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The yearly conference of Toldot Yeshurun

HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, announced: “Both those who are working to be mekarev, to bring people close to Torah, and those who are mitkarev, brought close, should be filled with joy because of the merit of this act...”

(c) Copyright 2004 Yated Neeman.Bnei Brak Used with permission.

The yearly conference of Toldos Yeshurun took place recently under the headline “Today’s miracle,” honored by the participation of gedolei hador.


Thousands attended this exciting and impressive conference, under the aegis of the largest Israeli organization sponsoring Torah activities among immigrants from the former Soviet Union. HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, announced: “Both those who are working to be mekarev, to bring people close to Torah, and those who are mitkarev, brought close, should be filled with joy because of the merit of this act...”


It was an amazing sight. Dozens of buses transported hundreds of avreichim, along with Russian-speaking Torah students and their families from all over the country. Maggidei shiurim, hevrusos and students gathered together for the yearly conference of Toldos Yeshurun. To their pleasant surprise, the conference organizers welcomed a huge number of participants: 320 lecturers and avrechim active in Toldos Yeshurun, over 1200 students and hundreds more observers. Esteemed rabbanim and directors of institutions that work in kiruv among Russian immigrants, friends and supporters packed the halls to full capacity.


This inspiring conference was addressed by gedolei hador and roshei yeshivot, led by HaRav Steinman. He noted that, “We cannot compare what we see here today with what took place last year. Baruch HaShem, our audience has grown significantly. I sincerely hope that the individuals here are talmidei hachamim and people of yiras shamayim. Those working to be mekarev and those who are mitkarev should be thrilled to merit this. You have also merited observing the mitzvos and believing in Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Who knows what end awaits those who have not merited this reward? They think their way is better, but they are in serious trouble. As it is written, all of Israel has a portion in the world to come. Those who do not have a place are those who have been uprooted from the people of Israel. The people of Israel were saved because they remained faithful to the path of Torah. Through Torah, the entire world achieved salvation. The world was created for the people of Israel and for Torah. If Israel had abandoned Torah and accepted the culture of the goyim, of Greece, the world would have been destroyed.”


HaRav Moshe Shapira, shlita, said at the conference that “HaRav Yitchok Zilber, shlita, is truly unique, a wonder of our generation. The work of this group, led by HaRav Zilber, is a modern-day Hannukah miracle. They have succeeded in preserving the purity of this jug of oil, despite its small size and the tiny amount of oil it contained.”


HaRav Yosef Efrati, shlita, blessed the conference participants on behalf of HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, shlita: “The Toldos Yeshurun organization, led by my friend HaRav Yitzhok Zilber, has earned support for its work in uniting our Russian-speaking brothers in Israel, strengthening and guiding them on the true path. In our time especially, we are obligated to gather together and to fight to defend ourselves. I hereby bless you on this day, as you gather to fulfill the mitzvah of helping each other,  that you should go from one success to another, meichayil el chayil. Toldos Yeshurun should merit continuing their activities, and all who assist them will be blessed by the Source of all blessing.”


HaRav Efrati continued, “How great is the miracle of Toldos Yeshurun - how did it begin? With the mesirus nefesh of one Jew, who opposed a regime that is a direct continuation of the Greeks. But here too, in Eretz Israel, we are engaged in a war against Hellenization. The attack may come in different guises. Sometimes it is a demand that we disavow Judaism; sometimes it is a translation of the Torah. Only Chazal were so clear-eyed as to see that it is all rooted in Greek culture. This organization, under HaRav Zilber’s leadership and directed by gedolei hador is a true miracle in our generation.”


HaRav Y. Gans, shlita, quoted Chazal’s saying that whoever is careful in fulfilling the obligation of Hannukah lights will merit having sons who are talmidei hochomim. “What can we learn from the Hannukah lights in order to increase our z’chus? Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai disagreed about the method of kindling the Hannukah lights. Beis Hillel determined that each day we add one light. This is the basic meaning of our lives, that we should continue adding mitzvos, as well as adding people and families to the Torah way of life. This is the way that Toldos Yeshurun works. With the help of G-d, much light of Torah will go out from this place. Bimherah beyameinu, amen.”


The director of the Wolfson Fund, HaRav Eliezer Rosner, expanded on the topic of the siyata dishmaya the fund has merited since they have begun working with Toldos Yeshurun. “We are experiencing greater success than other institutions,” said HaRav Rosner. “Hakadosh Baruch Hu performs miracles. We see Jews arriving from Russia-speaking countries and returning to their roots. This is the result of your holy activities, in which you are succeeding, thanks to siyata dishmaya.”


HaRav Eliyahu Abba Shaul, shlita, added that the Torah publicizes great works with modesty. “No one saw HaRav Zilber in jail when he kept every minute detail of the mitzvos, and no one was with HaRav Ben-Zion when he completed masechtos, before he was tested by HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitch, z”tl. But the light of Torah that emanated from these acts publicizes them. Pirsumey nisa comes to that which is performed modestly.”


HaRav Chaim Sarna, shlita, emphasized that HaRav Zilber needs no publicity. He is unique in our generation. But his method of operation does need to be advertised. He does everything quietly, because the Torah path has no room for conspicuous demonstrations. Instead, we observe Torah quietly and out of love. HaRav Zilber is a tzaddik who publicized Hashem’s way among the Jews in Russia. And in his quiet manner, he is bringing an entire tribe of Israel to Torah.


HaRav Yitzhok Zilber, shlita, recounted some of his memories from his life in the town of Khazan: “I remember well how as a child, we returned home with my father from davening ma’ariv on Yom Kippur. Usually the old shochet would walk wh us. The adults talked about how they saw faith weakening over the years. If things continued in this manner, they asked themselves, in another ten years would we be able to gather a minyan for public prayer on Yom Kippur? Someone else honed the question: would we be able to find even one person who would look for a minyan? During the Second World War, I also began to doubt that in another twenty years, we would be able to find one Jew in all of Russia who could read a page of gemara....


You know that in the 1920s, the Soviet government closed all of the Jewish schools and they forbade learning Torah. Those who disobeyed were sent to Siberia. Many were shot for transgressing this law, accused of spreading ‘anti-revolutionary propaganda.’ Everyone had to work on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Barely any shochets or mohels were left. They taught our children to be fervent atheists. It seemed that the end had arrived for Judaism... But in the last decade, much interest in Judaism has awakened among young Jews in Russia. We cannot explain this phenomenon with any form of logic. The grandparents as well as the parents of these young men and women were completely cut off from Jewish knowledge. They did not observe even one mitzvah. They did not know Hebrew or even Yiddish,  nor had they heard anything about Jewish holidays. We began with the smallest act of dancing outside the synagogue in Simchas Torah, and ended with full acceptance of the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. Before us today, we see the answer to yesterday’s doubts.”


The central event of the evening was the presentation of HaRav Zilber’s new book of memoirs, To Remain a Jew, just recently published. This book tells a story of Jewish heroism, embodied in HaRav Silber’s incredible faith and strength. All his life, he confronted the communists’ decrees, yet remained a Jew who kept the Torah and mitzvos. The book was published in Russian, and plans are in the offing to publish it in other languages as well.


HaRav Ben-Zion Zilber, shlita, acted as announcer for the evening, together with HaRav Yosef Shevinger, director of the National Center for the Preservation of Holy Sites. HaRav Zilber thanked all the participants for coming, then continued the main topic of his father’s speech, emphasizing the power of Torah to attract many young Jews to the sources, against all logic. He also noted the divine hashgochah which preserved Torah learning throughout the world, during the period between the rise of communism and the establishment of Torah centers in Eretz Yisrael and the United States.


Among the rabbis and public officials who participated were: HaRav Avraham Shmuelevitch, shlita; HaRav Moshe Mann, shlita; HaRav Yosef Hevroni, shlita; HaRav Shlomo Povarski, shlita; the vice-mayor of Jerusalem; HaRav Yehoshua Pollack, shlita; HaRav Avraham Greenbaum, shlita; and HaRav Yehudah Breitkoff, shlita. Also in attendance were many of HaRav Zilber’s students, including HaRav Yigal Polishok, shlita, HaRav Zeev Weisbin, shlita, and HaRav Shimon Posner, shlita. Other participants included leaders of other institutions working with Russian Jewry, such as HaRav Gutterman of Shuvu; HaRav Eliyahu Esses, a leader of Shvut Ami; and HaRav Moshe Lebel, director of Torat Hayim Yeshiva.


Toldos Yeshurun is an umbrella organization for Torah-observant communities of immigrants from the former Soviet Union throughout Israel. Founder HaRav Yitzhok Zilber is one of the leaders of the teshuvoh movement for Russian immigrants. He oversees the daily activities of more than 300 avrechim who teach more than 1200 immigrants. As of today, the organization operates hundreds of Torah shiurim and hevrusa learning sessions throughout the country. They also offer bar mitzvah preparation, and perform bris milah and chupoh ceremonies.


At the conference, Director HaRav Avraham Cohen announced that Toldos Yeshurun is establishing a new projects fund targeted toward kiruv among Russian-speaking immigrants.


Main points which have led to Toldos Yeshurun’s success:


1. Personal involvement of HaRav Yitzhok Zilber, shlita, the recognized leader of the religious community of Russian immigrants and is the founder and leader of the movement to bring Russian Jews closer to tradition. Toldos Yeshurun, initiated by his students, is the direct continuation of his life’s mission.


2. The main activity of Toldos Yeshurun is to answer the Torah learning needs of the immigrants. We have organized Torah learning in a manner especially adapted to their lifestyle. When Toldos Yeshurun was founded in Israel in the year 2000, evening study sessions in Russian were almost unheard of, and hevrusa-style learning was non-existent. This is exactly what Russian immigrants need and want. They want to come after work or university studies and learn Torah with a knowledgeable study partner.


3. The organization is not built according to a horizontal pyramid structure, in which a director transfers funds to the branches. Rather, it operates as a federation, a union of communities and separate learning programs, combined under the authority of HaRav Zilber. These disparate elements share interests as well as office space. We help discover the potential of young Russian rabbis, whom we assist to become leaders of the observant community of Russian immigrants.


Members of Toldos Yeshurun speak:


HaRav Dov Bordan, 31, manager of Toldos Yeshurun’s northern branch, has been learning in kollelim and yeshivas for over ten years:
”I have been living in the north for many years. There were shiurim here, but the real expansion of shiurim and hevrusa study began, in my opinion, with the activity of Toldos Yeshurun. The avreichim who teach here in the evenings consider their work more than just learning with beginners. They learn with gishmack and self-expression, deriving much satisfaction from their studies.”


HaRav Michael Gitlin is 29, has also studied in yeshivas and kollelim for over ten years, and serves as the manager of Toldos Yeshurun’s southern branch:

I and my colleagues began the program here with great joy. The work is very hard, because in the evenings we take time from our families, and we also have to find sources of funding. But G-d willing, all of the Torah shiurim will continue.”


HaRav Yosef Ovadia Zrodinsky, 29, spent more than a decade in yeshiva and kollel study. He graduated from Hevron Yeshiva in Geula and is manager of Toldos Yeshurun’s central branch:

The Toldos Yeshurun organization bridges between Russian-speaking avrechim and Russian immigrants, which benefits both sides. The beginners have the opportunity to discover the world of Torah learning, while the avrechim feel that they are implementing their knowledge and realizing their individual potential. It is not easy to combine kollel study with community service, but with G-d’s help, we are successful.”


Aside from an educational network, Toldos Yeshurun is also an organization of Russian-speaking avrechim. Today in Israel, we estimate that there are about 500 Russian-speaking avrechim who are graduates of special programs for Russians such as those of Shvut Ami, Torat Hayim, Machon Lev, Or Someach, Ateret Yisrael Yeshiva, Kollel of the Ran and others. We assist these avrechim by providing financial aid, distributing food packages and a wide range of other activities. We also take advantage of their great potential by arranging for them to study with new immigrants, since shared language and mentality are crucial factors in the success of our activities.


Yeted Ne`eman

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