The Zman of Bein Hazmanim – Structured Summer Sedarim
By Rabbi Binyomin Zev Karman
After the grueling months of strenuous learning for hours on end, yeshivah bachurim look for a place where they can continue their aliyah in Torah and recharge their minds and bodies as they plan ahead for the upcoming Elul Zman and future Sukkos Zman.
In the yeshivos of Europe, where the number of yeshivah bachurim and the choices of resorts were limited, yeshivah bachurim would spend a week or two in a wooded retreat, where they often had the opportunity to meet up with Roshei Yeshivah of other citadels of Torah, as well as with the great Rabbanim of their times. If they were lucky, they would be able to interact and “chap ah shmooz in lernen” with those Torah giants, which left an everlasting mark on them.
As Torah became established in America, premier yeshivos sent their talmidim for a few weeks of R&R in various hotels in the mountains. “I recall that the TaT — Tomchei Talmidim fund — of Bais Medrash Govoha would cover the expense of sending talmidim to Zucker’s Glen Wild Hotel and Hotel Israel during bein hazmanim,” said Harav Yaakov Fensterheim, shlita, one of the talmidim of Hagaon Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, and later a maggid shiur in Yeshivah Bais Moshe of Scranton.
With the number of yeshivah bachurim increasing exponentially, bachurim sought other places where they could get some fresh air, exercise, and rest their minds as they recharged their bodies and souls in anticipation of the upcoming zman. Maintaining the balance between enjoying a break without interrupting their growth became a challenge.
A peek at three innovative programs developed for these bachurim is eye-opening as it helps us appreciate both these budding talmidei chachamim as well as the dedicated individuals who undertook to provide them with a balanced bein hazmanim program.
Kibbutz Bnei Hayeshivos
“My esteemed father-in-law, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Braun, z”l, began Kibbutz Bnei Hayeshivos, a summer bein hazmanim program for beis medrash bachurim, about 15 years ago,” says Rabbi Efraim Lesser. “He had been coming to Tannersville for several years. He bought a property and made a beis medrash for bachurim for about three weeks every summer. The charges were minimal, as it was meant to cover just part of the costs and not as a money maker. My shver invested quite a bit in order to make the program a success.
“We began with a small group of some 20 bachurim, and it grew over the years to a strong group of 50 to 60. They came from some of the most prestigious yeshivos: we had talmidim from Yeshivas Toras Chaim (Harav Mendel Slomowitz), Yeshivas Keren HaTorah (Harav Eliyahu Yagid), Yeshivas Nachlas Yisroel (Harav Yerachmiel Ungarischer), and Mesivta of Lakewood, Mesivta of Long Beach and Yeshivas Kesser Torah (Harav Dovid Fishman).
“The program, which began after Tishah B’Av and ran for two-and-a-half weeks, was geared for beis medrash bachurim, which presents a unique challenge: having a program with structure yet retaining its appeal to an older bachur. The success of this type of program is dependent on balancing these two disparate objectives.
“After Shacharis at 8:15 a.m., we provided them with breakfast, and they learned a full first seder from 10:00 a.m. until 1:45 p.m. The limudim we chose were typical summer sugyos: We had a machzor — cycle — which included the sugya in Sanhedrin (72a) about rodef and ba b’machteres, the sugya of bris milah in Maseches Shabbos (130a) in Perek Rebbi Eliezer d’Milah, the sugya in Maseches Yoma (73b) concerning the five inuyim, and various perakim in Maseches Brachos. My brother-in-law, Harav Eliezer Braun, and I took turns delivering shiurim, and we often invited some of the Roshei Yeshivah in the area to deliver shiurim.
“In the afternoons, the bachurim packed a lunch for themselves, and we provided some 15-passenger vans with drivers, usually older bachurim from Beis Medrash Govoha, who drove them on day trips to various locations in the area where they could frolic in the countryside. The Tannersville area, which some refer to as ‘the other side of the [Catskill] mountains,’ is a quieter, more serene area than the main vacation section of the Catskills, lending itself to be more conducive to a program like ours.
“The bachurim enjoyed hiking, tubing and swimming in Colgate Lake, a 15-minute drive away, and at that time was isolated. For them, swimming in a lake rather than in a pool was actually part of the adventure. When they returned, they made barbecues for supper, which itself was part of the matzav they wanted. It took a while each evening until they got together and organized what, where and how they would prepare and eat their suppers, and it fit in well with the relaxed atmosphere of the kibbutz. There were also a basketball court and ping pong tables for those bachurim who wanted those activities. Although night seder was not a chiyuv, the beis medrash was always full during the evening hours.”
For Shabbos, Kibbutz Bnei Hayeshivos provided the bachurim with catered meals from a nearby Satmar enclave, although as is common with yeshivah bachurim, there were those who preferred to make their own cholent. “For seudah shelishis, we all got together, and at times my shver spoke, even after he took ill, and others spoke as well,” Rav Efraim shares. “In order to make things leibedig, we had a kumzitz on Motzoei Shabbos Nachamu.
“The feedback about the program was excellent. Many bachurim returned year after year; they were attached to it with chibah and ahavah. As time went on and more elaborate programs proliferated, we transitioned the beis medrash into a summer retreat for kollel yungeleit. Harav Yehoshua Rubanowitz, shlita, has been using the beis medrash for his yeshivah since the onset of COVID, and will iy”H remain there until his new campus is ready in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. So until then, the kol Torah resonates in Tannersville year round.”
Kibbutz Hamesivtos and Machaneh Beis Medrash
Rabbi Yechezkel Dov Margulies, known as Reb Chatzkel, is no stranger to the world of summer camping for older bachurim. In his formative years, he spent his summers with his family in Camp Silver Lake, the summer home for Yeshiva Torah Temimah, which hosted other yeshivos as well. It comes as no surprise that he launched two innovative programs, one for mesivta bachurim and one for beis medrash bachurim, which has opened new vistas for those seeking a structured and fulfilling summer vacation.
“Several years ago, while working at Camp Silver Lake, we saw a need to innovate the program to attract more campers as more and more bachurim sought other outlets for their bein hazmanim. Camp Silver Lake then branched out to host outside programs, and at that time I decided to create a unique summer retreat for mesivta bachurim,” Reb Chatzkel relates. “There were new programs, one in Vermont, and another in Maine, and those programs were the catalyst for launching Kibbutz Hamesivtos.
“We began with 33 talmidim and ran a bein hazmanim program in Camp Horim. We supplied them with excellent Rebbeim and hired an excellent program director. The participants gave it rave reviews. The word got out and next summer we had 78 bachurim on a campus in the Yeshivah Ohr Naftoli in New Windsor, N.Y. Yet without a place to call our own, it was a challenge each summer to find a place for the program.”
During Pesach bein hazmanim 5778/2018, Kibbutz Hamesivtos had a gala reunion, but little did the attendees know that the program for the upcoming summer was in danger of being canceled. “As hard as I searched for a location to rent, I kept hitting a brick wall,” Reb Chatzkel recalls. “Then Meir Frischman, the director of Camp Agudah, called and connected me with Camp Monroe, a large facility in Monroe, N.Y., which was looking to sell its grounds. Although we were unable to clinch the deal before the summer, the owners agreed to rent us the place, and Kibbutz Hamesivtos was on its way to settling into a new home. With this new solid location, we were able to sign up some 300 bachurim for that first summer in Monroe.
“One of the innovations we introduced was ‘Kibbutz Yagati’ under the leadership of Rabbi Shmuel Liebster, where the bachurim earn rewards for coming on time to first seder, learning beretzifus — without interruption — and attending night seder. In previous years, we had a raffle for various prizes, but when we saw that some were disappointed walking away without a prize, we changed it to cash incentives. At the end of each summer, we hand out a questionnaire to get feedback on how we can improve the Kibbutz experience, and we are always open to change for the better.”
When the governor of New York State closed all summer camps in the state for the summer of 2020 due to COVID, Kibbutz Hamesivtos moved temporarily to a beautiful camp in Pennsylvania, and it filled up with 420 bachurim. “Some of the summer camps for bachurim located in the Catskills, including Camp Ohr Shraga, closed for that summer. Because they were permitted to attend as residents, we accommodated the older bachurim on our Monroe campus, where we ran Vehigisa Bo with the assistance of Rabbi Shmuel Weiss. Although it was a temporary camp, it had tremendous hatzlachah.”
The success of the camp for older bachurim spawned the new concept of Machaneh Beis Medrash, or MBM as it came to be known. “Many roshei yeshivah expressed their dismay at bachurim going on ‘road trips’ during bein hazmanim, and we hoped that if we could provide them with an exciting chaburah and keep a structured atmosphere, it would go a long way to solve the issue,” Reb Chatzkel explains.
During the past few months, Reb Chatzkel scoured the tristate area looking for a location suitable for such a program, and Camp Lou-Emma, in Sussex, N.J. seemed to be a perfect fit. “It’s centrally located, two hours from Lakewood in northern New Jersey. It has a building that we use for a beis medrash, a pool, courts, a lake, and all the amenities needed to offer the bachurim what they are looking for,” says Reb Chatzkel. “What makes this attractive to the older bachurim is that it is run in a manner for mature bachurim. Reb Yehudah Zev Eckstein, a yungerman who had excelled as a supervisor, head life guard and EMT in Kibbutz Hamesivtos, was asked to serve as director in Machaneh Beis Medrash, because he is well-informed as to what I wan the camp to look like. Reb Yossie Penzer and Reb Pinny Steinberg serve as the program directors.
“Although we offer trips, they are voluntary, and some of the bachurim choose not to join. The food is top quality as well. We have planned other age-appropriate activities that are according to the ruach of our chashuve tzibbur.
“The Manhig Ruchani is Harav Michel Handelsman. We specifically did not want the seder to be ‘mah shelibo chafetz — whatever the heart desires,’ because that would make it a bit too loose. Instead, we chose to learn some lomdishe sugyos in Maseches Sukkah, and we have invited many chashuve Roshei Yeshivah to deliver shiurim and divrei chizuk throughout the summer.”
“When the governor announced that he would not let summer sleep-away camps open during the summer of COVID (2020), people all over were seeking eitzos how to keep the Torah going,” says Rabbi Mutty Brown, assistant Mashgiach at Ma’on HaTorah. “Many camps moved to neighboring states, but for bachurim over 18 there was the possibility to have them board as residents and maintain a summer program.”
That summer, Vehigisa Bo was initiated in a camp in Monroe, N.Y. Due to the circumstances, there was a tremendous need for this program, and it turned out to be a great success. “There were no plans to perpetuate the program, since it was viewed as a product of COVID. Yet as the summer of 2021 approached, I was looking for a place for my own son, and I contacted the director of a well-established camp for older bachurim who expressed the need to have more places opened.
“With the way bnei Torah have proliferated, we can fill three more camps, and that would help alleviate the pressure we have to accept boys for whom we have no room,” he explained.
B’hashgachah, Rabbi Brown crossed paths with a grounds director seeking a place for just such a program. “I figured if we teamed up, we could combine the energy of both and get this program off the ground,” Rabbi Brown relates. “He was upstate and took care of procuring a site in Accord, N.Y., and I set about gathering a group of beis medrash bachurim. It started in dribs and drabs: one, two, five, eight, then 10. A week before the summer, we had around 100 bachurim registered!
“It is the nature of bachurim to wait and see where their chaveirim are going before committing to a new place. We set a cap at around 100, since the owner of the grounds informed us that a certain mesivta program wanted to rent the other part of the grounds. We were unsure if we could fill the entire place, so we gave up half of it to the other program. As the summer began, we fielded calls from Roshei Yeshivah and Mashgichim asking us to accept additional boys, and we probably could have taken in another 150 to 200 bachurim. For this summer, Ma’on HaTorah is located in Camp Ruach Chaim in Livingston Manor, N.Y.”
The chaburah has Harav Yisrael Ehrlich, shlita, serving as the Rosh Yeshivah and delivering shiur twice a week. Harav Michoel Feuereisen serves as mashgiach with Harav Eliezer Aron as the Menahel. Harav Perlow and Harav Rosenbaum serve as Magidei Shiur. At the end of the summer, a grand siyum is held, an idea introduced in Camp Ohr Shraga and adapted in many learning camps throughout the country.
“We had an interesting experience as far as trips are concerned,” Rabbi Brown shares. “When we arranged for the bachurim to join a group of camps who rented out a water park, a large percentage of the bachurim did not wish to participate. Our other trip, a hiking trail with beautiful scenery, had full participation, which seems to indicate that the older bachurim have different interests.”
• • •
“The thing that brought me the most satisfaction was when a talmid told me that because he had a structured summer, he went on to experience the best Elul Zman he ever had,” one of the camp directors says. “Making the summer into a zman of bein ha zmanim goes a long way in preserving the focus of bachurim as they return to their regular yeshivos to continue shteiging.”
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