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Transforming Ramat Aviv
(Click here for Part 1.)
By Menachem Ziegelboim

The media recently reported about a Lubavitcher yeshiva student
who was struck by an anti-religious Shinui activist following a demonstration against the growth of the Chabad movement in the Ramat Aviv neighborhood * We went to Ramat Aviv and found the youngest Chabad community in Eretz Yisroel growing and blossoming under the direction of Rabbi Yosef Ginsberg, along with senior shaliach Rabbi Dovid Oshaki

 It was fascinating walking around the zal and watching the bachurim sitting and learning. I saw them with their black hats, their beards, and the look of a Tamim on their faces, studying nigleh and pnimiyus ha’Torah. It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, this was an unfamiliar venue for them.

Every bachur is a story unto himself. There is Yovel Lazovsky, the national champion in water skiing for eight years. There are bachurim who used to be officers, members of elite units, policemen, members of Shin-Bet, and many others.

One talmid, Yechezkel Noama, was born in Kiryat Ono and served thirteen years in an elite commando unit, participating in momentous and daring actions for the sake of his country, most of which cannot be disclosed even today. The only thing he could share is that he took part in the kidnapping of Sheik Oveid, in a bold and dangerous journey behind enemy lines. The kidnapping was orchestrated to obtain a holding card in negotiations with terrorists to free pilot Ron Arad. “We carried him on our backs to the helicopter and from there to Eretz Yisroel,” he recalls.

The activities inspired him with an inner awareness of hashgacha pratis. “Everything is planned down to the last detail, yet at the same time you see what a thin line there is between success and failure. This sharpened my awareness that the Creator of the world is the one who truly supervises everything.”

After his release from the army, he lived in a yishuv in the north, called Margalit, and he and his wife adopted a natural lifestyle. Since he was raised in a traditional home, every so often he davened and put on tefillin, “But I didn’t get into it. I only kept a few mitzvos, mainly those I understood intellectually and which I felt good about.”

One day he went to Tzfas on errands. He met an observant Jew there and asked him where he could study Torah. “It suddenly occurred to me that just as a father has a connection with his son, Hashem has a connection with us and wants us to have a connection with Him. I suddenly wanted to connect with Hashem.

“The man I met was a Lubavitcher Chassid who encouraged me to increase my connection to the Rebbe and to Hashem. I wrote to the Rebbe through the Igros Kodesh and received an answer in a letter that the Rebbe wrote to someone that the time had come for him to stop running his own life and to begin keeping Torah and mitzvos. The Rebbe said he should distance himself from the approach of the Reform, who do everything based on what they understand.

“I saw this as a direct answer. Everything I had been doing up until then were only those things I could accept rationally.”

Yechezkel’s wife accepted his new resolution, and that day he began keeping Torah and mitzvos and began wearing a kipa. The couple moved to the yishuv Itamar in Shomron and Yechezkel began learning in Rabbi Yitzchok Ginsberg’s kollel in Sh’chem. When he saw that the level of learning was too high for him, he discovered that Rabbi Ginsberg’s son, Yossi, had started a yeshiva in Ramat Aviv. “Since then, I’ve been traveling every day from Itamar to Ramat Aviv.”

It pays to travel so far?

“There are benefits to traveling because I can do mivtzaim on the way, and it’s also a good time to think.”

You see people demonstrating against you. Could you once have been one of them?

“I’ll answer with a story. A few years ago I toured the jungles of South America. When you prepare for the trip, people tell you that there are wild, dangerous animals and it doesn’t pay to go. Then when I entered the jungle, I saw mountains and valleys, beautiful birds, tall trees and rivers, and wild animals too.

“The same is true for religious Jews. Before I became religious, my attitude was that the religious Jews were some sort of wild animal or bloodsucker. Then when you get to know them and the world of Judaism, you see it’s not like that. Looking from afar doesn’t enable you to focus properly. You can easily be frightened by shouting, but not by the truth. That’s the situation here in the neighborhood.”

Today, he and his wife and little daughter live in Itamar. They enlarge pictures and posters for a living, including pictures of the Rebbe. “That helps you focus your gaze in the right place,” says Yechezkel with a smile, as he goes back to his Gemara.

The yeshiva’s administration takes care of the bachurim with as much concern as parents take care of their children. And not only in spiritual matters, but materially as well. “First of all, we make sure we have excellent meals,” says menahel Amir Kahane. “It’s one of the things we emphasize.”

When bachurim are ready to marry, the hanhala helps them find suitable shidduchim and helps them prepare for marriage.

Rabbi Ben-Tziyon Schwartz: “We have married off more than ten bachurim. Each wedding is like marrying off one of our own children. It is a family simcha for the talmidim of the yeshiva. We clearly see how the wedding of one of the boys gives a chayus to the yeshiva that lasts for weeks.”

The yeshiva recently married off an orphan. He too has a fascinating story to tell. He had gone on a lengthy tour in the Far East where he befriended an Israeli girl, but did not keep up the acquaintance. He became involved in Yiddishkeit through the shluchim in Bangkok, and decided to drop everything and return to Eretz Yisroel to learn in the yeshiva in Ramat Aviv. When he wanted to get married, a baalas teshuva from Machon Alte in Tzfas was suggested to him. He met her and was shocked – she was the girl he had befriended in the Far East, who had also come back to Eretz Yisroel to learn!

The joy at their wedding was indescribable. The boy’s friends, talmidim of the yeshiva, danced and rejoiced with the chasan as though they were brothers.

Much can be told about the staff’s concern for the boys, but during my visit, which lasted a full day, I realized that one could even learn from the av bayit (house father) of the yeshiva, Yaakov Baruchman. He constantly yells at the boys to keep the place clean, but he loves them dearly. He is a man in his fifties, with an interesting life story.

“I am originally from Tel Aviv,” he says with his constant smile. “When I was in the army, I volunteered for border guard duty. I was in the War of Attrition, and I fought in the armored corps in the Yom Kippur War. When I was released from the army, I worked as a miner in the copper mines of Timna, in the south.

“Eventually I became a yuppie and things went downhill from there. Unfortunately, I was in jail for a few years, at first in Sweden and then in Eretz Yisroel. I knew a little about Judaism through Rabbi Mutti Gal, the shliach in Ramat Gan. We had mutual friends.”

At some point in his rehabilitation, he met Rabbi Yossi Ginsberg, who suggested that he work in the yeshiva as a janitor in exchange for room and board. He performed his work devotedly and became av bayit. He is the general manager who takes care of the maintenance of the yeshiva. He also cooks for the boys and takes care of all their needs.

* * *

Despite many difficulties, the yeshiva continues to flourish. It produces Chassidishe young men who are yerei Shamayim, lamdanim, and baalei midos tovos.

Rabbi Amir Kahane explains that this directly results from the fact that the yeshiva operates as a shlichus of the Rebbe. “Are you familiar with the concept that you merely have to touch a tree in order for it to sprout on its own?” he asks me. I told him I knew this idea from legend, and he immediately said, “Over here, those legends come to life.”

He explained, “We see hashgacha pratis every step of the way: in miraculously finding a place for the yeshiva, in the incredible development of the community, in the seriousness of the bachurim who sit and learn constantly.”

Rabbi Ben-Tziyon Schwartz is the man in charge of the nigleh program. He talks about the level of studies:

“About thirty bachurim sit here from morning to night, learning Chassidus and nigleh. Boruch Hashem the level of learning continues to improve. At first we had lectures, but today the boys can learn on their own. We have three classes in nigleh and two classes in halacha. One of the halacha classes deals with daily halachos, and the other class is learning hilchos Shabbos as part of the s’micha cycle. The level of the Chassidus studies is high, too.”

How do you handle the differing levels among the bachurim?

“We have three levels in Gemara. I must point out that the level of learning here is high relative to other top yeshivos. These are boys who have been through a lot already, and who take their studies very seriously.

“The talmidim-shluchim who come here out of a sense of personal sacrifice and devotion to shlichus, contribute a great deal in mivtzaim, learning Chassidus and nigleh, and by tutoring and giving shiurim. Also, these talmidim-shluchim bring the spirit of 770 here with classes on inyanei Moshiach and Geula.

Farbrengens are an important part of yeshiva life. The well-known mashpia, Rabbi Reuven Dunin, gives a Chassidus class twice a week, and farbrengs with the boys on a weekly basis. His influence on the boys is immense. The boys open up at farbrengens and much progress is made.

“In general, ever since Rabbi Dunin joined the staff, the progress has been tremendous. Lately Rabbi Dunin has been having one-on-one discussions with individuals. The tremendous progress the yeshiva has made can be attributed largely to him and to the talmidim-shluchim.”

It has been just three years and you have seen such great success. What is the secret?

“R’ Amir Kahane said it before. This is a yeshiva in which Chassidus and nigleh is studied all day, so you can’t compare it to the activities of a regular Chabad House. Secondly, the yeshiva’s success can be attributed to the shlichus atmosphere. We are not building a mosad on our own, but as shluchim of the Rebbe.”

Rabbi Ginsberg: “We sense the Rebbe here, and I think that is the secret. Many people who have visited have said that you can really feel the Rebbe here. I cannot explain it, but there is no question that the Rebbe’s kochos are revealed here and that is why things go well.”

Rabbi Schwartz tells about the difficult times the yeshiva has had, and how because of the sense of mission, they made it through. “Quite a few boys who learned here and transferred elsewhere said that the atmosphere of shlichus and mesirus nefesh here at the yeshiva is missing in the other places.”

* * *

Rabbi Ben-Tziyon Schwartz is a pleasant young man who is originally from England. After he married, he lived in Nachalat Har Chabad. Three years ago, in the yeshiva’s early stages, he was offered the position of rosh mesivta in nigleh. In addition to teaching the boys, he also works with the members of the developing Lubavitcher community in Ramat Aviv. He gives shiurim for men and women and accomplishes a great deal.

How does a cool Englishman acclimatize to a such a hot-blooded neighborhood?

“You can say I have already acclimated, but we are still lacking a relationship with the neighbors, although I have not been personally attacked.”

R’ Ben-Tziyon remembers how when he and Rabbi Peretz Friedman came to Ramat Aviv, a flyer was circulated in the neighborhood: “Beware: two more families have arrived.” Four stages were described in which the “chareidim were going to change the secular neighborhood into a religious one.”

Were you influenced at all by this?

The neighbors were influenced, and they began acting coldly towards us. They were told that the value of their apartments would go down, and this frightened them. Lately, I think the situation has gotten somewhat better. We just distributed mishloach manos and they accepted it graciously.

What other Torah programs take place in Ramat Aviv?

“There are classes for men and women in halacha, Agada, and Chassidus. Quite a few women come, residents of the neighborhood. One of them is a senior attorney in the police department. Until recently, we couldn’t publicize our classes thoroughly since we didn’t have an official building, and we didn’t want chaos. Now that we’ve moved to our new location, it will be much easier to handle larger classes.”

No doubt these classes are making an impact. Recently, a Purim party was held for residents of the neighborhood and nearly 200 people participated, which for Ramat Aviv is huge!

“The yeshiva is part of the community, the hub of the community,” says R’ Ben-Tziyon. “The community will always be connected to the yeshiva, and boruch Hashem the yeshiva is growing, as is the community.”

The center of the Lubavitch community is the Chabad shul in Ramat Aviv Gimmel. The yeshiva is in Ramat Aviv Beis, and the apartment which the yeshiva used to be in, which is presently used as the dining hall, is in Ramat Aviv Alef. “We are represented throughout Ramat Aviv.”

Rabbi Yossi Ginsberg keeps in touch with hundreds of residents of the neighborhood who are connected with the yeshiva. Dozens of them are very involved with the yeshiva.

As if to illustrate this point, a Jew enters the yeshiva and shakes hands with the bachurim. He is a resident of Ramat Aviv who simply came to daven Mincha. After davening, he stayed to learn a little bit. “Whenever he has the opportunity, he comes to grab another sugya in Gemara or another sicha of the Rebbe,” says Rabbi Schwartz. “He is one of many residents here who are being mekurav to Yiddishkeit. As I told you earlier, the yeshiva is the heart of the Chabad community here.”

What are the plans for the future?

Rabbi Amir Kahane: “We have many plans. We must quickly carry out the Rebbe’s directive concerning obtaining permission for a beis midrash, mikva, as well as private residences. The Rebbe wants a mikva here. Ramat Aviv is a neighborhood with tens of thousands of residents, yet it doesn’t have even one mikva. Lately, every time we open a volume of the Igros Kodesh, we see the Rebbe asking, “What’s with the beis ha’tevilla?”

“So we decided to build a beautiful mikva. We have many other plans but we can’t get into it now. We also want to expand the yeshiva. We call upon Chabad Houses in Eretz Yisroel and around the world to send us good, serious, top-quality bachurim, Hebrew speaking only. Although we do not want to grow too big, so as to maintain a connection with each bachur, we will try to accept any serious talmid who wants to progress in his Yiddishkeit.”

Concluding the interview, I asked Rabbi Ginsberg to characterize the community and yeshiva he established in Ramat Aviv these past five years. “Our community is notable,” he said, “in that everybody operates with the belief that the Rebbe is Melech HaMoshiach. When we approach people in the neighborhood and talk with them about emuna, we are not embarrassed to tell them about the hisgalus of Melech HaMoshiach.”

How do you explain it?

“Today people are not especially bothered by ideology. We just have to present things as oros d’Tohu b’keilim d’Tikkun. When we present things confidently and without compromise, it’s accepted by everyone. This is what is unique about the Chabad community of Ramat Aviv –emuna, period.


everything thanks to them

With Rabbi Yosef Ginsberg, things just don’t work in the usual way. Even the wealthy people who support him are talmidim of his yeshiva. The man who renovated the yeshiva and made sure it opened is Mr. Amos Barzilai.

“He came to us a short while after we opened the yeshiva. He was going through a slow period in his business, so he had time to sit and learn with us for a while. Since then, he has been connected to the yeshiva, not only financially, but in his learning, too.

“After a while, he started a company called Ohel Moed, which owns some halls and a theater. This Purim we organized a large party in Beit HaChayal in Tel Aviv, a hall his company operates.

“When renting a place for the yeshiva became critical, he and Shlomo Kalisch got involved. They came to me and said: ‘You worry about running the yeshiva and we will take care of everything else.’ They were involved in every aspect of the negotiations for renting the place. Actually, everything here is thanks to them.

“Shlomo Kalisch should be mentioned here for his non-stop support. From its very inception, Shlomo lives and breathes the yeshiva and the activity in Ramat Aviv, and is involved in every aspect of their development.”


Rabbi Yosef Ginsberg

A Chassidic dance in the streets of Ramat Aviv

This year’s Purim celebration: the talmidim farbrenging with Rabbi Reuven Dunin



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