A historic event took place in the community of Great Neck — the inaugural open house of Yeshiva of Great Neck. The community’s first yeshiva high school will open its doors b’ezrat Hashem this September. The yeshiva is being founded by three young and dynamic talmidei chachamim — Rabbi Yehuda Kamravapour, Rabbi Michael Katz, and Rabbi Moshe Strassfeld — with the general studies department being led by Mr. Norman Fisher.
The Jewish community in Great Neck has grown tremendously since its seeds were planted 30 years ago. What began as a community sorely lacking in religious infrastructure is today, due to the unwavering mesirut nefesh of its rabbanim, a flourishing and thriving community, boasting all the assets of well-established frum neighborhoods. It is home to nearly 30 batei knesiyot, led by outstanding talmidei chachamim, as well as its own kollel, founded by HaRav Eliezer Ben-David, zt’l, and led by his son-in-law Rabbi Daniel Shaliehsaboo. Ten years ago, Rabbi Mordechai Kashani founded Yeshivat Kol Yaakov, an elementary school for boys, along with its sister school Bnot Yaakov for girls. Yeshivat Kol Yaakov will be graduating the first eighth-grade class this June. The community is now ready for the next step — a boys’ yeshiva high school of its own.
The open house was hosted in the beautiful home of Mr. and Mrs. Yaakov and Sheena Kashi, one of many young couples concerned with the lack of adequate local yeshivot. They are well-known in Great Neck for their chesed and devotion to the needs of their community. An overflow crowd of approximately 50 people, including prospective parents and students, as well as rabbanim and supporters, were in attendance. A delicious hot fleishigs buffet was served, followed by dessert.
Rabbi Michael Katz delivered opening remarks, describing vividly the deep and far-reaching impact a yeshiva has on a community and passionately speaking of the yeshiva’s goal to produce talmidim who will be shining examples of a homegrown ben Torah and who will be able to serve as future leaders, elevating the entire community. The yeshiva was honored by the presence of many of the senior rabbanim of Great Neck. Rabbi Avrohom Kohan, rav of Torah Ohr, spoke powerfully of the importance of establishing a yeshiva high school for Great Neck to call its own and of how lacking a community is without one.
Rabbi Shaliehsaboo, rosh kollel of Kollel Ohr HaEmet, delivered an impassioned plea to the parents to rise to the challenge and continue to develop the community institutions to serve the needs of their children. Rabbi Ben Kaniel, quoting HaRav Aharon Feldman, shlita, spoke of the “existential threat” facing a community without a yeshiva. Again quoting Rav Feldman, shlita, he concluded that the establishment of a yeshiva takes precedence over nearly all other tzarchei tzibbur.
Rabbi Kamravapour spoke emotionally of a personal meeting he had as a young man with Chacham Ovadia Yosef, zt’l, where Chacham Ovadia charged him with the mission to “Go back to America and build yeshivot for your community!” [the Persian community]. Rabbi Kamravapour observed that the founding of Yeshiva of Great Neck is bringing to fruition the wishes of Chacham Ovadia Yosef, zt’l.
Rabbi Strassfeld, who will serve as menahel, presented the yeshiva’s chinuch approach to producing well-balanced, happy talmidim who genuinely love learning Torah and who appreciate the beauty of a Torah way of life.
He described how the style of the shiur is structured so that the boys are fully engaged and invested in the learning. “We do not serve the Gemara as an already baked cake. We bring the boys into the kitchen and bake the cake together with them.” This way the talmidim really learn how to “pull apart” a Gemara and uncover the true underpinnings and underlying depth of the sugya. This style of iyun also allows the young men to taste the sweetness of ameilus b’Torah, while nurturing the talmidim’s natural curiosity and bakashas ha’emes, which is the foundation of limud haTorah.
Next, he discussed the yeshiva’s emphasis on mussar—being a “mentsch.” “No less important than iyun is that the talmidim come to understand the critical focus the Torah places on refining your middos and becoming a ba’al mussar.” This is accomplished through regular learning of mussar in shiur as well as more formal nussar shmuessin aimed at exposing the talmidim to the wealth and depth of Chazal’s understanding. “It is also through the talmidim getting to know what is really in the rebbe’s heart that their value system is developed.” It is therefore beneficial for talmidim to be able to spend time with their rebbeim out of the classroom as well, to provide them the opportunity to observe and learn from their rebbeim in different settings. He continued by describing the crucial role the yeshiva sees in the rebbeim developing warm, comfortable, and real relationships with the talmidim. In these transitional years, as our boys are becoming independent young men, they want and need guidance from their parents and rebbeim. They are far more likely to seek our advice when they sense that we are encouraging, approachable, and genuinely caring.
He concluded by conveying the responsibility the yeshiva feels to provide the talmidim with healthy outlets, including sports, music, etc., and to encourage them to develop their individual talents. It has become such a challenge for our young men to find a way to relax and unwind without exposing themselves to the undesirable elements of society. It is therefore our job to help and encourage them to be engaged in kosher forms of outlets and relaxation. The last presentation was given by Mr. Norman Fisher, who, following decades of experience as a principal in the public school system, and for the last 25 years of his career in yeshivot, will serve as general studies dean.
He began by stating that although the main focus of the yeshiva will be the morning studies, “My job is to ensure that in the hours allotted to general studies, a program is created that will prepare the boys for the world and for college, if they choose to pursue it.” He outlined his curriculum for grades 9 through 12, as well as some of the AP courses that the yeshiva will offer. He explained some of the electives; for example, a curriculum in financial literacy, which teaches the boys the basics of financial independence; checking and savings accounts, mortgages, etc. He emphasized that across the curriculum, writing skills and presentation skills will be stressed, as these are crucial in any career path. The evening closed with questions and answers, while the seventh- and eighth-grade boys in attendance were given the opportunity to learn more about the yeshiva in a private session with Rabbi Kamravapour.
“The community is beginning to believe that this can actually happen,” said one of those involved. “And that is a very exciting step. We look forward to working together with this community for many years to come.”
Mr. Emmanuel Kashi, a local askan who has been the driving force in bringing the yeshiva, explained, “If we want our children to move back and raise their own families in Great Neck, we need to have a high school. Our young men need to feel like they were raised in this community, that they are connected to it, and that they want to give back to it. The only way for that to happen is if we have a yeshiva of our own.”
“The community is a really beautiful one,” commented one of those involved in the project. “It has its own flavor, a distinct flavor, and that flavor should be preserved. The Persian community in Great Neck needs its own school.”
The evening was a tremendous kiddush Hashem and a beautiful demonstration of kavod haTorah, as the community eagerly anticipates the opening of Yeshiva of Great Neck, b’ezrat Hashem.