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Rav Asher Kushnir: Prolific Russian-Speaking Lecturer and Shidduchim/Shalom Bayis Advocate of Toldos

Rav Asher Kushnir

The topic of the lecture — delivered in Russian — is a serious one, centering on a pivotal aspect of Yiddishkeit: What is the need to observe Mitzvos? Is it not sufficient to merely believe inside? There is spellbinding silence, with all eyes riveted on the lecturer. Suddenly, the next moment, sounds of laughter resonate through the audience, a crowd hundreds strong, comprised of both Russian Jews already committed to Torah, and their not yet religious brethren. The lecturer glibly guides the crowd from deep intellectual analysis to a moment of honest and humorous self recognition.

What elicits such crowds of Russian Jews — many of them secular — to attend a Torah lecture? Who is the lecturer who so deftly bonds with his audience?

His name is Rav Asher Kushnir, who serves as lectururer and Shidduchim/Shalom Bayis Advocate par excellence for the Toldos Yeshurun Kiruv organization, which he helped found. The Toldos Yeshurun organization, under the current spiritual leadership of Harav Ben Zion Zilber, was founded in 2000 under the direction of Rav Yitzchok Zilber zt"l and the initiative of Gedolei Yisroel Rav Eliyashiv, Rav Steinman, Rav Kanievsky, and Rav Auerbach shlit"a, with the guiding principle that Russian speaking Bnei Torah could successfully reach out to their nonreligious brethren because of their common language and cultural background.

In the early days of Toldos Yeshurun, shiurim were given in the home of Avraham Cohen (today's director of TY) with the men"s shiurim given by Rav Kushnir and the women"s by Rabbanit Chava Kuperman, daughter of Rav Yitzchok Zilber, zt"l. From the start, Rav Asher's shiurim drew impressive audiences, which contributed to the forming of the full fledged organization. Thus, Rav Kushnir played a crucial role in Toldos Yeshurun's development, whose manifold programs today far exceed home classes, and has returned hundreds of Russian families across Israel to a Torah life in only 6 years since the organization's founding.

Russian born Rav Asher Kushnir was an ideal candidate for leadership in Toldos Yeshurun. Hailing from the former Soviet Union where he was a physicist, he immigrated to Israel nearly thirty years ago. Rav Asher studied in the best Yerushalmi yeshivos, Yeshiva Mir among them. He also has extensive experience teaching in Russian kiruv programs.

Rav Asher is both a gifted speaker and a people loving person: thus, his twin contributions to Toldos Yeshurun of Torah lectures and matchmaking for Russian singles. His prolific lectures and seminars garner amazing results and meaningful successes. He has authored several extremely popular Russian series of lectures on cassettes as well as CDs that have fast become best sellers and are sold in great quantities in many Russian-Jewish religious communities. The topics include harmony and happiness in family life, Jewish education of children, education according to the Torah, the anatomy of the human soul, and shidduchim.

«The widespread problem for most Russian Jews — owing to the spiritual damage inflicted by 75 years of communism — is that most of them are atheists,» notes Avraham Cohen, director of Toldos Yeshurun. «Which is why there is so little success in bringing them back to Torah. The road to teshuva for Russian Jews is different than the average secular Jew of Western backgrounds; they need to uproot extremely deeply entrenched negative concepts and replace them with fundamental Torah perspectives of emunah, and kiyum hamitzvos that are so foreign to them. There are relatively few seminars focusing on these areas for Russian Jews.»

It is noteworthy that Rav Kushnir's lectures are popular also with nonreligious Russian Jews. What makes Rav Kushnir especially outstanding is that his lectures are full of his trademark humor — this way, even serious educational topics are absorbed in a relaxed, easy going environment.

Rav Kushnir is the most demanded speaker in the Russian speaking world. The acclaimed «Russian Maggid» Rav Asher is asked to travel all year round to lecture in different countries and cities — wherever there is a sizable community of Russian Jews. During his speaking tour to North America in July of last year — where he lectured in many cities in the US — hundreds of people gathered for one lecture!

Rav Kushnir has raised tens of young avreichim, the majority of whom have learned in the technical college of Jerusalem, Machon lev, and in the yeshivos Kiryat Malachi and Toldos Yeshurun where Rav Kushnir taught.

This summer, Rav Kushner was very instrumental in assisting displaced Russian Bnei Torah fleeing Northern Israel during the Lebanese war. Practically all of Toldos Yeshurun's programs in the north were closed down as both teachers and students were forced to flee to the center of the country for several weeks. The Rosh Kollel of Toldos Yeshurun in Haifa, Rav Dov Burdan, found himself in Jerusalem"s Bayit Vegan neighborhood.

"Right at the beginning of the war we had a baby boy,» Rav Burdan told Toldos Yeshurun. «He was born prematurely and for long weeks, we did not know when the bris would be. Unexpectedly, the Mohel said that we would do it the next day. I was desperate — how would we organize a bris milah while sharing communal living quarters with other families? When I turned to the Rabbi who organized the housing for Northern refugees in Bayit Vegan, imagine my surprise when it turned out that it was Asher Kushnir whom I had heard so much about but had never met personally!

“And so, at our bris, we received a special blessing from the greatest Rav of our generation, Rav Yosef Sholom Eliyashiv. He blessed Rav Bentzion Zilber, the spiritual leader of Toldos Yeshurun, and Rav Asher Kushnir to make a special kiruv program in the USA that includes the distribution of thousands of CDs in greater NY.”

A unique matchmaking service for Russians

Rav Asher's diligence and effort in assisting his young Russian brethren with finding appropriate shidduchim, coupled with his extensive lectures on building a home/family of Torah, has earned him the title of distinction as Toldos Yeshurun's Matchmaker. His house is full of young people; festivities like engagements and sheva brachos abound there. Often, young people just come for advice. (It is interesting that in his home nobody speaks Russian as his wife is American and the children speak Hebrew.)

Rav Asher explains, “Ba'alei Teshuva typically are faced with shidduchim difficulties, because they have already left the secular world but aren't yet fully integrated into the orthodox world. Among Russian BTs, this problem is even more painful. Probably one of the biggest problems of the Russian Jewish community is that young people who want to build a Jewish home don"t want to meet someone on the street or through newspaper ads. Yet they don't even know where to look for a shadchan/it. We needed a program that would effectively take care of shidduchim for Russian Ba'alei Teshuvah.”

Furthermore, states Rav Asher, preparation for the chuppah and guidance/counseling for Russian newlyweds and young families is virtually nonexistent. Rav Asher's lectures on building a Jewish family/home have literally helped thousands of young Russian Jews make their first steps towards Yiddishkeit.

Considering this urgent need in the mechanism of shidduchim, Toldos Yeshurun has built a unique Jewish matchmaking service that is in essence a network of Russian shadchanim all over the world. Russian shidduch seekers register as “clients” with a local Russian speaking shadchan. Russian speaking shadchanim are also encouraged to register with the service. And of course, the registry of couples who married via the Toldos Yeshurun Matchmaking network is exciting. Uri and Leah, the most recent Toldos Yeshurun Russian Matchmaking Network newlyweds, just married on September 13, 2006.

This system, housed on the website of Toldos Yeshurun, is structured according to the advice of Rabbanim in a way that shidduch seekers cannot access the full file of another person and can only come into contact with each other through the shadchan. They contact the shadchan of the party they're interested in, regardless of whether he is in Moscow, New York, Jerusalem or Los Angeles.

The matchmaking service also serves as a conduit for encouraging mitzvah observance. The service is structured so that beginners who are only taking the first steps towards observance of Torah and mitzvot need to contact — and forge relationships with — local rabbis or heads of Jewish communities. They begin to attend synagogue or lectures regularly, gradually taking on full observance and ultimately building a true Jewish home.

Tens of couples have already found each other through this system — couples that lived in the same country as well as couples who lived half a world or across the ocean from each other.

Tackling the shidduch scene for Russian Jews in America

On November 19th, 2006 in Brighton Beach, NY, Rav Asher Kushnir will be the featured speaker in a big seminar for young Russian singles as well as young couples. Rav Asher has become renowned to Russian Jews in America via his widely distributed CDs published by Toldos Yeshurun, as well as his presence on the Toldos Yeshurun website (www.toldot.ru). The beloved teacher to the Russian Jews in America will be here for them by popular demand.

"We expect BE"H hundreds of young Russian Jewish men and women,» says Yehuda Avrech, assistant director of Toldos Yeshurun. «Brighton Beach was not chosen

by accident: about 150,000 Russian Jews live there, Russian Jews from Pennsylvania and New Jersey come here on Sundays to spend their free time and there is no other place in the world, including Russia, with a concentration of Russian Jews like New York. Our aim for now is not to open places of Torah in America, but rather to host a grand project of public awareness to Russian Jews in America with close contact to organizations that work with Russians in NY, like Kehillas Shaarei Emunah of Rav Mordechai Tokarsky, the Sinai Academy of Rabbi Aryeh Katzin and the Illit school of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Braun, that help and support exists for them.»

"We expect BE"H hundreds of young Russian Jewish men and women,» says Yehuda Avrech, assistant director of Toldos Yeshurun. «Brighton Beach was not chosen

In preparation, an introductory lecture by Rav Kushnir, on the secret of happiness in the home, was distributed via CD to thousands of young Russian people in and around New York.

“The shidduch problem for Russian Jews is worst in America: oftentimes, Russian bochurim even go to Israel or Russia to find girls,” explains Rav Asher Kushnir.

“Our event on November 19th is thus a wonderful opportunity to build many more Jewish homes.”

More information about the various programs of Toldos Yeshurun is available on their website.

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