July 24, 2024
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The ‘Summer Vacation Yeshiva’ That Has Transformed Secular Youth Into Bnei Yeshiva

When Israel’s leading secular news channel decides to devote an entire segment of its news coverage to a story that decries your organization’s efforts to promote teshuva among youth, you know you are being successful. That is exactly what transpired last week, when Israel’s Channel 2 broadcast an “expose” on Acheinu’s Yeshivas Chofesh Hakayitz in Modiin Illit.

While the secularly biased Channel 2 bemoaned the fact that so many secular Israeli youth were using their summer vacation to increase their knowledge and observance of Torah, those who care about the kavod of Hashem and His nation celebrated!

Acheinu, the kiruv arm of Dirshu and one of Eretz Yisrael’s leading kiruv organizations, places a special focus on mainstreaming those who they are mekarev by slowly integrating them into Chareidi yeshivot.

Among Acheinu’s most successful programs are its summer vacation programs, where they reach out to non-religious teens during the two-month-long summer vacation from school and infuse them with Torah learning. Whereas in past years, Acheinu’s energetic mekarvim would set up small enclaves of shiurim in various communities where non-religious youth lived, this year they tried something different … and met with astounding success.

Transforming Days of Boredom Into Days of Growth

Acheinu established a full-fledged summer yeshiva, called Yeshivas Chofesh Hakayitz—The Summer Vacation Yeshiva. The yeshiva, established in the Chareidi community of Modiin Illit, offered the teens an opportunity not only to be immersed in Torah learning but also to experience the totality of Torah life as lived in the Torah community of Modiin Illit. To say that the full immersion had a profound impact on the secular youth would be a tremendous understatement.

In fact, according to Rabbi Chaim Goldberg, a R”M at Acheinu’s yeshiva and one of the primary organizers of the program, “We had over 60 teenagers from six different cities. They were totally non-religious youth who until now had attended secular schools. As of this Rosh Chodesh Elul, over 20 of them have enrolled in yeshivos kedoshos and we hope that many more will follow suit. The impact of the yeshiva has been nothing short of remarkable.”

Rabbi Goldberg adds, “The success of Acheinu’s newest innovative program, Yeshivas Chofesh Hakayitz, was not formed in a vacuum. For years, Acheinu has organized ‘batei chizuk’—small chizuk centers in strategic locations throughout Israel where Israeli secular kids can meet with Acheinu avreichim in an unthreatening atmosphere, shmuz, ask questions, enjoy a game and a small shiur on basics in Yiddishkeit. Those same boys who come and spend time at the batei chizuk were a primary source for the summer yeshiva.

What the Kedusha of a Blatt Gemara Can Do for a Child

One of the great difficulties facing secular youth in Israel in the summer is dealing with the boredom of a 10-week hiatus from school. The lack of structure can lead to all kinds of negative behavior. Acheinu decided to step into the breach and create a program that would offer the teens both structure, thereby keeping them off the streets, while simultaneously enriching them with the life-giving waters of authentic Torah.

“You would be amazed at what the kedusha of a blatt Gemara can do for a child! Just learning about ‘shnayim ochazim b’tallis’ infuses them with an unfathomable ruach tahara,” explains Rabbi Goldberg.

“After years in kiruv rechokim and observing what has worked for them and other organizations, Acheinu concluded that the ultimate key to success is aggressive follow-up and personal attention to each talmid. They sought out some of the most talented yungeleit from Modiin Illit who are learning in Yeshivas Mir Brachfeld and other yeshivos and kollelim and assigned one avreich for each talmid. Each avreich learns with his talmid, advises him and serves as his mentor, sounding board and so much more! These young people are undergoing a metamorphosis and they need a person who will help them not only learn Torah but also navigate difficult social questions and make sure they maintain an upbeat, positive relationship with their parents, even as they embark on a lifestyle of which their parents may not initially approve.”

At Acheinu they recognize that teshuva is a work in progress and is not accomplished overnight. With that in mind, they provide many recreational activities for the children as well.

“I remember,” related Rabbi Yisrael Layush, another member of Acheinu’s staff, “We were once slated to go on a trip up north which was to include banana boating on the Kinneret. One talmid told me, ‘If we don’t learn for three hours before we leave, I feel we have not really earned the trip!’ I was so moved that this teen, who as of June 20 had been in a totally secular public school, already had such a heightened sense of the importance of limud haTorah after barely six weeks in our summer yeshiva!”

Acheinu Enrolls Thousands of 8th Graders in Yeshivos

The Acheinu summer yeshiva is just one component of Acheinu’s general programming. This summer, in addition to the yeshiva in Modiin Illit, Acheinu continued its longtime summer program titled “Project Toronto.”

Project Toronto is a program designed for boys who have learned in religious Chinuch Atzmai schools, usually in communities far from the main Torah centers. Although they have learned in religious elementary schools, many of these boys come from traditional homes that are not completely Torah observant. After eighth grade they stand at a crossroads. Should they go to yeshiva or continue in a non-yeshiva high school? Acheinu appoints avreichim to befriend the boys and their parents and impress upon them the importance of choosing a yeshiva education. Over the past 20 years that Project Toronto is in existence they have been responsible for sending tens of thousands of children to yeshivos kedoshos!

Rabbi Aharon Yadler, one of the Acheinu’s devoted avreichim, related, “While they are in eighth grade we develop a personal relationship with each boy. We visit them twice a week and explain to them what a yeshiva is. We take them on trips to check out yeshivos and spending Shabbos in the yeshivos. This year alone we have enrolled hundreds of boys into yeshivos—boys from communities such as Kadima, Ramat Hasharon, Herzliya and many other small yishuvim.”

New Building For Acheinu’s Yeshiva L’Tze’erim

Another very exciting Acheinu project that is becoming a reality as these words are being written is the new building for Acheinu’s Yeshiva L’Tze’erim being erected in the town of Kiryat Sefer. Acheinu realized that there is a tremendous need for a yeshiva for young baalei teshuva such as those who come from Project Toronto. These young people need support in their first few years in yeshiva and cannot get the service and support they need in existing yeshivos. Acheinu’s Yeshiva L’Tze’erim is just the framework that they need.

Recently, a special tefillah gathering was held at the construction site of the yeshiva that is in the advanced stages of completion. The nasi of the yeshiva, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, addressed the gathering, which was attended by both the bachurim and the staff of the yeshiva.

Last year, at the hanachas even hapinah for the new Acheinu yeshiva building, HaGaon HaRav Shimon Baadani, shlita, rosh yeshivas Torah V’Chaim and a member of the Shas Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah, emotionally exclaimed, “I have a special abiding love for Acheinu! Why? Because Yeshivas Acheinu is unique. Many other yeshivos seek only metzuyanim, outstanding bachurim who will reflect well on the yeshiva. Acheinu just wants to work with bachurim and bring out the best in them!”

By Yosef Sosnow

 

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