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America Teaches Russian Jews to Support Torah

America Teaches Russian Jews to Support Torah

What is the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing the words "Russian kiruv"?

For those who attended the Toldos Yeshurun Second Annual Dinner on November 4th, the answer is "Toldos Yeshurun"! 

Established by the Tzaddik Rav Yitzchok Zilber zt"l, whose entire life was filled with mesirus nefesh for Torah, mitzvos and bringing his fellow Jews closer to Yiddishkeit, and now under the leadership of his son Rav Ben Tzion Zilber shlit"a, the organization celebrated seven years of success. Presently, 350 Russian-speaking avreichim are teaching over 1,700 new Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union across Eretz Yisroel.  While the main activity of Toldos Yeshurun are these chavrusos between avreichim and new immigrants, the organization also conducts classes for men and women, has a yeshivah for Russian-speaking boys and a Kollel Halachah where the most outstanding Russian-speaking avreichim are shaped into Rabbonim and leaders for the Russian-speaking community. Virtually all Russian-speaking Torah teachers and disseminators today are either talmidim of Rav Yitzchok himself or talmidim of his talmidim. The outstanding avreichim teaching in Toldos Yeshurun, themselves once beginners in Toldos Yeshurun's evening classes, have now built their own Jewish families and are community leaders, giving to others what they have received. 

Giving, in Toldos Yeshurun, is spelled with a capital G. While much effort, energy and resources from America have been invested into Russian kiruv over the past 30 years, Russian Jews being on the receiving end, the support roles are beginning to slowly but steadily change: Over half of the dinner guests were Russian-speaking bnei Torah who seek to catch up with American Jewry in supporting the holy work of bringing Jews back to Torah. Thus, Russian Jews are transforming from takers to givers, and in this way becoming more similar to their American counterparts.  

This brings all of us closer together, as the "Russians" and the "Americans" at the dinner met each other not as benefactors and beneficiaries, but rather as equals who came together to celebrate and support a holy cause, a mutual goal. It was an atmosphere of achdus, of togetherness – the Teshuvah movement has overcome language barriers, differences in mentality and upbringing.  

Not only was the dinner an important event for Russian Jewry, not only for the Teshuvah movement, but it was big in the eyes of Gedolei Roshei Yeshivos as well – HaRav Aharon Schechter shlit"a, HaRav Yisroel Belsky shlit"a,  HaRav Shlomo Feivel Schustal shlit"a, HaRav Binyomin Kamenetzky shlit"a, HaRav Hershel Zolty shlit"a, HaRav Binyomin Cohen shlit"a, Rabbi Lipa Geldwerth shlit"a, Rabbi Tzvi Basch shlit"a and Rabbi Kalman Pinter shlit"a attended the dinner. The guests of honor were Rabbi Avrohom Binsky shlit"a, talmid of Rav Yitzchok and Rabbi of Kehillas Moreshes Yaakov, a Russian-speaking kehillah in Brooklyn, Rabbi and Mrs Dovid Cynamon,  who undertook to help Toldos Yeshurun upon hearing from his Rebbi HaRav Shlomo Feivel Schustal shlit"a the importance of their work, Rabbi and Mrs Eliezer Dimarsky, Rabbi of "Heritage", a Russian-speaking kehillah in Chicago, who translated Rav Yitzchok's memoirs from Russian into English, Rabbi and Mrs Avrohom Perlow of Yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Gadi Pollack, well-known children's books illustrator and Russian-speaking avrech, Mr. Yisroel Starck, who, together with his daughter and son-in-law, stood at the wellspring of the creation of the Toldos Yeshurun yeshivah, and Rabbi and Mrs Shloime Weinberger, without whose advice and help many of Toldos Yeshurun's successes would not have been able to materialize. The Office of Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, also participated in the dinner.  

Mr. Yisroel Starck, a Holocaust survivor, an active supporter and irreplaceable friend of Toldos Yeshurun together with his daughter and son-in-law, Rabbi and Mrs Avrohom Miller who are like parents to almost fifty yeshiva students of Toldos Yeshurun, addressed the dinner guests: "We are witnessing today the rebirth of Russian Jewry. I have lived through the Shoah, and I know that people today want to keep alive the memory of those who perished in this terrible churban. Museums are being built and monuments erected, but I say that the best memory for the martyrs of the Holocaust is to support Mosdos haTorah which ensure the continuation of our tradition!"  

HaRav Shlomo Feivel Schustal shlit"a pointed out that "being machzir neshomos to Hakodosh Boruch Hu is essentially the same as being mekayem the mitzvah of hashovas aveidah. These lost souls are the Ribono shel Olom's neshomos, and they come back to him through us. "Ashreichem", he said, to those who "were zoche to come here and be mechazek this heilige mossad." Rav Schustal asked, how is it that Toldos Yeshurun has so much hatzlocha? The secret, he answered in the name of the Ba'al Shem Tov, is the hashpo'oh of limud Torah. Through Torah, people can change their lives, and the activities of Toldos Yeshurun are all pure limud Torah. 


Rabbi Avrohom Binsky told a story of a personal encounter with Rav Yitzchok Zilber zt"l: "I met Rav Zilber on an intercity bus late one night in Eretz Yisroel. It turned out that he had visited a shoemaker in Tel Aviv because he wanted to explain something in Chumash to him. He traveled from Yerushalayim to Tel Aviv just to explain something to one yid. This was Rav Zilber. It's the zechus of this tzaddik that creates the success of Toldos Yeshurun." 

"We've been very fortunate", said Rav Shloime Weinberger, "to have Toldos Yeshurun as part of our family. It's a tremendous zechus for us to get to know Rav Ben Tzion, Rav Cohen and  Rav Avrech and all these wonderful people and see what they do". Rav Weinberger spoke about Rav Yitzchok Zilber's autobiography, "To Remain A Jew", that is soon to be published in English, a testimony of his awesome mesiras nefesh in Russia. "After all that", said Rav Shloime, "he had the zechus to come to Eretz Yisroel", where, he assumed, there would be only frume yidden, since everyone had the freedom to be a yid. He saw that it wasn't so, especially in the Russian community, and he decided to do something about it and we have the ability to help make it happen.

Rav Dovid Cynamon, the Kesser Shem Tov awardee, explained that while Moscow may be a huge circle on the map, and Volozhin is not even a dot, in Shomayim it is the other way around. Volozhin is a huge circle, and Moscow hardly registers. "So it is with Toldos Yeshurun", he said. "We may not even be aware of their work, but in Shomayim they are most definitely on the map."

Rabbi Avrohom Perlow, the next honoree, spoke about the words "Toras chesed al leshonah" in Eishes Chayil. "The greatest Torah", he said, "is to teach Torah to others. This is Toras chesed, and this is Toldos Yeshurun's mission."

True to Toldos Yeshurun's mission, the dinner was not only a delight to the body and an inspiration to the soul – with guest speaker Rabbi Sholom Kamenetzky shlit"a – there was important work to be done: Rabbis Ben Tzion Zilber and Asher Kushnir gave classes in Russian before the dinner, for men and women separately, and the shadchanim of Toldos Yeshurun's shidduch network met with shadchanim from different US states.

The celebration is over, but the holy work of building Russian Jewry continues. 

R' Avrohom Cohen, director of Toldos Yeshurun, draws the following conclusion from the results of the dinner: "We would like to express our deepest appreciation to the American Jews, who for so many years have supported the rebirth of Russian Jewry, and we hope very much that in a few years from now, it will be the Russian-speaking bnei Torah themselves who will carry the main burden of supporting Russian Jewry on their shoulders, here in America as well as back in Eretz Yisroel." 

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