If you’re a New Jersey yeshiva high school student or their parent and, in checking out options for gap-year programs in Israel, you find something strangely familiar about Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh—no, it’s not your imagination. It’s the school’s strong roots in New Jersey.
Three of the Yeshiva’s administrators/instructors proudly hail from Bergen County and are quite familiar with many of the religious communities in our region.
Rabbi Nisanel “Gotch” Yudin, the rosh hayeshiva, lived in Fair Lawn from 1969 (when he was 3 years old) until he got married at age 23. His parents are Rabbi Binyamin and Shevi Yudin of Fair Lawn. He attended MTA and YU. He then lived in Teaneck and Bergenfield, started teaching at Frisch in 1999, and became assistant principal and director of admissions in 2002. In 2006 he made aliyah and he founded Yeshivat Ashreinu nine years ago. He lives in Beit Shemesh with his wife, Ruthie, a real estate agent, and they have six children.
Rabbi Mike Sohn moved to Teaneck at the age of 5 and attended the Moriah School in Englewood and Frisch Yeshiva in Paramus. His family were members of Keter Torah Congregation. After high school Rabbi Sohn learned in Reishit Yeshiva in Israel for two years and afterwards attended Queens College and learned in Yeshiva Madreigas HaAdam. He received semicha from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. He made aliyah six-and-a-half years ago and he and his wife, Shuli, a social worker, live in Ramat Beit Shemesh with their three children. Shuli now works as the Israel representative for Lander College for Women. Rabbi Sohn is menahel/director of Ashreinu and oversees the day-to-day running of the yeshiva, the students, rebbeim and programming. In the summers Rabbi Sohn is the director of operations at Camp HASC.
Rabbi Dovi Shenkman was born and raised in Teaneck and attended Yavneh and The Frisch School; his family were members of Bnai Yeshurun and Rinat congregations. After learning in Mevaseret for two years he went to YU where he got his semicha, a master’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in education. He made aliyah six years ago and has been teaching at Ashreinu for the last five. In addition to being a Shana Alef morning rebbe and a Shana Bet afternoon rebbe, he runs their night seder program. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh and he and his wife, Daniella, an English teacher, have five children. In the summers he is a division head at Camp HASC.
Rabbi Sohn points out that the paths of all three men crossed before they arrived at Yeshivat Ashreinu: “Rabbi Shenkman and I were classmates in Frisch... and Rabbi Yudin was our principal!”
Rabbi Yudin commented that Yeshiva Ashreinu was built, in part, on a vision he shared with two pivotal lay leaders, also from New Jersey—Lawrence and Daniella Schreiber, residents of Teaneck. Ten years ago they told him that their son, Adam, was looking for the right fit in a yeshiva in Israel and had not found it. By offering a mix of tiyulim, chesed programs and serious Torah study, Yeshiva Ashreinu met Adam’s needs … and those of the 400-plus other students who have attended since. Rabbi Yudin said: “Lawrence and Daniella have been a tremendous support to our yeshiva and his service on our board since its inception has helped us build this exceptional program.”
Yeshivat Ashreinu’s unique curriculum combines dynamic Torah study, meaningful chesed internships and challenging and enjoyable tiyulim. Ashreinu’s Torah-study curriculum is designed to immerse students in the areas of Torah most relevant to their daily lives. Students are encouraged to challenge, probe and question. With an average of six students per class, the students receive individual guidance from a diverse staff of rebbeim.
There is a natural progression from the Torah learning to their chesed program, where they put the learning into practice. In addition to a weekly group chesed trip for the whole yeshiva, students design their bi-weekly individual chesed internships based on their personal interests and talents. Through these experiences, students have the opportunity to develop themselves, give back to others and to create a kiddush Hashem.
The yeshiva’s weekly trips are an integral part of its curriculum. “There is no better way to appreciate the beauty of Israel—while expanding your knowledge of Jewish history—than by hiking, riding, climbing and swimming across the country,” stated Rabbi Sohn. “We transform our land—from the deserts of the South to the mountains in the North—into our classroom.”
Yeshivat Ashreinu currently has 35 students in their Shana Alef program and 17 students in their Shana Bet program.
Speaking of his inspirations for founding the yeshiva, Rabbi Yudin said: “My parents were the rabbi and rebbetzin of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn for more than 50 years. I had the honor of growing up in a home nicknamed the ‘Yud-Inn,’ because chesed was what they were all about. At Yeshivat Ashreinu we foster growth in our students in Torah and mitzvot. We also put strong emphasis on chesed and volunteering. So much of what I saw in growing up was the importance of chesed in a Torah-centered life and when I started this school, that value was foremost in my mind.”
Parents of Yeshivat Ashreinu students find it very easy to sing its praises.
“We chose Ashreinu for our son Shmuel last year because it had the right mix of learning, volunteering and trips for him,” said David Friedman of Highland Park. “He had a great time and made good friends and decided to go back for a second year this year.”
For more information on Yeshivat Ashreinu, please visit www.ashreinu.org.il.