets engaged, the entire group becomes part of the simchah, joining in a lively rekidah to share the delight in their chaver’s accomplishment and joy. I think this attitude is a product of the tone set by the yeshivah and the Rabbeim.

“The yeshivah had the foresight when building the new kollel to ensure that not only are the yungeleit satisfied, but the wives, too; they should become part of the ‘family’ as well. A N’shei hosts events every few of weeks through which the kollel wives can get together for an enjoyable evening and get to know one another. It may be a fun evening, like the recent ‘paint night,’ a Chanukah party or a more serious get-together, like a shiur. To encourage the strengthening of the chaburah, the yeshivah arranged a get-away Shabbaton last year where the kollel families spent an exceptional Shabbos together.

As the summer nears, the bachurim are looking forward to spending Chodesh Tamuz in the newly purchased Camp Torah Vodaas, upstate in Kingston N.Y. “We purchased the property because we realized the need to have a place for our mesivta and pre-Eretz Yisrael bachurim to continue their learning during the first month of the summer,” Rabbi Gottdeiner explains. “It is vital to maintain the momentum developed during the zman and we felt we could spare no cost in making this dream become a reality. Baruch Hashem, we procured a beautiful summer facility, and we expect it to be fully functional in time for Tammuz.

• • •

The chaburah in Bais Medrash Chaim Yisroel is growing like a strapping tree. Begun with rootstock of its own talmidim and grafted with robust scions from existing stock, b’ezras Hashem it will produce sturdy branches and pleasing fruit for years to come. Right here in Brooklyn.

A partial view of the filled beis medrash.

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