For years, the Yeshiva of Newark at IDT, founded by the visionary Jonas family, has offered its college-age students a unique experience in a supportive environment, sending its graduates out into the world with both Torah values and in-demand skills required for successful careers in IT and business administration.
Led by Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Shmuel Skaist, the yeshiva divides its day into two parts, with mornings dedicated to limudei kodesh and afternoons spent taking college courses. A student at this yeshiva will typically earn his degree in about two years.
But it is not just the unusual format that makes this yeshiva so special. “I’m the only rosh yeshiva in the world who sits with their talmidim in the afternoon and helps them with their college work,” Rabbi Skaist enthusiastically stated.
At the beginning of the year Rabbi Skaist helps each of his talmidim come up with a plan for how to approach the year and how much they want or need him to be involved. “We feel that this idea of creating this space for allowing people to do online courses in a supportive, warm frum yeshiva environment is a really important option in this time in the world.”
Rabbi Skaist, a chinuch educator for 30 years, also has a degree in clinical counseling and is trained to help his students with executive-functioning-skills deficits, ADHD accommodations and other issues that can impact learning.
With only deadlines for when to submit work and no established schedules for students to follow, the asynchronous courses that the students typically take can be very challenging, especially for those who are not easily self-motivated. But the Yeshiva of Newark provides the appropriate environment and necessary structure for young students for a model that basically lacks structure.
Rabbi Skaist said that while many talmidim don’t need this kind of help, the ones who do are able to take advantage of his knowledge and training to help them navigate their coursework, create calendars and schedules and even learn how to properly read textbooks, take notes and study for exams. There are times when he’s had students who lacked essential educational skills and effective study habits that left them feeling overwhelmed. “We want to keep it intimate in the sense that every talmid should feel that they have the attention that they need and the help that they need.”
And because Rabbi Skaist also continues to take courses himself, he’s not only able to provide support for them in the afternoons, but he is also able to model for them what it is like to be able to effectively study and tackle a full college course load. “The feeling is a chaburah. We’re in this together. I’m a few years ahead and I’m able to help in ways that they may not be able to come up with on their own.”
“I can tell you how to do an assignment and I can tell you how to read a textbook…,” he said. “I am educated enough to give guidance and help students find the solutions…we are opening up to provide support to any student who is doing online courses and wants to do it in a more structured way.”
“You know, when you do something with a group of people, there’s a certain energy that comes out of that and that’s what we look to create,” the rabbi added.
Rabbi Skaist sees an added benefit of being embedded in an international company such as IDT. “They see other religious Jews who are working in a large company and still coming in and davening. After lunch you’ll see many of the people who work at IDT come into our beis midrash and learn. So it’s a good model for them to see as they’re going out into the world.”
Rabbi Skaist, however, was quick to point out that while the yeshiva is technically in IDT, it is still a separate entity that allows hundreds of yeshiva students to fulfill their potential. He explained that this model is suited for those who recognize that sitting and learning for 10-12 hours a day is not for them, or for students who already enjoyed that experience but now want to go out into the world to make a living.
Recognizing that a college degree is a prerequisite to getting a good job in the United States, the Yeshiva of Newark guides its students towards degrees in cybersecurity, business administration, IT-related fields and, if there is enough interest, an HVAC program.
“Cybersecurity is an amazing field…It is really an ongoing issue that is not going away. There are a tremendous amount of jobs that are available in that sector and there are not enough people to fill them.”
“I actually had a talmid call me this summer to tell me he had an internship in an IT company and he did so well that they are giving him a full-time job at the end of the internship, specifically in cybersecurity,” Rabbi Skaist said.
The yeshiva, he adds, is always looking for opportunities to help its students, including helping them prepare resumes, teaching them about interviewing processes and other aspects of jobs and careers.
When it comes to the hashkafa of the yeshiva, Rabbi Skaist is very clear on where he stands: “The hashkafa is that we love yiddishkeit. We love Jews and we love Torah. And we love the idea that avodas Hashem is all encompassing. It’s not only in the beis midrash, it’s also in the rest of our lives. We have had talmidim from all different backgrounds… I think that anyone today who is shomer Torah and mitzvos is a person deserving of support and a place to accomplish their goals.” Rabbi Skaist is extremely proud of his broad spectrum of students, and they hail from all types of families, from chasidic to Modern Orthodox, and everything in between.
“When you have different backgrounds… sitting here at the same table doing work together it’s really fascinating to watch the friendships that flourish… they become really good friends and are really appreciative of each other’s differences, as opposed to getting influenced by and feeling like they have to change in order to be like the other.”
This year, Rabbi Skaist is excited to announce that the yeshiva will now offer an option to live nearby. Until now the yeshiva has been a commuter school. But arrangements have been made with a hotel just two blocks away, allowing the yeshiva to not only offer a night seder but also have Shabboses together.
While Newark has a rich history of yiddishkeit, according to Rabbi Skaist, today people see Newark as lacking it completely. He noted that there is, in fact, a tremendous amount of yiddishkeit to be found in Newark, from the local branch of Rutgers and other nearby schools to a number of Jewish-owned businesses and warehouses in the area. Even the local Hatzolah ambulance is parked in the IDT garage.
“There are frum things happening in Newark,” the rabbi remarked. “Now that we’re going to have a dorm, we’re bringing Shabbos back to Newark for the first time in many years.”
There is even a kosher Mediterranean restaurant in the neighborhood called The Green Chicpea. (There’s still plenty of room, though, to open up a pizza shop if anyone is interested in doing so!)
To learn more about the Yeshiva of Newark at IDT, visit www.yeshivaofnewark.org.
By Ronit Mershon