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Heichal HaTorah Graduates Inaugural Class

What began as dream over five years ago, materialized into technicolor reality recently as Heichal HaTorah of Teaneck graduated its inaugural class at the Heichal building on Sunday, June 18, 2017.

With students in the graduating class reflecting a broad geographic demographic, including Teaneck, Bergenfield, Paramus, Monsey, Washington Heights, Riverdale, Clifton, Passaic and Hillside, the group appeared homogeneous in their refined and respectable demeanor.

“The boys have far exceeded my expectations,” exclaimed Rabbi Aryeh Stechler, rosh yeshiva and dean of Heichal, as it is fondly known. A short five years ago, he traveled from town to town seeking the right mix of rising ninth graders to fill Heichal’s very first class.

“We were looking for boys with fine middot he said then, “boys who wanted to grow and are ready to grow. Giving his final address to the students at graduation, Rabbi Stechler emotionally told his talmidim how proud of them he is, “You really know four masechtas backwards and forwards, you are extremely talented in reading gemara, meforshim and learning on your own. You have acquired excellent math and writing skills, outperformed our expectations on AP exams and SAT college entrance exams and you are now poised to pursue your college degrees upon return from your learning in Israel. Most importantly, I am proud of the people you have become—men of refined character and deep religious commitment. No one involved in Heichal, myself included, dreamed of you. You are truly amazing. And we are so proud of you!”

The graduates looked every inch the part as refined, accomplished and well-educated young men as they sat together on the stage during the graduation ceremony. Shmuel Kaplan, of Teaneck, Heichal’s 2017 valedictorian, compared his Heichal experience to writing an essay and asserted that the approach he learned at school is analogous to a life that is meaningful, productive and successful.

“First, you need a strong claim,” he explained. “We must look inside ourselves, analyze our personal traits, dissect the reason for our existence and evaluate our mission in this world. What should I be trying to accomplish? Why was I placed in this world? We must make sure that our personal mission is compelling.

Now that we have the claim, we must prove it. We prove our claim with the grounds, which are the choices we make. Our daily decisions and actions must validate our respective claims. But most important of all is unity. We have to try, to the best of our ability, to make sure that all our actions fit in with the overall claim of our individual lives.

Over the last four years at Heichal, we were given the tools to write the essays of our individual lives. From the beginning, we were taught that serving Hashem is the primary mission of our lives and that learning Torah is a primary means to serving Hashem. Our rebbeim’s dedication and love for teaching and learning Torah, provided us with a model to emulate.”

He went on to describe how the Heichal philosophy includes a strong general studies curriculum so that graduates will have the wherewithal to pursue careers in any field they choose and successfully provide for their families in the future. He also described some of the social action and chesed activities students engage in, such as regular visits to the nearby Care One Nursing Home and Holy Name Hospital and participation in Yad Leah and Tomchei Shabbos tzedakah initiatives.

Shmuel concluded, “Even though playing sports and relaxing may not seem like a religious endeavor, if we intend for these activities to revitalize ourselves and enable us to perform mitzvot, they are also included in our overall avodat Hashem.”

Avi Dani Cohen, of Washington Heights, the class salutatorian, echoed a similar theme when he was called upon to address the gathering. “Will I be a doctor who learns Torah?” he asked rhetorically, “or will I be someone for whom the Torah is primary, who also practices medicine and contributes to my community by saving lives?”

Following the official ceremony was a luncheon for graduates and their families that commenced with a celebratory siyum. Every senior completed a masechta, either Berachot or Makkot. The siyum was led by graduates Dov Jacobson of Teaneck and Nesanel Blass of Monsey, followed by dancing. Individual awards were then distributed to every graduating student by rebbeim who spoke about each young man personally and gifted them with sefarim selected with each graduate in mind, tailored for their individual growth.

As the celebrations wound down, hugs and promises to keep in touch abound, it was clear that Heichal’s bold dream that began so many years ago, had not only come to fruition but far surpassed even its loftiest goals. When asked if he felt sad to see his graduating class move on, Rabbi Stechler said matter-of-factly, “They will always be a part of Heichal. I am so happy for each one and his individual accomplishments. Rather than focusing on my feelings of sadness in seeing our bechorim leave, I want to focus today on how the boys, rebbeim, faculty, board, supports, parent body and everyone involved in Heichal has accomplished our mission. This is a happy day and we should all feel tremendous nachas!”

Almost the entire 2017 graduating class will continue their Torah studies in Israel next year at the following yeshivot: Kerem B’Yavneh, Toras Moshe, Shaalvim,Yishrei Lev and Mevaseret Tziyon.

Graduates have largely achieved high SAT scores, many receiving top tier college scholarships and generous incentives and plan to pursue their continued education at Yeshiva University, Touro’s Lander College for Men, Ner Yisrael in Baltimore and CUNY’s Queens College.

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