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Acquire for yourself a teacher: The Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Rabbanim in Yerushalyim Starts a new Z’ma

This Elul, the avreichim of the unique Kollel Rabbanim in memory of Rav Y. Zilber in Yerushalayim enthusiastically began a new z’man continuing its studies in hilchos Nidah and Shabbos

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
rav Shmuel Kamenetzky in Kollel Rabbanim
This Elul, the avreichim of the unique Kollel Rabbanim in memory of Rav Y. Zilber in Yerushalayim enthusiastically began a new z’man continuing its studies in hilchos Nidah and Shabbos.

The Kollel, founded two years ago with the blessings and guidance of Gedolei Yisroel in both Israel and America—and dedicated to the memory of the legendary tzaddik and founder of Toldos Yeshurun, Rav Yitzchak Zilber—is where distinguished Russian avreichim train to become

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Agranovich Mendel
Morei Hora’ah.

“Baruch Hashem, after years of combined efforts of the American and Israeli religious societies, thousands of Russian Jews have come closer to Torah,” says Rav Bentzion Zilber, son of Rav Yitzchok Zilber, and today’s spiritual leader of Toldos Yeshurun.

“But we faced a problem: the lack of Russian speaking Rabbanim for the Russian speaking public. In fact, looking at towns like Beitar, Modiin Illit, Beit Shemesh, Telzion, or Ashdod as well as large neighborhoods in Jerusalem like Ramot and

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Gekraiter Moshe
Neve Yaakov, where whole communities of Russian speaking Bnei Torah exist, there were no leaders, no Rabbis for these people, and we decided to work on this problem.”

Toldos Yeshurun’s guiding principle is that Russian speaking bnei Torah could successfully reach out to their nonreligious brethren because of their common cultural background and language. To that end, in 2000, Rabbi Yitzchok Zilber, known as the “founder of the Russian teshuvah movement” for his pioneer work and leadership of of Russian Jewry’s teshuva movement in Eretz Yisroel, founded the Toldos Yeshurun Organization, a host of outreach programs directed by

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Geler Uri
Russian speaking Bnei Torah and geared to secular Russian immigrants in Israel.

Rav Zilber’s vision has indeed been proven correct: In the span of only six short years since Toldos Yeshurun’s inception, thousands of Russian Jews in Israel today have strengthened their commitment to a Torah lifestyle.

Avraham Cohen, the director of Toldos Yeshurun explains that this Kollel is in essence the makeh be-patish, the final missing link in building a viable Russian speaking religious community in Israel. “We keep opening new yeshivas, new kollels, seminary programs, etc. for Russian speaking Jews. Thousands of Russian speaking families are now committed to

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Kaplan Shalom
Torah values. But Russian leaders, Russian Rabbis who are real Torah authorities and Talmidei Chachamim—who at the same time can truly identify with the needs and mentality of their Russian brethren—are a key component that we are in the process of training in this Kollel.”

The kollel has a distinctive roster of students. They include Russian community leaders, Roshei Yeshiva of the Toldos Yeshurun yeshivos, acclaimed Russian speaking lecturers, and Toldos Yeshurun fundraisers for Russian families. The Kollel also has non Russian speaking avreichim with other backgrounds. All of these young people devote their evenings or at least a few hours a day to the service of the Russian Jewish communities in Israel and already are true leaders. Polishing these diamonds even more will result in first-class rabbinic leadership for the Russian

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Levin Eliyahu
speaking communities in Israel and ultimately will be exported to the U.S. as well.

They come here for an in depth study course of the main rabbinical areas of Jewish Law-the laws of Shabbos and Nidah. The five year course, based on daily nine hour study periods, will grant the students smicha at the end of the program following appropriate testing.

On Rav Bentzion Zilber’s initiative, the outstanding Israeli Halachic Authority Rav Moshe Petrower shlit"a—who has raised tens of Talmidei Chachamim—was invited as Rosh Kollel. This came as a wonderful delight to many of the Kollel members who had long been hoping to study Torah with Rav Moshe. “My dream came true,” enthused Rav Daniel Gink, leader of the Toldos Yeshurun evening kollel in Rishon leTzion, who has been learning in the best Israeli yeshivos for 15 years, such as Knesses Yitzchok and Chadera.

The satisfaction with the arrangement is mutual. “A Rabbi must be formed by another Rabbi,” explains Rav Moshe, who credits his success in learning to his teachers, Rav Shlomo Fisher shlit”a and R av Shmuel Auerbach, shlit"a, whom he continues to consult with.

“ How I grew spiritually, how I was guided by my relationships with these mentors- by their advice, by learning from

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Nurenberg Alexander
them. My task here, as I see it, is to be a mentor, to encourage the growth of Talmidei Chachamim – may it be G-d's will that they will become such."

The kollel is housed in a special addition to Rav Yitzchak Zilber, zt”l's apartment in Jerusalem, built during his lifetime for the express purposes of hosting shiurim, brissen, chuppahs and other such activities.

"My father's house was always filled with people," remembers Rav Bentzion Zilber, today’s spiritual leader of Toldos Yeshurun.

"I remember how my mother had to light Shabbos candles in the kitchen because the Shabbos table was occupied with olim from Russia who had just had their bris right before Shabbos. This was long ago, almost 30 years back, when Russian olim did not have brissen in hospitals. My father had an acquaintance from Russia, Dr Tzatzkis, and on Fridays, they would make tens of brissen together. "

In the holy Russian Rabbi's apartment, chuppahs for people who already had children—and sometimes grandchildren—and other activities took place every day. And now, even after his death, Rav Zilber's apartment

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Ponarovsky Naftaly
continues to resonate with Torah.

According to Yehuda Leib Avrech, assistant director of Toldos Yeshurun, it was surprisingly easier to find funds for this kollel than for other programs of the organization. But funding is still urgently needed to support several new avreichim wishing to join the program. Seventy three percent of the organization’s budget goes to Russian avreichim who teach Russian olim. These Russian avreichim are most needy, and providing them with a kollel stipend is crucial, because many of them don’t feel comfortable taking tzedakah.

Rav Yitzchok Zilber, zt”l founder of Toldos Yeshurun would often quote, “What should a person do to be saved from Chevlei Mashiach? He should occupy himself with Torah and Chesed." He would add that supporting Toldos Yeshurun accomplishes both of these, as this is exactly their mission: Offering Torah for beginners, and chesed—financial support—for the avreichim who teach the beginners.

“We need Russian speaking Rabbanim and we need people who are willing to sponsor these avreichim who sit and learn Torah all day in preparation for their unique service to Hashem and Klal Yisroel,” concludes Yehuda Leib Avrech, Toldos Yeshurun’s assistant director.

The dire need that precipitated the founding of Toldos Yeshurun

Today, statistics

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Shub Yakov
indicate that virtually every fourth Israeli who is not an Arab speaks Russian. About 1.5 million Jewish immigrants came to Israel from the former Soviet Union.

Jewish? Hardly. Even the most secular Israeli makes a bris for his son and buys matzah for Pesach. But Russian Jews are so far removed from Torah and tradition that they make barbecues on the beach on Yom Kippur—out of sheer ignorance. They are the Jews who hate the religious in Israel the most because, lacking the most rudimentary knowledge of Judaism, and influenced by anti-religious factions, Jewish traditions seem foreign, even barbaric, to them. . But there are also others—thousands of people—who want to come closer to Judaism yet do not know where and how.

To compound the tragedy, many new Russian olim—frustrated and emotionally overwhelmed by the rigorous immigration process—fall prey to Christian missionary groups who entice them with gifts(furniture, clothing, etc.), money and offers of assistance.

What can help them to love their people and their tradition? What can deter the

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Zalkind Elyakim
huge numbers of Russian olim from returning to the former Soviet Union, or migrating to assimilation in America, Canada, Australia and other countries? Only the return to their roots and the establishment of their connection to Torah.

Toldos Yeshurun was thus created as part of urgent efforts to counter the onslaught of both missionary and secular propaganda directed at new Russian immigrants. Its intent was to establish chareidi kehillos of Russian immigrant Bnei Torah—the products of Israeli yeshivas who are now building their own Jewish homes—to serve as role models and mentors for their non-religious Russian brethren.

Toldos Yeshurun was founded by Harav Yitzchok Zilber, zt”l, recognized for years as the unequivocal leader of religious Russian-speaking immigrants. Even non- religious immigrants turned to him without hesitation to answer questions and help deal with problems.

Toldos Yeshurun’s key to success

Rav Zilber zt”l embraced the vision of socially bonded kehillos of Russian Bnei Torah contributing their efforts to bring their fellow former countrymen—other Russian immigrants—closer to Yiddishkeit. Toldos Yeshurun includes many young, Russian speaking avreichim who donate their time and energy to give shiurei Torah in the evening.

The organization's success has surpassed all expectations. Today, in the brief six years since its inception, a bout 350 Rabbanim, avreichim, and lecturers—85 percent of whom are Russian speaking—work under its auspices, reaching out to thousands of Russian immigrants across the country, from Haifa to Ofakim.

The secret to the success of Toldos Yeshurun’s kiruv work of accomplishing the arduous task of convincing an adult to do teshuvah—to completely alter his lifestyle, his basic principles and values—is continuous limud Torah on a one-on-one

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Zarudinsky Yosef Avadia
chavrusa basis, with a Ben Torah who serves as a role model. At Toldos Yeshurun, everybody learns one-on-one in chavrusos with avreichim. And through the resulting personal bonding, friendship, and experiences with religious families, thousands are returning to Yiddishkeit, one Russian Jew at a time.

In addition to their chavrusah partnering classes, Toldos Yeshurun hosts shiurim, seminars, kollelim, minyanim, gemachim, the Eishes Chayil Program—a network of shiurim for ladies—and other initiatives that are expanding rapidly.

Toldos Yeshurun's success is apparent not only in the number of returnees to Yiddishkeit, but also in bringing a glint of Torah and Mitzvos to many people who were totally severed from their history and heritage. Some decide to undergo bris milah; some celebrate a Jewish holiday for the first time in their lives, and some want to get married according to Jewish tradition.

Gedolei Yisroel laud the work of Toldos Yeshurun

Toldos Yeshurun was founded upon the directive of Gedolei Yisroel—Rav Elyashiv, Rav Chaim Kanievsky and others. Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky described the uniqueness of the organization as “it’s the Russians for the Russians”.

This formula is, in fact, a veritable triumph. Owing to the extensive effort and resources invested into Russian kiruv

Toldos Yeshurun Kollel Russian Rabbanim
Zlotnik Leib Nachman
in Israel over the last 30 years, today there are 500 families of Russian Bnei Torah in Israel. Now with Toldos Yeshurun employing over 350 of them to reach out to the masses of their secular Russian brethren, the response was exponentially greater; thousands more have drawn closer to Torah in a relatively short span of time. That’s why Gedolim unanimously agree on investing money with Toldos Yeshurun into spiritually strengthening the Russian tzibur.

Many Gedolim from both Israel and America, including Rav Elyashiv shlit”a, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Shteinman shlit"a, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a, Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky shlit”a, Rav Aharon Moshe Schechter shlit”a, Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, shlit"a, Rav Malkiel Kotler shlit"a, Rav Yeruchum Ulshin, shlit"a, Rav David Shustal, shlit"a, and Rav Yisroel Tzvi Neuman, shlit"a, signed endorsements addressed to the American frum community to bond with and financially support the Russian religious community in Israel who is so invaluable in building up Yiddishkeit for Russian speaking Jews.

Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi, a Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva, commented, “Hashem does not have many places like this one. I envy those who have the wisdom to be among the donors who support and increase Torah and kevod shamayim.”

Rav Paysach Krohn called Rav Yitzchok Zilber, zt”l, founder of Toldos Yeshurun, the miracle of the pure oil on Chanukah. He compared him to the little bit of pure oil that burned so long and brought Yiddishkeit back to his people. Rav Elyashiv called Rav Yitzchok one of the 36 tzaddikim in our generation upon whom the world is standing.

Indeed, Toldos Yeshurun is not only fighting for the neshama of every Russian immigrant, but also building a lasting Russian Torah community—by training the next generation of rabbinical leaders for Russian Jewry.

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