Comments from our Students

Yesodei HaTorah IS its students.

The students of Yesodei HaTorah are the life-blood of the whole program. People of superb character who are enthusiastic about Torah and dedicated to growth, our students are the ones who make the learning happen. It is they who get up early and stay up late to learn, who juggle their schedules to make Torah a priority, who ask the insightful questions in shiur (class), who struggle to master the challenges of the text, and who grin with pleasure from the intellectual and spiritual excitement of a fascinating piece of Torah. While our students make Yesodei HaTorah a living center of learning, Yesodei HaTorah enriches their lives as well: Friendships are formed; Jewish family life is enhanced; relationships with strong Torah mentors are forged. No one can provide a better picture of Yesodei HaTorah than its students. They know the shiurim. They know the instructors. Many have progressed from level to level over several years. To tap this valuable trove of information, we orally interviewed nine Yesodei HaTorah talmidim (students) This is the real Yesodei HaTorah. Enjoy! 

 

 

Ross Abrams

Ross Abrams, a radiation oncologist and father of four (ages 15 and up), never attended yeshiva as a youngster. He had grown up with only an after-school Talmud-Torah and almost no exposure to Gemora. In January 1995, Ross felt the time had come for him to start learning Talmud. “There was a barrier towards my progress in Yiddishkeit (Judaism) since I couldn’t really learn Gemora. I also felt that it was an inconsistency between what my kids were doing and what I was not able to do that needed some correction. I thought that as the head of this family I should be involved in this important process, otherwise I was potentially at risk for sending a mixed signal. . . . ” Ross was trying to learn Gemora with a friend in the fall of 1994, but neither one really had the skills. “After a few attempts, I said to him, ‘You know this isn’t working.’ I had just heard about Yesodei HaTorah. ‘Why don’t we go?’” “We really enjoyed it. . . . Rabbi Topas started giving the shiur in Makkos in January 1995 and we just made our siyum on Makkos (completion of a tractate) this past summer (2000). . . . We started in Gemora Level 1 and now we’ve advanced to Level 4. . . .

On Learning

“I like that by attending the shiur I learn skills and knowledge; my ability to learn Gemora independently gets ever closer.” “I looked at a page of Gemora when I started and all a I saw was squiggles. Now I can open a gemora (and first of all I don’t feel intimidated because I know what everything on the page is) and with a little help I can make a leining (read and understand it). I feel like a mentch now.”

Life and YHT

“I think everyone in the family is pleased by the fact that not only do I want them to be knowledgeable people who are actively engaged in learning, but that I set that example in my own life. I think that gets back to the issue of consistency. In our household we work very hard to eliminate inconsistency. . . . I lead by example. I get a sense of satisfaction that I have this commitment, this anchor in the week. No matter what the hurley-burley is, it takes something pretty exceptional to make me miss the shiur. It helps me prioritize my values.”

Relationships

“I feel very warmly towards Rabbi Topas and Rabbi Pollack.”

On YHT

“I feel empowered as an Orthodox Jew to grow and learn, and I also feel embraced rather than isolated: If you didn’t grow up in the Yeshiva World, its as if there’s a barrier, a fence too high, too big, too wide, too thick to get over it. Yesodei HaTorah has removed that fence.”

Yedidya Anflick

Daily involvement in the mundane world of work can make a Jew yearn for the spiritual elevation and atmosphere of a yeshiva. This was the case for Yedidya. About one year ago, he began learning at Yesodei HaTorah because “I missed my yeshiva experience.” Prior to embarking upon his career as an Ophthalmological Technician, Yedidya had learned in Baltimore’s Ner Yisroel Kollel. He is married and has three children ages 6, 4, and 1.

On Learning

“I enjoy keeping up my skills in learning Gemora.” “I have two chevrusas. . . . It works out because everyone has things that come up. Its good to have two chevrusos; in case one doesn’t make it, you always have the other one.” “They don’t spoon feed you. You have to work it out yourself.”

Life and YHT

“It helps your whole Avodas HaShem (service of G-d). It helps you be a Ben Torah and be able to be a shtarker (stronger) person all around. . . . Being a father, being a working person, trying to be mekadesh Shem Shemayim (to sanctify the name of Heaven), you need as much fuel as you can get. Yesodei HaTorah is definitely one of my gas stations of Ruchnius (spiritual) fuel.”

Relationships

“My wife worked for R. Goode for one year. R.Goode has been a baal eitza (master advisor) for us in many ways, guiding us in seeing the chashivus (importance) of Torah learning and the necessity of bringing Torah within our house. We’re very much indebted to R. Goode for that gift that he’s given to our household.”

On YHT

“Its enabling me to continue my yeshiva experience, to be linked in Torah and the Mesora (tradition).”

Stuart Bernstein

A realtor and a family man with two kids, Stuart Bernstein began learning at YHT three years ago. Prior to that time, he had done some informal learning at the Los Angeles Kollel, but nothing as structured as Yesodei HaTorah. “I had heard rumors that there was a yeshiva for Baalebatim (working people), and I knew that the only way to motivate myself to get out and learn would be in a yeshiva environment. So, I sought out Yesodei HaTorah based on its reputation.”

On Learning

“I like the fact that we are forced to learn dikduk (grammar), we are forced to learn how to learn. I’ve seen my vocabulary grow. We’re free to ask questions. . . . It’s a good mix.”

Life and YHT

“When you have a shiur where your rebbe (instructor) is counting on you to be there, you rush to get there. Its a seder kavuah (a fixed time for learning). No matter where I am, for example, if I have a family event in Philadelphia, I know that I have to leave by a certain time so I can get home in order to get to shiur (class). My wife B”H (thank G-d) is very supportive, she wants me to get out and learn. Its very important that the kids see me get out and learn. When I leave now, they give me a brocha that I learn well. As they get older this will be a natural part of their lives.”

Relationships

“You see someone else who’s involved with Yesodei HaTorah and you feel like ‘ah there’s a landsman’. He’s a member of the club. We have a special thing in common.” “I have a chevrusa with someone in the next shiur up, and that’s very good because he has a greater understanding of the Gemora, and he can help me through.”

On YHT

“I’ve developed a greater appreciation for learning. I see glimpses of Rabbi Goode’s vision; I get caught up in his excitement. I see the possibilities for creating a vehicle for everyone to learn. There are plenty of opportunities for baalei tshuva (Jews who become religious) to get involved in beginner programs designed to get you off to Israel [and to help Jews to learn about Torah and observance]; but what about when you come back from Israel, and you’re married and you have a few kids? You can find every excuse in the book to stay home and not go out. The beginnings of your path toward Torah life are easy. Its all new and fresh. What about when it starts becoming old and stale? How do you relight the fire and keep the fire going?” The fire to keep going and growing is at Yesodei HaTorah.

Ari Blum

With no previous Torah learning, Ari began at Yesodei HaTorah about a year ago in the Gemora Level 1 shiur (class). A school social worker and the father of three (ages newborn to 5) Ari started getting into Torah by reading books with English translations. After a while, he found himself desiring a deeper understanding “from the source.” Yesdodei HaTorah was the place to turn.

On Learning

“It’s helping me get on that road to where I want to be, so that I can learn independently, so that I can learn from the source as opposed to depending on someone else.” “What makes it special and ‘worth it’ is getting a better grip on what we’re learning.”

Relationships

“I appreciate that Rabbi Topas really knows what he’s talking about. . . . He’s someone who works; he’s in the world. There’s a sense of reality, that he’s there with you.”

Jeff Katz

A financial planner and father of three (ages 7, 5, 2), Jeff has been involved with Yesodei HaTorah since its inception 10 years ago: “I had been learning with more advanced chevrusas, but they were doing most of the work. When Yesodei HaTorah came around, here was a chance to develop my own skills so that I would not have to rely on the others, and I could even help someone else.” After spending an initial few years learning, “Rabbi Goode helped encourage me to go learn full time for while.” So, Jeff left Baltimore for some full-time learning at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach-Monsey where his learning advanced rapidly with the intensive exposure. For the last several years, Jeff has been back in Baltimore working and, of course, learning at Yesodei HaTorah. Since YHT has various levels, Jeff was able to take advantage of the skills he learned in yeshiva to jump up to a higher shiur when he returned.

On Learning

“Rabbi Barer is tuned in to the level of learning that we’re on; he’s tuned in to the issues that we might have. He respects the level we have achieved so far and does not assume that we know certain things. To push us to grow, he’ll challenge us with things that may be just slightly beyond our current level.”

Life and YHT

“YHT helps me to build confidence around my household; my wife asks me a question–I’ve learned something like that before, or I can look it up myself. I can look in various sources and read it myself and understand them. It infuses the proper Jewish atmosphere in the home where the kids see me going out to learn, they see me reviewing at home. I take my son now to ‘father and son Beis Medrash’ after Shabbos. I would not be able to do this were it not for Yesodei HaTorah.

Relationships

“I’ve gotten fairly close to Rabbi Barer. I can speak to him for etzas (advice) about other things [not just the learning]; we shmuss sometimes. It’s nice to get to know the rebbeim not only from the learning perspective; they’re also available to us for personal advice, or to bounce something off of. It’s important to have such mentors.”

On YHT

“I feel good when I go there. Its a good feeling to know that I‘m working here to serve Hashem. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction. After those two hours I say, ‘Hey, I really did something tonight.’”

Dr. Menachem Miller

With a track-record of continual learning (yeshiva, kollel, and part-time chevrusos) since 1989, Dr. Miller (an aerospace engineer and father of four) is proof that YHT has much to offer advanced students. He arrived in Baltimore from Los Angeles two years ago: “I had planned on Learning [independently] in the morning, as I had done previously in L.A.; but after attending two or three Yesdoei HaTorah shiurim [on Sun. and Tues. nights] and seeing what was going on, I was so impressed that my wife and I decided that it would be better for me to do this.”

On Learning

“It feels like a Beis Medrash. It brings me back to a time when I was learning full time, applying myself in a Torah atmosphere, everyone around me speaking in the sugya (a specific topical section of Gemora) with an intensity of really wanting to learn and understand.” “This program lets me not just tread water, but really grow in my learning. My learning is so much stronger now.” “Our questions are becoming so much more . . . The things that we ask and the way our discussions are in learning are just on a much deeper level than I’ve ever experienced before. It’s not just the basic mechanics. We’ve covered so much now, we can ask ‘what about that Gemora on daf eyin daled?’ We’re able to tie in the Gemora as a whole piece. We’re starting to see the whole pattern of the puzzle and how all the pieces work together. I’m getting more of a macroscopic view of the Gemora. I never really appreciated it on that level.”

Life and YHT

“[The YHT enthusiasm] rubs off on my entire family. I come home excited about learning. I do a lot of learning with my kids. I’m so excited about getting them into learning. I feel that I’m connected to the olam (world) of learning even though I’m working 9 to 5.”

Relationships

“My chevrusa is as eager to learn as I am, with a clear mind that thinks differently than my own.” “Our chevrusa is not competitive. Its like were a team trying to understand what the Gemora is saying. That is paramount. We also get together for an extra 2 hours on Thursdays.” “I can see Rabbi Goode or someone in the shiur and we can talk in the Gemora! For me where I’m coming from, a Baal Tshuva, to be able to do this, it’s very exciting!”

On YHT

“What don’t I enjoy?”

Chaim Weiss

Chaim Weiss, a four year veteran of Yesodei HaTorah, is a social worker and father of four (ages 1 to 5). He joined Yesodei HaTorah shortly after moving to Baltimore: “I remember when we were considering Baltimore as a place to relocate to, we were visiting and eating at a local pizza shop. I saw a pushke for Yesodei HaTorah . . . I was very impressed with the fact that the Baltimore Jewish community supports such an institution, that the community supports baalei tshuva. It made Baltimore seem like a nice community to move to.” Having learned in a variety of Yeshivos since 1980 (such as Aish HaTorah and Keser Torah), Chaim was not new to learning. He wanted a morning seder and a regular chevrusa. Yesodei HaTorah “had the program to fit my needs.”

On Learning

“Shiur is tremendous. We cover just enough ground to chazor (review) it over during chevrusa time. It’s a good mix of shiur and chevrusa time. Its a good level; goes at a good pace.” “This year we made a siyum. I’ve been learning for 20 years and I’ve never made a siyum. It’s a tremendous thing to actually make a siyum, to finish a mesechta (tractate).”

Life and YHT

“It contributes a level of kiddusha (sanctity) which has a carry-through effect throughout my day. It puts my day and my davening (prayer) in focus. It puts me in the frame of mind for davening.”

Relationships

“I’ve made good friends from the chevrusa-style learning. Families got to know each other, kids play together, spend Shabbos together.”

On YHT

“What I enjoy especially is the fact that Yesodei HaTorah offers an environment of people who are really involved in learning. Many people who grow up in a Yeshiva remain affiliated with that Yeshiva throughout life (as dedicated alumni learners); Yesodei HaTorah is like that for those of us who learn there. It’s a place people can connect to.”