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The Impact Of Telshe On The Midwest

Oct 21, 2009 by Rabbi Pesach Siegel

 Rav Eliezer Silver would refer to the three cities, Cleveland, Toledo, and Buffalo as “Ketev Meriri”, an acronym of their names. He likened them to “Shedim” due to the inroads made by Reform. Cleveland was the home of Abba Hillel Silver’s “Temple”. His voice prevailed within the city and beyond.


   The Cleveland of those days is no more. Upon arriving in Cleveland, The Roshei Yeshiva, Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, z”l, and Rav Chaim Mordechai Katz, z”l  involved themselves in every aspect of Chinuch imaginable. Although a Hebrew school for elementary aged children preceded the arrival of Telshe, it was Rav Nochum Zev Dessler who turned it into a proper day school. A Mesivta was later added for high school youth headed by Rav Nosson Tzvi Baron, Yavne High School lead by Rebbetzin Sorotzkin and Yavne Seminary by Rebbetzin Ausbond. When the need arose for a cheder, talmidim of Telshe established  Mosdos Ohr HaTorah, presently lead by Rav Shmuel Berkowitz,  which is comprised of a boys and girls elementary school (Girl’s principal, Rebbetzin Rivka Levitansky) plus a girls high school, run by Rebbetzin Fried. The mechanchim who staff these integral, successful institutions make their mark on the community with their very presence, as well as with their selfless efforts in Harbatzas Torah.


   Cleveland is blessed with institutions that provide vital religious services to the entire community, founded and run by Alumni of Telshe. Among them are the Chevra Kadisha, Bikur Cholim, Matan B’Sayser, and Cleveland Kosher organizations.


   Talmidim of the Yeshiva have enhanced the community with their ascendancy to the Rabbinate.

   The Rosh HaYeshiva, Harav Mordechai Gifter, z”l, was always fond of remarking that he was privileged to be one of the first rabbis of The Young Israel Congregation in Cleveland, a position occupied at present by Telshe alumnus Rav Doniel Neustadt (Young Israel – Heights Branch). Rav Y. Y. Blum of Khal Yereim and Rav Daniel Schur are musmachim of the yeshiva. A  regular shiur delivered by former senior kollel member, Rav Moshe Garfunkel,  to a group of  Baalei Batim,  lead to the formation of his  Kehilla.


   The contributions are endless. A night Kollel was founded in Cleveland Heights  by Rav Shlomo Eisenberger, to forge a direct connection between the Torah study of the bnei yeshiva and members of the community. Special note must be taken of the kiruv efforts which found their beginnings within the framework of this Kollel, by Rav Eliyahu Ausbond and Rav Yisroel Brog. The night Kollel is no more, but in it’s place is a full day community Kollel headed by Rav Baruch Hirshfeld. A part day Kollel for Mechanchim founded by Rav Yaakov Zev Katz developed into a full day community Kollel in Beachwood. The community is the beneficiary of an early morning Dirshu Kollel. The Jewish Learning Connection run by Rav Ephraim Nissenbaum fills a great need within the community. Mention must be made of the work done by Rebbetzin Mann over the years, under the auspices of YABI, endeavoring to reach the souls of children of our Soviet brethren.


   Cleveland Heights is a city transformed. The yungerleit, lay leaders, and activists who branched out from the Yeshiva make it unrecognizable from what it  was.


    In order to properly assess the impact the Telzer Yeshiva has upon its surroundings one must do so through the perspective of history.   Telshe Yeshiva was much more than just an institution of higher learning in Europe. It was the transmitter of an all encompassing way of life.  One of the values that makes up the essence of Telzer chinuch is the sense of “achrayus”, responsibility, for seeing to it that our world reflects “Kiddush Shem Shamayim”, thus bringing it closer to the days of “Venisgav Hashem levado bayom hahu”.


   This responsibility drove the Roshei Yeshiva to found an organization unheard of at the time, the Vaad LeHafatzas Torah. Worthy students were given the mission of travelling from shtetl to shtetl in Lithuania, founding a chain of Yeshivos Ketanos.  They were exposed to criticism. It was said of Telshe at the time that due to sacrificing the learning of it’s students, the yeshiva will produce “Am Ha’aratzim” – ignoramuses. Thirteen Yeshivos Ketanos were founded in this manner, and the Rosh HaYeshiva, Harav Mordechai Gifter, z”l remarked on the Gedolei Olam that  were involved in this venture, “Take a look at the Am Ha’aratzim that Telshe Yeshiva produced!”


   The Vaad LeHafatzas Torah was reactivated in the yeshiva in Cleveland.

   Mr. Ben Goldfine took upon himself to found a day school in Minneapolis. He faced apathy and severe opposition. The school was folding. There were no funds. Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, determined that the school should stay open, sent a young talmid chochom by the name of Rav Chaim Tzvi Hollander to assume the leadership of the school, working l’shem shamayim, without financial remuneration, save room and board. He remained there for  two years afterwards returning to the Kollel. A series of his chaverim followed to keep the school going, Rav Moshe Ackerman, Rav Elchonon Jaffe, Rav Yankel Rennert, Rav Gedalia Anemer, and Rav David Sanders.  They organized an evening gemora shiur for the city’s youth. One of the products of this shiur was Rav Azriel Goldfine, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedola in Johannesberg, another was Rav Yisroel Pichey, son-in-law of Rav Gavriel Elimelech Tress.


   The Roshei Yeshiva turned their attention to Chinuch HaBanos. The achievements of Rebbetzin Sorah Shenirer in Poland are well known and part of our history. The Torah education of young women in a school setting was a pioneering undertaking. In Telshe, Lithuania, Yavne Girls Gymnasium occupied a place of supreme importance whose effect on future generations can never be humanly measured.


   In the trauma of post World War II, the Hess family sought to hide it’s Jewish origins among the hostile populace of what was then the USSR. Their young child,  Eliyahu, was brought to shul by his mother on Yom Kippur. She had studied in Yavne Gymnasium, together with the present Rebbetzins of Telshe.  She couldn’t deny her son his heritage. Upon discovering his identity he was filled with a longing for Jewish study. A young man taught him Hebrew, he had three lessons in Gemorah from an elderly man, and eventually he became a catalyst in the miraculous wonder referred to as “The Baal Teshuva Revolution” which took place in the former Soviet Union during the 1970s & 1980s. His mother impounded in him a love for Telshe. His shiurim given in the sefer  Shiurei Daas (Rav Yosef Leib Bloch, z”l) benefited tens if not hundreds of Baalei Teshuva. When visiting the US in 1986 for the Conference on Soviet Jewry, Eliyahu, now known as Rav Eliayahu Essas requested that a visit to Telshe should be included in his itinerary. His visit was an emotion packed one.

 These efforts were not confined to Cleveland alone. (The impact on the Midwest made by Yeshivas Telshe in Chicago is a world within itself and is beyond the scope of this article).


   In conjunction with Torah Umesorah’s Project S.E.E.D. Bnei Yeshiva were sent to Dayton, Columbus, and Cincinnati Ohio during their Summer break.


   Mr. Herb Jaffe was a solid pillar of the Dayton community. His standards were uncompromising. Although he was never afforded the chance to study in a Yeshiva in his youth, he had an unquenchable thirst for Torah. He spent his summers diligently drinking from the waters of Torah. He took the opportunity to take the weekends off and travel to Monsey,NY to study in Yeshivas Ohr Sameach. One evening he was having difficulty absorbing the words of the “sugya” under study. No one was available to settle his doubts on the subject matter. He went to sleep painfully and rose early in the morning. He arrived at the Bais Medrash at  5:30 a.m. Finding the doors closed he waited for the first available scholar. When one arrived, he pounced upon him and presented him with his queries. Everything was answered to his satisfaction and he was able to attain peace of mind. From whence did he draw his love of Torah and clarity of vision? His father, Zaidel Yaffe,  had studied abroad in the Telzer Yeshiva. He had shared a ”stanzia” (lodging) with the Ponovizer Rov. The Ponovizer Rov made a visit to Dayton for the express purpose of seeing his father. The dining room of the Ponovizer yeshiva, Aishel Yaffe, is the result of that visit.


   A boy of twelve availed himself of the opportunity to spend his Summer in the Mini-Beis Medrash. He was a regular. On Tisha B’Av he sat on the ground from after Shacharis until the Mincha services (approximately seven hours!) learning all the topics permissible on that sad day. His father, being a scholarly man, was filled with joy that the light of Torah was kindled in his son’s heart. His Bar Mitzva was approaching. The family asked his chavrusa of the Summer to attend the Bar Mitzva celebration. “In the middle of the zeman?”, he asked the Rosh Hayeshiva. “Certainly”, replied the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Gifter, z”l. “There is nothing more appropriate to do in the middle of the zeman. One never knows what could come of such a gesture, it could lead to the boy becoming a Ben Torah.”  The bochur attended the simcha, the Bar Mitzva bochur went on to Yeshiva. After many years of successful study, he returned to live in Dayton and is now a powerful influence on the youth of the city.


   So impressed was the Rov of the city with the quality and conduct of the bochurim, he decided to send his eldest son to learn in Telshe. In the words of the Rov, “Prior to this summer, Telshe was the furthest thing from my mind!”


   The Rov of a growing shul in Columbus turned to Telshe Yeshiva. His dream was to start a community Kollel in the city. He needed a jumpstart, two young married couples who would spend the summer in the city and form a sort of Mini-Kollel. The two couples pooled their efforts and did the work of many more of their number. The shul was a beehive of activity with lectures on timely topics for teenagers and  women,  a Bais Medrash program at night replete with a Kol Torah (and peanut butter brownies). Groups of Bochurim from Cleveland were “bused” in for special Thursday night mishmor programs. It gave the participants a thirst for more. These clear sighted, motivated individuals were instrumental in founding a  community kollel, comprised of Talmidim of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel.


   For many years, a group of Telzer Talmidim would spend the summer in Cincinnati, Ohio. One of the senior rabbanim of the community was Rav Yisroel Indich, z”l, a talmid of Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, z”l.  He would relate to the bochurim how Rav Eliyahu Meir personally guided his educational path, grooming him to be the vanguard of the Yeshiva educated rabbinate. During one summer, one of the Kollel fellows made such an impression on the participants that they “kidnapped him!”  He was hired to be the assistant to the Rov.


   One of the regular attendants was moved by his studies to become more observant. He had productively spent the summer mastering the Aleph Beis. He expressed the wish to attach mezuzos to his door-posts. In his naivete, he purchased his mezuzos in Hebrew Union College, the bastion of Reform. The nervously offered prayers of the program heads were answered. The mezuzos were posul!! They were photo-reproductions! The purchaser was livid at being charged $18 for fakes, and he learned a lesson in authentic Judaism.


  Cincinnati has developed by leaps and bounds and is now the proud location of a day school, girls high school, community kollel (Ner Yisroel), alongside numerous prestigious congregations.


   The impact of the Yeshiva on it’s surroundings? Immeasurable. It was for this very reason that Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, z”l and Rav Chaim Mordechai Katz, z”l, chose the Midwest as the location for their future Yeshiva. The Eastern coast was already touched by the presence of  yeshivos. They took upon themselves the “achrayus”, the responsibility, of spreading the light of Kiddush Shem Shamayim in the formerly dark Midwest.


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