In the midst of the preparatory days for school, the entire staff of the Shuvu network of schools in Eretz Yisrael–hundreds of teachers, principals, school kiruv directors, and hanhalah members–gathered together in the Wagshal Halls in Bnei Brak to listen to top kiruv experts, hear their advice and tips, and be given chizuk.
Shuvu’s director, Rav Chaim Michoel Gutterman, opened the special “kiruv day” saying that these were special days, between the yahrzeit of Shuvu’s founder, Rav Avrohom Pam, zt’l, and the beginning of the school year. These are always the most difficult days of the year for Shuvu, as many of the schools must undergo extensive and expensive renovations and preparations to accommodate the many new students. Nonetheless, every year, Baruch Hashem, everything somehow works out, which Rav Gutterman attributed to the zechus of Rav Pam, zt’l.
Rav Gutterman quoted Rav Pam as saying that if we are able to bring another Yid to know and understand Hashem, and we all do everything in our abilities to be mikarev the children of Am Yisrael and their families, surely we can stand before the Almighty on Rosh Hashanah assured that our tefillos will be answered!
Rav Shmuel Dishon, shlita, from Karlin-Stolin Boro Park, provided a brief history of the Russian aliyah and unique insights into this population. He also spoke of the importance of mechanchim and mechanchot, and how their midos and personalities are clearly reflected in their talmidim and talmidos. Rav Dishon finished his address by stating that in Shuvu the reward does not come from Shuvu or from any other shaliach but rather directly from the Ribbono shel Olam! Hashem repays those who look after His children!
The crowd then split into two with the women hearing a most practical lecture on kiruv tips by Rebbetzin Miriam Kasman, while the men heard chizuk lectures by Rav Yehuda Buterman, director of the kiruv organization “b’shnayim” and head of the school rabbis program, and Rav Alexander Chayut, who himself is a Russian ba’al teshuvah.
Shuvu brought in four graduates now leading Chareidi lifestyles to tell over their life stories. Etty Moshayev learned in Shuvu Rishon Letzion and fell in love with her teachers and principal. She wanted to emulate their midos and lifestyles and subsequently became chareidi herself. Today she is married to the rav of a neighborhood in Cholon, a young mother of two little children, and even “returned to her origins” by being the English teacher in Shuvu Bat Yam!
Two of the boys who spoke learn in the Me’oros HaTorah Yeshiva in Telz-Stone, following their high school years in Shuvu Jerusalem. Noam Levy stated that he is a yeshiva bachur today only thanks to Shuvu. Netanel Milman made a special effort to finish his high school courses in 11th grade to allow him to learn in yeshiva in 12th grade. His parents, who made aliyah in 1991, were not frum at all when they came. Over the years, seeing Netanel’s enthusiasm, they have become much stronger in shemiras Torah and mitzvos. So much so that they decided to send their youngest son to learn in a cheder!
Daniel Vinakov is a graduate of Shuvu Petach Tikva. He first attended a secular school, but was made fun of by his classmates due to his Russian origin. His parents switched him to Shuvu, where they knew he would be made to feel comfortable. Daniel said “It was the best decision my father ever made!” He praised Shuvu’s unique methods of kiruv, not by coercion but by love. He also offered praise for the Wolfson Foundation, which was instrumental in providing programs and avreichim for him to learn with within the Shuvu framework. Today Daniel learns in the Soloveichik Yeshiva and couldn’t be happier. “People go to university and get a profession and work night and day. Why? To earn money. And why do they need money? To be happy. But I’m already happy here in yeshiva,” he said, “so why do I have to look elsewhere?”
Divrei berachah for the New Year were heard from Rav Yehuda Silman, shlita, who serves on Shuvu’s hanhallah ruchanit and as Shuvu’s posek. Rav Silman told the teachers to remember that they are not merely schirim of Shuvu and the Chinuch Atzmai but rather of the Ribbono shel Olam Himself!
Representing the Chinuch Atzmai was deputy director Rav Tzvi Boimel. He too reiterated the “shlichus kodesh” every staff member of Shuvu must sense, and added how proud they are to cooperate with Shuvu.
The crowd sat mesmerized as Rav Yirmiyahu Abramov, director of Ner Le’Elef, gave a lecture on kiruv activities in Israel and abroad, and the attitude of Gedolei Yisrael toward the importance of kiruv rechokim. Rav Abramov, who assisted in the founding of Shuvu over two decades ago, admitted that he originally thought of Shuvu and its leaders as “ba’alei hachalomos” with their aspirations of creating an entire network of schools for Russians. “But today I stand simply amazed at the results!”
Rav Abramov spoke of the love we must have towards every Yid, of the lev tahor we must have while performing kiruv, and how even the most secular find their way home. When we look at a completely distanced child, it might appear to be absurd to attempt to be mikarev him. “But no. He’s a neshamah, and we ignite this neshamah.”
A fascinating, yet fearsome lecture was given by MK Rav Moshe Gafni (UTJ) who spoke of the unprecedented challenges facing the Torah world in Eretz Yisrael today due to the gezeiros of the new government.
Explaining Israeli schools’ poor performances, Rav Gafni spoke of the emptiness of the secular education. “What does the average Israeli student learn today? Just how to make money. But if so, they don’t have to do this in Eretz Yisrael! They feel they can do this better in America! They don’t understand their connection to Eretz Yisrael. There are no values to the secular education here, which is reflected in the tests.
“Shuvu is in a very difficult situation financially, as are other mosdos,” continued Rav Gafni, “but we are not giving up! We are not prepared to compromise!”
And so, at the end of the long day, charged with an intense shock of chizuk, the Shuvu staff parted, eager to begin their true mission in the new school year–the kiruv of Am Yisrael. v