April 24, 2024
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April 24, 2024
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An Open Letter to Yeshivat Reishit

Dear Hanhala and Rabbanim of Yeshivat Reishit,

I just wanted to express my profound hakarat hatov and appreciation for an incredible, inspiring week standing with Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael studying Torah.

As you know, I arrived this past Thursday morning to be with our amazing son Avi, because after all, whose initial reaction to the horrific events of Simchat Torah wasn’t shock and fear? I thought deeply about what a good friend, who had been a madrich in an American yeshiva in Israel during the Gulf War in 1991, had astutely observed. He told me that guys who left that yeshiva in the face of the impending war still live to this day with a sense of guilt for having left. I didn’t want my son to be plagued by that guilt.

Though I knew from our older son Yoni’s experience that Avi was in good hands, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect given the circumstances. It turned out that while I came to give chizuk, I got a lot more chizuk in return, seeing up close young men who are building a world of good and being built big time.

Between the start of the war and the day I arrived in Bet Shemesh, your talmidim had already taken down sukkot of a good number of families around the community whose husbands and sons were called to duty, had prepared and packaged hundreds of meals (that number, I understand, currently stands at 5,000 hot meals and 4,000 sandwiches) and care packages requested directly by various army units. Driven to their destinations by local volunteers (tzaddikim in disguise), meals from your kitchen and packages from your students had already reached soldiers at the Gaza border in the south, Har Dov in the north, and many other points in between.

By the time I got to Reishit, your talmidim had already heard a crystal clear message of personal emunah from Rav Leo Dee; a report of what it was like at Ground Zero on Simchat Torah and the path forward from Sderot Rosh Yeshiva Rav Dovid Fendel; and rock-solid words of chizuk from senior RaM Rav Mendel Blachman. Your Reishit students also turned out in force to see the Guedalia family off to the levaya of their heroic son Yosef, HY”D. I actually was zoche to pay a shiva call to the Guedalia family with Rav Doni’s afternoon shiur this Monday, and let me just say that my whole trip was worth it just for that nichum aveilim. It was simply one of the most moving experiences of my entire life.

From the day I arrived, the shiurim I attended with Avi were fascinating and engaging and Rav Elie’s famous Thursday night musar talk was right to the point and on target, as usual. Capping day one was a rousing and rocking “emunah kumzitz” with staff member Rav Reuven Garber and his band. The music was great and the ruach was beyond (of course, the cholent and kugel were pretty good, too).

The ruach Shabbos, though, was another level, with the dancing throughout Kabbalat Shabbat, the seuda and zemirot with the talmidim, rebbeim and their families, and with the tish at which I had the opportunity to share chizuk. I saw eagerness on the faces of young men listening attentively to divrei Torah and of course, their camaraderie while enjoying geshmak baked goods in honor of Pinny Klein’s birthday.

The Torah continued Shabbos afternoon and on Motzei Shabbos with dozens of guys learning in the beit midrash, while dozens of guys took the opportunity to play ball or tennis, work out or chill and schmooze at one of many spots on Reishit’s beautiful campus.

Today, in addition to their regular sedarim, talmidim are preparing for tomorrow’s carnival for kids from the south whose families have been accommodated by the safe and welcoming community of Bet Shemesh.

This isn’t to say that anyone is oblivious to what’s going on. Sirens sounded during afternoon seder on Thursday and again during my talk today on making a Kiddush Hashem at work (part of your Torah and Business Success series) on Monday. But you led the talmidim calmly to the bomb shelter while the pops in the distance indicated that the Iron Dome had done its job.

I’m especially excited that several other Reishit dads are coming later this week to learn with their sons. I’m sure they will inspire and be inspired too, and I hope even more will come in the following weeks.

I could go on and on, but I really just wanted to say thank you for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of Jewish history as it unfolds, surrounded by nonstop Torah, tefillah, chesed and the embrace of the most special nation in the most special place on Earth.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Mordy Rothberg

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