May 19, 2024
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Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim: A Year of Learning, a Lifetime of Inspiration

On a quiet, serene mountaintop, 20 minutes from Jerusalem, surrounded by the breathtaking panorama of the Judean mountains, is the campus of one of the longest-running and most respected American post-high school yeshiva programs. In that tranquil setting, the students of Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim spend a year after high school absorbing a powerful mix of education and inspiration. It happens to be my own alma mater, and I recently enjoyed an opportunity to connect with the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Sosevsky, and learn about the newest developments in the yeshiva, as well as the paths many of my fellow alumni have taken since.

Perhaps one of the most telltale signs of a yeshiva’s success is the alumni it produces. In the case of Ohr Yerushalayim, a sampling of my own former classmates alone indicates a remarkable phenomenon: Many of the yeshiva’s alumni have chosen paths in life in which they went on to make an impact on the greater Jewish community.

The rosh yeshiva enumerated a number of the fascinating trajectories on which his former students have embarked in addition to the rabbinic-oriented fields. Some became medical professionals who earned the admiration of their peers by continuing to study Torah diligently while becoming influential members of their communities. Others became successful businessmen who assumed positions of lay leadership in their communities, serving as shul presidents or working in other capacities designed to impact the level of Torah learning and religious commitment for themselves and others. Many of the legal professionals who studied in Ohr Yerushalayim opted to forgo the opportunity for greater earnings from private firms, and instead chose to work for Jewish institutions, such as the Orthodox Union. He also noted that the award-winning Holocaust-related documentary “Paper Clips” was both produced and directed by alumni of the yeshiva.

Rabbi Sosevsky concluded that our students have found many different ways to contribute to Jewish society, but predominantly they have left their mark in the fields of chinuch, rabbanut, and kiruv. He relates that one alumnus of Ohr Yerushalayim, a prominent New Jersey rabbi and mechanech, recently estimated that the number of Ohr Yerushalayim alumni in these fields — which stands at about 150 — is far above similarly oriented, highly respected yeshivot.

What is the driving force behind this phenomenon? Rabbi Sosevsky has a theory.

“Our yeshiva has always been successful in creating a highly inspiring and dynamic Torah-learning environment where the students come out of their year with a deep-rooted sense of inspiration. Evidently, one of the effects of true inspiration is that it creates a desire to inspire others as well.”

I find myself wondering whether there have been any changes in the yeshiva in recent years. To my surprise, Rabbi Sosevsky revealed that this has actually been the subject of some recent deliberations — but as the old adage goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In recent years, many new American programs have entered the market that have been aggressively pursuing students within certain specific portions of the spectrum. Some of these programs have become popular, and we found ourselves vying for the same group of students with an increasingly large number of competing yeshivot. In addition to that, the advent of modern technologies present many new challenges to the traditional methods of chinuch. As seasoned mechanchim, with a young and highly dynamic staff, we began to entertain thoughts of cultivating niches wherein we felt we stood to be highly successful.

This idea was quickly dispelled by a number of prominent American mechanchim who met with Rabbi Shmuel Wagner, the yeshiva’s mashgiach ruchani, and myself, urging us to continue just as we were. They felt that there was no other yeshiva that had proven equally successful in fostering the same degree of commitment and inspiration among its students. In addition, because of its pure focus on quality Torah education, avoiding identifying with specific ideologies, Ohr Yerushalayim has always been able to appeal to a wide variety of students, and they assumed we can continue to do so. In light of their meetings with those educators, Rabbi Sosevsky and Rabbi Wagner committed the yeshiva to pursuing their time-honored path in education.

At the same time, despite traditionally not running a “police state,” Ohr Yerushalayim has risen to the challenges of the contemporary scene by instituting more rigorous discipline. However, the students have been treated to a far greater “ruach” experience, including special trips and other programming that supplements their regular learning without ever detracting from it.

And so I have my answers: After over three decades of successful chinuch that has left its imprint on so many young men, Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim expects to essentially remain the same Ohr Yerushalayim.

Rabbi Dovid Sussman, who originates from the Five Towns area, served as associate editor of Kolmus, the Jewish Thought Journal of Mishpacha Magazine. He has published numerous Jewish novels and translated important Jewish texts.

Rabbi Moshe Ch. Sosevsky was ordained at the Rabbi Joseph Jacob Rabbinical College where he delivered a beit midrash level shiur, while simultaneously attending Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s afternoon shiurim for two years. He possesses a doctorate from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Yeshiva University, and was the founding editor of Jewish Thought: A Journal of Torah Scholarship, published co-jointly with the Orthodox Union.

By Dovid Sussman

 

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