The Torah MiTzion Kollel network was founded to promote Torah learning and living within Jewish communities throughout the world. Initiated by Yeshivat Har-Etzion, with the support of its Roshei Yeshiva, R’ Aharon Lichtenstein and R’ Yehuda Amital, the first Torah MiTzion Kollel in the United States was established in Cleveland, Ohio in 1994, with R’ Binyamin Taboury as its Rosh Kollel. At the same time, R’ Jonathan Glass made a dream come true when he founded the Yeshiva of Cape Town, South Africa, with a staff of hesder students.
Since then, the Torah MiTzion system has grown and flourished. The 29 Kollelim now operating on five continents include school-based Kollelim in Detroit, Washington, DC, Memphis, Cleveland, Chicago, Montreal, and Melbourne; University-based Kollelim on the campuses of American colleges Brandeis (Waltham, Massachusetts), Yale (New Haven, Connecticut), Cornell (Ithaca, New York), the University of California in Los Angeles, the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana, the University of Maryland in College Park, Brooklyn College (New York), the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and of Oxford University in England; and the Community Beit Midrash Programs, found in Atlanta, Manhattan, Phoenix, Boca Raton, Kansas City, Syracuse, Omaha, Dayton, and Baltimore, as well as in Moscow, Stockholm, London, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Mexico City, Caracas, Lima, and Montevideo. The scope of the Torah MiTzion network is constantly expanding, with a new Kollel opening its doors nearly every year.
A devoted cadre of couples and students serve as shlichim in these cities throughout the world, working to instill their host communities with an ever-growing sense of Torah Judaism and the tenets of religious Zionism, Torat Yisrael, Am Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, increasing numbers of both individuals and families whose lives were touched by their local Kollelim have chosen to leave the lands of their birth and make aliyah to Israel. In speaking to some of them, from places as diverse as Kansas, Maryland, and Cape Town, a pattern emerges from the many families who were involved in the Torah MiTzion Kollel in their hometown, and who have gone to fulfill the ideals of Tziyonut Datit and settle in Israel.
By way of introduction, “meet” some of our newest olim: Ilene and Elliot Cahan, originally from Baltimore, Maryland; Marc and Belinda Abrahams, who made aliyah from Cape Town, South Africa; Romi and Josh Sussman, who moved from Potomac, Maryland; and Debbi and Ari Simckes of Overland Park, Kansas. Read on to get to know them better!
The Cahan Family
Kollel Torah MiTzion of Baltimore, Maryland
The Cahan family - Ilene, a dietician who attended Machon Gold Seminary in Israel and graduated from Wayne State University in her home town of Detroit, and Elliott, originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, boger of Yeshivat HaKotel and a nursing home administrator who graduated from the University of Maryland and received an MBA from Johns Hopkins University, and their three children, Noam (almost 13), Uri (10), and Gila (5) - came from Baltimore, Maryland this past summer. They described their city of origin as “one of the most unique Jewish communities in America that, while many might describe as predominately ‘black hat,’ has an overall sense of achdut that ties the entire Jewish community together.”
The Kollel in Baltimore started about three years ago through the initiative of a number of parents and Yeshivat Rambam, which the Cahans’ children attended. There was a feeling that while the school already inculcated its students with a deep commitment to Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael, the Kollel would help to enhance the already high level of Torah studies by bridging it with an emphasis on the uniqueness of Torat Eretz Yisrael. There was also a feeling that the Kollel could fill a missing need in the community by further developing the members’ connection to Eretz Yisrael.
The Cahans were involved in the Kollel from the beginning, helping the Kollel’s two families of shlichim, the Werthaims and the Orensteins, get settled. “We helped them find all the different things - furniture, clothing, dishes, etc. - that these new families would need. We became very close to both families and participated in many of the their programs, ranging from individual learning to a shiur on Em HaBanim S’mecha [a monumental work written amongst the ashes of the Holocaust by a great Hassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, justifying the Jews right to the Land of Israel and the hope of Jewish renewal within it] to a viewing of the movie “Adjusting Sights” [a film based on the book by Rabbi Chaim Sabato (published in 2004, now available in an English translation by Hillel Halkin), for which he was awarded the Sapir Prize for Literature, about his experiences as a young IDF soldier during the Yom Kippur War].
Echoing a sentiment expressed by many of those who have participated in Torah MiTzion programs, the Cahans said that the Kollel was “the driving impetus behind our making aliyah - not because of any pressure whatsoever, but because through our friendship with and learning from these amazing people we deepened our relationship to Israel.” The shlichim who staffed the Kollel never preached about aliyah - they served as living examples of how life in Israel shapes a family. The Jaspers, another family who was involved with the Baltimore Kollel, made aliyah in December.
“Our decision to make aliyah was one of the quickest decisions that we have ever made in our lives. Yet on the hand, it was the final phase of a dream that was planted in our hearts since the year we each spent learning in Israel.” Last Shavuot, after having been to Israel to attend a nephew’s bar mitzvah, the Cahans decided that it was “now or never” due to the age of their oldest son Noam. They felt that they could no longer postpone the move because of the difficult transition issues often faced by older children who make aliyah. Two and a half months later, they were here. They settled in the city of Modi'in, which they have found to be a wonderful city and where they have already made some close friends.
Still, like all new olim, they have faced some challenges. “Ilene and I made aliyah with a total sense of bitachon and emunah that despite not having jobs in hand we would find work,” Elliott told us. “Although neither of us have found anything to date, we are very optimistic that we will both find work and that we will be successful in our endeavors.” Another “huge challenge,” he said, is the “vast difference between the American and Israeli educational systems.” Elliott has a website, http://www.cahanforcitycouncil.com/ , where he has recorded, in both words and pictures, the family’s aliyah process and experiences. Here you can, as the website tells you, “follow the trials and tribulations of the Cahan family, formerly of Baltimore, Maryland, as they transition to a new life in Israel.”
But every day they are reminded of what drew them to make aliyah. “What we love about living in Israel, is the strong connection that we have with our land. Everything that we do and everywhere that we go is part of who and what we are as Jews. This feeling is strongest leading up to and during any holiday. Even holidays like Tu b’Shvat, which would be considered “minor holidays” in chutz la’aretz, take on new meaning - especially when you get a bag full of nuts and dates at the gas station! This is definitely our home.”
And the friendships they made through the Kollel remain a part of their lives. “We have been lucky to maintain our relationship with the Werthaims since we moved here, and my wife and kids had the honor of being met at the airport by their children when we arrived with Nefesh B’ Nefesh. The Orensteins will be back in Israel soon as well, and we look forward to seeing them!”
The Abrahams Family
Kollel Torah MiTzion of Cape Town, South Africa
Torah MiTzion Kollelim are not limited to the Northern Hemisphere - Kollelim flourish in South America, Australia, and South Africa. In fact, one of the first two Torah MiTzion Kollelim to be established was in Cape Town, South Africa. Situated on the southern tip of the African continent, the coastal city of Cape Town is home to a proud Jewish community of about 10 to 15,000 Jews who, while predominantly traditional, represent a range of Jewish knowledge and affiliations.
Rabbi Jonathan Glass founded the “Yeshiva of Cape Town” in 1994, with the assistance of several hesder students on shlichut from their yeshivas in Israel and the support of Yeshivat Har Etzion and Kollel Torah MiTzion. The Yeshiva - or YCT, as it became known - was designed as a community Kollel that could “speak to” every member of the family in every element of the community. Durban-born Marc Abrahams was involved in the Kollel nearly from the beginning; he joined shortly after its inception to help with the various administrative issues that arose at the Kollel’s onset. Marc learned b’chavruta with individuals who came to learn at the Kollel and also served on the YCT board.
The Kollel, in Marc’s view, “provides authentic Jewish learning for people who otherwise would not have the opportunity, and provides opportunities for all segments of the community to experience the chagim authentically and to be exposed to the depth and breadth of our mesorah.” In recent years, the Kollel has moved its morning seder to the campus of the Jewish day school so as to become more involved with the community’s youth.
Marc and his wife, Belinda, a Cape Town native, met while both were working for Bnei Akiva in Cape Town. With their strong religious Zionist philosophy, it was natural for them to become involved with the Kollel that was so well “aligned with their personal ideology.” Likewise, the next “obvious” step was aliyah - which they had been planning even before starting university. But they completed their studies first, leaving to Israel in December 2002, ten days after Belinda completed her degree. They made aliyah with their daughter, Chana, who was then 18-months-old. After two months in a mercaz klitah (absorption center) in Ra’anana, they moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh. Both Marc and Belinda had graduated from university back in Cape Town. Marc, an actuary, is now working in his field; Belinda, whose degree is in occupational therapy, stays at home caring for Chana and her younger sister, Efrat. The Abrahams’ “sabra” was born seven months after the family’s arrival in Israel. Both of the girls now also attend local ganim (nursery schools).
Like many other olim, the Abrahams emphasized the “palpable feeling of the chagim,” the way the whole country is enveloped in the atmosphere of each holiday, as one of the highlights of having made their home in Israel. They cited “finding a community to settle in long-term” as the greatest challenge they have confronted since their arrival. The Abrahams remain involved both with the current Kollel back in Cape Town - “I continuously chat with Rabbi Glass about it” - as Marc puts it, and with former Kollel members who have made aliyah, of which there are many - Cape Town boasts an extremely high rate of aliyah.
The Sussman Family
Kollel Torah MiTzion of Washington, DC
Natives of the U.S. A., the Sussman family hails from Potomac, Maryland, a fifteen minute drive from the U.S. capital. Born and bred on opposite coasts, Romi, from L.A. in the west, and Josh, from South Carolina in the east, met on Otzma, a social service program in Israel that both participated in after finishing college. They got married, spent a year in Boston, and then moved to Maryland, where Matan (now 5) and Yehuda (now 3) were born. The Kollel in their area opened about seven years ago. Based around the Washington, DC day school, the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, the Kollel was set up to service DC, as well as the two surrounding communities of Potomac and Silver Spring, Maryland.
The Kollel started with five families of shlichim, who settled in both Potomac and Silver Spring. Kollel members learned in the mornings, and both husbands and wives taught at the school. They also gave group shiurim, ran programs for adults, teens, and children, and taught individuals on a one-on-one basis. Josh and Romi each studied one-on-one and learned together with shlichim Rafi Albo and Gershon and Yafit Clymer. While learning with Rafi, Josh discovered that he had never had a Pidyon Haben. The Sussmans celebrated Josh’s Pidyon Haben - just one year before they were called upon to make another Pidyon Haben, upon the birth of their oldest son.
“A combination of factors accounted for the unusually strong influence the first Washington shlichim had on the communities,” Romi explained. “As five couples, they represented a major force within the community; they were dispersed throughout the three target areas; all spoke excellent English (one had lived in the States for a few years, one was American-born, two had attended high school in the States); and they were,” as she said, “our age - and so were people we could completely identify with. And that was very powerful. Because they were our peers, the shlichim quickly became, not just our teachers, but also our close friends - and that’s why we were so influenced by them. Josh and I had already become religious when the Kollel opened. But this was our first introduction to dati leumi Israeli couples our own age - and when we met them, we discovered that their families were ones on which we could model our own. And so we have. We are in Israel because of Kollel Torah MiTzion.”
On July 13, 2004, the four Sussmans flew to Israel on a Nefesh b’Nefesh flight. They followed Rafi Albo once again - directly to their chosen home, the yishuv of Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion, where, a few months later, they were joined by the first Sussman sabra, their third son, Amichai Oz. Other friends and fellow Kollel attendees from Washington will be joining them in Neve Daniel, a “smallish yishuv” of about 250 families, when they come on Nefesh b’Nefesh 2005.
Like the Cahans of nearby Baltimore, Romi and Josh emphasized that there was no formal “lecturing” to make aliyah at their Kollel, but rather a matter of learning by example. In addition to serving as role models, the shlichim would speak casually of what they took for granted - things like Tu b’Shevat seders and being fluent from childhood in the language of the Tanach. The Sussmans began to feel that Israel was truly the best place to live as a religious family, the true ideal setting in which to raise their children. And in fact, as the family approaches its one year anniversary of aliyah, “we came because of the children, and they are flourishing. They came at the right age - after a few months it was like they’d never been anywhere else.” Five-year-old Matan is now in gan (nursery), and Yehuda is in ma’on (daycare), both on the yishuv. Since they came straight to Neve Daniel from the States, the children spoke no Hebrew when they arrived. But by Pesach, they were sounding like natives.
Learning a new language is so easy for a child! For the adults in the family, however, it is the language barrier that remains as the most daunting challenge. It is difficult to revert from being highly educated professionals to becoming “like babies,” forced to cope with communication difficulties at the bank, the post office, even with nursery school teachers. There are other adjustments to be made as well: “The finances of aliyah are scary.” Romi, a former high school English teacher, is now working as the English director of Lamdeni, an education support center, developing English chugim (extracurricular activities) and coordinating English teachers. She has a job lined up for next year at an Efrat elementary school, teaching the English classes for the native English speaking third through eight graders. Josh, who has a Master’s degree in Jewish Studies and an MSW in Community Organization, left his position as a lobbyist for the OU when he made aliyah. Now in the midst of the intensive state accredited tour guide course, Josh has just begun a job in his field, working with Upstart Activists, a Jerusalem based hasbara and activist training organization.
But no matter what, the Sussmans say, it is here in Israel that they feel “that we are working towards something, that there is a real emphasis on goals and much less focus on materialism, that our kids have real values. And,” Josh added, “my five-year-old can tell you all about Herzl.”
The Sussmans remain in regular contact with all the shlichim couples, who call regularly to “check up” on them. Neither Romi nor Josh has family in Israel and so it is to the shlichim that they go for Shabbat and chagim and other “family times.” “We have no family here, so the former shlichim adopted us, giving us a support system and people to visit. This year, we went to the Speters, currently the Rav of Tirat Tzvi, and a former shaliach, for shevi’i shel Pesach and hosted two of the other former shaliach families for a barbecue on chol hamoed. We just went to the wedding of one of the Kollel bachurim, and Romi got her job through the mother of another young shaliach, when she met us at his wedding. The Kollel shlichim have become our family.”
The Simckes Family
Kollel Torah MiTzion of Kansas City, Kansas
Situated in the heartland of the American continent, Kansas City is “a warm community” of about 20,000 Jews, about half of whom are unaffiliated with a synagogue, and the rest of whom are mostly Conservative or Reform. There are three Conservative and four Reform temples, two Chabad houses, and an Orthodox synagogue with about 125 members.
Until last August, Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, was home to the Simckes family. The family consists of Ari, originally from Boston, a pediatric nephrologist who graduated from the New York State Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, New York native Debbie, a CPA by profession, and nine-year-old Avital, seven-year-old Eitan, and four-year-old Matan.
The Kollel in Kansas City was established during the late 1990s, with a mandate to function as a true “community Kollel” that would be open and welcoming to all facets of the Jewish population. The shlichim also teach at the local community day school, the sole Jewish day school in the area.
Ari and Debbie were involved in the Kollel from the outset, participating in Kollel programs and events and attending shiurim. They also became - and still are - friends with several members of the Kollel, both couples (avrechim) and single yeshiva students (bachurim),and used to host them for Shabbat and Yom Tov meals.
The Kollel, in their view, provided three critical elements for the community they have since left behind: A strong sense of Zionism and the value of Israel; different venues for people to come and learn, whatever their affiliation, at whichever synagogue they feel most comfortable; and an opportunity for teenagers to see that being observant can be “cool” - an important achievement which has successfully encouraged many young people to get involved with Judaism and learning. In fact, many Kansas City teenagers have recently been to Israel for study programs and a few have made aliyah. A number of families from Kansas City will be coming on this summer’s Nefesh B’Nefesh flights.
The Simckes family had always planned to move to Israel, a decision to which the Kollel members gave their heartiest support. “We had no reservations - this is what we wanted to do,” Ari said. “It had always been our dream to make aliyah. We just needed the right time to come along.” That “right time” came along in August 2004 when the five Simckeses boarded a Nefesh b’Nefesh-sponsored flight. Next stop: Hashmona’im, the yishuv they have made their home. Ari is working at the Hadassah Medical Center, a few Kupat Cholim clinics, and the urgent care clinic Terem. Debbie is at home, taking care of the family, helping with their adjustment to living in Israel. Avital and Eitan attend the Mamad (Mamlachti Dati/Government religious school) on the yishuv, and Matan is in gan (nursery). They love the freedom and independence the children have living on a yishuv, and the children have fully integrated and acclimated to their new community.
Their two greatest challenges, according to Debbie, are “the lack of Sundays - there’s no night that’s not a school night (Shabbat doesn’t count), and the fact that Ari has to work so many jobs just to make ends meet.” But, they emphasized, “we love being part of this county - part of the land, part of the people. We came here for religious and Zionistic reasons. We love the feeling, that, rather than being supportive from far away, we can make a direct difference. We love feeling that we belong, and that sense that we are home.”
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