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"Toldos Yeshurun's" First Seminar

People were singing zemiros; it seemed that no one wanted to stop singing. But there were beautiful words of Torah waiting to be told...

The Shabbos tables were surrounded by people singing zemiros; it seemed that no one wanted to stop singing. But there were beautiful words of Torah waiting to be told–after which we recited Birkas HaMazon and hurried to the evening lectures.

The talk for the women made a powerful impression on all participants. And the men's lecturer was still speaking after midnight with some of those who had stayed on to ask questions...

"Toldos Yeshurun" is an organization known for bringing the light of Torah to Israel's Russian-speaking population, through its evening classes and Torah centers. "Toldos Yeshurun" recently held its first seminar, for the students of the evening Torah center in Ashdod.

The lectures began before Shabbos. Then the women went to light candles, after which we held a spirited Kabbalas Shabbos minyan, in which all participated. The excitement of receiving Shabbos together was tangible. The sight of these Russian-speaking new immigrants dressed for Shabbos, singing Lecha Dodi together with the rabbis and kollel men who taught them every evening, brought tears of joy to our eyes. We continued with evening prayers and a luxurious meal.

When Jews from the former Soviet Union began arriving in Israel in great numbers, almost every idea, including seminars, was tried. What was not done in an attempt to reintroduce them to Yiddishkeit? But the seminars produced meager results. When similar seminars were held for Israeli Sefardic Jews, there would be a strong positive response and a number of young men would enroll in yeshivot. These Sefardic Jews were raised with Jewish tradition and awareness. When they were exposed to words of Torah, the seeds fell on ready ground and bore fruit.

Seminars for Russian-speaking Jews proved quite different. The typical Russian participant was raised in a militantly secular and anti-religious atmosphere, and arrived with an astonishing lack of Jewish background. He was often deeply moved by what he experienced in the seminar. But without ongoing contact and regular study sessions he found it difficult to actualize the yearnings that had begun to stir in his heart.

Commented HaRav Yitzchak Zilber shlita, founder of "Toldos Yeshurun": "A Shabbos seminar like the one just held in kibbutz "Chafetz Chayim"–with families, with men's classes and women's classes, with children's activities–is invaluable. The men have been learning one-on-one in the evenings but often do not get to know the other students in the Torah center. They lack the opportunity for dialogue, for warmth, for a supportive atmosphere. And the kollel wives do not see their husbands in the evening, and this is hard. But on a joint Shabbos like this the kollel wives can get to know the families of the Torah center's students. They have a chance to see with their own eyes the fruits of their husbands' labors.

"I wish I could have been there myself. But my daughter and son-in-law, who were there, greatly enjoyed the atmosphere as well as the results."

"Toldos Yeshurun", founded to disseminate Torah and mitzvos among Israel's Russian-speaking Jews, unites the efforts of over 250 Russian-speaking teachers and disseminators of Torah. It offers Torah classes throughout the Land of Israel and has established seventeen centers for evening Torah study, in which many hundreds of participants engage in one-on-one Torah learning. Seminars, though, had never been part of its field of activity.

Rabbi Ariel Levin, the Ashdod Torah center's director, served for many years as chief rabbi of the republic of Georgia. He, in cooperation with the brothers Rav Yosef and Rav Mordecai Sklar who head Ashdod's Russian-speaking religious community "HaDor HaRevi'i", were the force behind this seminar.

And here we were in Kibbutz "Chafetz Chayim", amidst a pleasant rural atmosphere, running a Shabbos seminar with over a hundred participants: present and potential students of the Ashdod Torah center, as well as the center's teachers and staff.

We were surprised ourselves.

When the Shabbos evening program concluded, we retired almost regretfully. But we knew that tomorrow's full schedule was waiting for us. After morning prayers and another sumptuous meal, delightfully seasoned with singing and divrei Torah, we toured the kibbutz grounds. The expansive lawns, graceful trees and miniature zoo granted an feeling of pastoral calm and serenity that is so refreshing to city dwellers such as ourselves.

Avraham Cohen, "Toldos Yeshurun"'s executive director: "We do not have the funds to run a seminar. All our resources go straight to Torah learning. But this experience shows how fruitful a joint Shabbos of this sort can be, which brings together the Torah center's staff and their families with the center's students and their families. If we had the means we would organize similar Shabboses for all our Torah centers."

Rav Yosef Sklar, of Ashdod's "HaDor HaRevi'i": "This seminar recalls how we first established our community. We brought in some excellent speakers who motivated a core-group of people to start their return to Judaism. "Aish HaTorah" then helped us with more speakers and with financing. We slowly grew into what we are today. Now what we need is to set up a beis midrash to provide a place for regular Torah study. This will function as the nucleus of the community."

After Shabbos we all sat down to enjoy an unforgettable show, after which it was clear that people simply did not want to go home.

Rav Yosef Sklar: "This Shabbos seminar has had quite an impact on people. I have already been approached by a number of people who would like to find out more about Judaism and are interested in beginning study."

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