Tuesday, November 30, 2021

On Sunday, October 17, Yeshivas Beis Hillel of Passaic unfurled the white banner hanging above the front of the building to reveal the dedication of the state-of-the-art campus as the “Shirley E. and Avrom R. Vann Campus.” To the delight of all assembled, including the children, grandchildren and young great-grandchildren of the Vanns, the newly revealed letters reflect the long and focused journey of the Vanns in their philanthropic pursuits.

Residents of Fair Lawn, the Vanns are proud grandparents of five grandchildren who attended YBH. The annual Middos Award presented at the eighth grade graduation is underwritten by the Vanns. This past year, in a special gesture of appreciation and generosity, the Vanns awarded every graduating eighth grader in the class of 5781 with a sefer, in tribute to their cooperation and resilience throughout such a challenging year. In years past the Vanns dedicated a preschool classroom and underwrote the cubbies in many classrooms when the building was first built. In 2004, the Vanns were honored as grandparents of the year, and the science laboratory was endowed in their honor by a member of their extended family.

The Vanns’ involvement in YBH has passed down to the next generation. Children Yossi and Sora Rivka Vann have been highly involved parents in the school, Yossi having served as past president of the YBH board of directors, and Sora Rivka as PTA president.

Shirley and Avrom Vann have made tzedakah a priority throughout their married lives. Even starting out, when Avrom was attending law school after a career in social work, when finances were meager, the Vanns set aside tzedakah money, which grew to sums that enabled them to make generous contributions to causes and institutions that were dear to them. From their initial $10 contribution to the Jewish Communal Fund in 1978, eventually the Vanns were able to contribute significantly to Shaare Zedek Hospital, Zaka and scholarship funds at New York Law School, among many other worthy recipients.

Active in the Fair Lawn community, Avrom was a past president of Congregation Ahavat Achim as well as in his Swan Lake community shul, where he also serves as a baal tefilla. This has passed down to their son Yossi who also serves as a baal tefilla in Kehilas Eitz Chaim. The Vanns established a furniture gemach years ago that is still serving the community. Fifteen years ago Shirley Vann opened her hugely successful and popular wedding gown gemach, which is known widely throughout Bergen County.

Introducing the program was YBH menahel Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, who lauded the Vanns for acquiescing to be honored for their dedication. Rabbi Schwartz cited the end of Sefer Shmuel (Perek 24), where David Hamelech constructs a mizbeach on the property that he purchased for the construction of the Beit Hamikdash. Knowing full well that he would not be the one chosen to erect the Temple, a privilege granted to his son Shlomo, what David did was prepare the ground. Similarly the Vanns have been preparing the ground for this current huge dedication of the YBH campus through over 50 years of philanthropic activities.

Sending online greetings to the Vanns on this festive occasion was Rav Hershel Schachter, rosh yeshiva and rosh kollel at Yeshiva University, and moreh derech to YBH. Rav Schachter noted in the name of the Chofetz Chaim that people who learn Torah regularly are also expected to be supporters of Torah. Furthermore, the names of the supporters of mosdos Torah should be revealed so that others will be encouraged to be supportive as well. Names of contributors should, therefore, be prominently displayed on institutions of Torah learning. Rav Schachter concluded by announcing his own donation to YBH.

Also addressing the dedication event online was Rabbi Mordechai Willig, rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University and moreh derech at YBH, who sent blessings to the Vanns for their generosity. Rav Willig cited the pasuk in Bereishis in which Hashem praises Avraham for influencing the generations that would follow him to perform works of “tzedakah u’mishpat.” Following in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu, the Vanns have set a model for their future generations to be involved in tzedakah u’mishpat on the highest levels. He offered a bracha that the Vann legacy be perpetuated for many generations to come.

After the celebratory “reveal” of the Shirley and Avrom Vann Campus, the assembled were ushered inside to hear words of acceptance from Avrom Vann, who shared a remarkable story about the power of tzedakah. The story began on an Erev Shabbos in the shuk in Yerushalayim

where an elderly vendor was learning at his kiosk. An American tourist came by asking for cigarettes. Before providing them, the elderly vendor asked what time it was. When the tourist responded the vendor apologized that he could not sell him cigarettes after chatzos as it was too close to Shabbos and he wanted to avoid the possibility that the tourist would be smoking the cigarettes on Shabbos. In conversing, the tourist revealed that he had been a student of Rav Aharon Kotler at Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood. Hearing this, the old man proceeded to tell him an amazing story. Growing up in Minsk, he was from a very poor family and had to leave yeshiva to go to work. From the beginning of his working years he would put aside a few pennies toward tzedakah from his meager wages. Years passed, and the money grew to a point where he decided to give a sizable sum to a local yeshiva to underwrite two gifted bachurim to study at the Slabodka Yeshiva, the elite yeshiva of Eastern Europe at the time. One of the young students selected to learn at Slabodka was none other than Rav Aharon Kotler, who eventually became the rosh yeshiva of BMG in Lakewood. Years later, the American tourist was in his home in Florida and was asked to host Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky over Shabbos. He recounted the inspirational story to his guest who joyously admitted that he, Rav Kaminetsky, was the second talmid to receive the generous stipend to learn in Slabodka. From mere pennies saved, two illustrious Torah giants emerged to lead the Jewish communities in the 20th century.

Vann’s message, “Every one of us can aspire to be the old man in the story. Shirley and I are here today because 44 years ago we began setting aside pennies that grew into the ability to support an exemplary yeshiva like YBH that provides a solid Judaic and general studies background to its students and even more importantly imbues them with highest level of middos tovos.”

Dr. Jonathan and Paula Gold, building chairpersons, extended brachos to the multi-generational Vann family for continuing nachas and joy from family, friends and the YBH community. A portrait of Rav Moshe Feinstein, who had been the Vanns’ mesader kiddushin, as well as a 3-D model of the new campus, were presented to the Vanns as special keepsakes for the occasion.

By Pearl Markovitz


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