While COVID has not brought many local Jews to Israel, nevertheless it has brought the spirit of Israel to the United States. Booming online study programs have served to spread the Torah of Eretz Yisrael around the globe—even those teachings that involve not just the brain but the heart as well.
At last week’s annual Makor Chaim prayer conference, which was attended by many hundreds of participants both in-person and online, Rav Dov Singer stressed how even the negative aspects of the past year need to be met head on, experienced and assimilated. On one hand, the longing for a physical connection to Israel has deepened, while new technologies facilitating the meeting of the minds and the hearts from around the world have opened up so many exciting opportunities.
In Israel, Makor Chaim’s innovative educators’ training program “Lifnai V’Lifnim” has had over 20 years of hands-on experience helping teachers develop a culture of personal, emotional and religious introspection and growth for themselves and their students. In Cleveland’s Fuchs Mizrachi School, Rabbi Yehuda Chanales has been at the helm of a uniquely successful, two-year “Lifnai V’Lifnim” staff development pilot program. Upon his recent return to Teaneck he has agreed to serve as Makor Chaim USA’s educational director, working together with Lifnai V’Lifnim Director Yishai Singer. Supported by the JEIC (Jewish Education Innovation Challenge), over 30 educators from 12 different schools in the UK and North America participated in a nine-week virtual experience focusing on the inner world of the educator and its impact on building a culture of religious growth in schools. This was followed by a two-day, in-person summer seminar in the NY/NJ area, setting the stage for a cohort of schools to engage in deeper work in their schools over the upcoming academic year.
Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldmintz of Maayanot explained: “Representing a wide range of experience from new teachers to veterans who have been in the field for decades, we walked in as a gathering of individuals and small teams and emerged as a cohesive group, sharing a common language and a vision of something we wanted to achieve for our schools and ourselves.” Another participant added: “I really appreciated the connection between developing my interpersonal skills—of listening, curiosity and authentic dialogue—and my avodat Hashem as a teacher and person.”
Makor Chaim USA president, Teaneck resident Rabbi Mark Gottlieb, who joined the teachers at the summer seminar, said the organization looks forward to expanding this program during the coming year at a number of schools, including Kushner Yeshiva High School, Maayanot, Oakland Hebrew Day School and SAR High School.
Makor Chaim has been active in other areas as well, such a adult outreach, prayer education and community building—establishing “chaburot” as spiritual self-help groups in many communities. Many readers will recall that Rabbi Dov Singer toured the U.S. in February 2020 and after events in Boca Raton, New Rochelle, Teaneck and Manhattan, returned home with one of Israel’s early cases of COVID. His recuperation and series of online classes from the hospital were closely followed by Israeli media.
Over the past 36 years, Makor Chaim has blossomed into one of the Jewish world’s educational powerhouses. In addition to a yeshiva high school with 320 students from Metulla to Eilat, Makor Chaim’s unique religious Zionist Chassidic start-up has pioneered prayer education, teacher training, community building and more in Israel and throughout the world. All this has been operating out of inadequate 50-year-old “temporary” quarters in Kfar Etzion scheduled to be razed to make way for new residential kibbutz housing within a year or so.
The new campus is being built on the ancient “Patriarch’s Road,” on land allocated to Makor Chaim in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of Makor Chaim students in the summer of 2014. Prime Minister Bennett, serving then as the Education Minister, said of the tremendous unity fostered by the yeshiva, “Makor Chaim served as the ‘Source of Life’ for all of Israel.”
Makor Chaim continues to raise much-needed funds to move construction forward. In the recent Charidy online fundraiser, over 5 million shekels were raised from over 6,000 Israeli donors. Many famous alumni urged the public to give. Yair Cherki, star reporter at Israel TV Channel 2 said: “Makor Chaim is an integral part of who I am…a place with an eclectic view of religion, an authentic yearning for God and a liberal approach that does not contradict fear of God. Rav Dov is not just another rosh yeshiva and Makor Chaim is not just another yeshiva. For us, he was our Dumbledore, the yeshiva was our Hogwarts!”
By Yossi Baumol