Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

29 Adar 5759 - March 17, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Rabbi Tzvi Schwartz -- Rechovot's "King"

by Moshe Schapiro

Try this: Stop at various cities and towns within a ten mile radius of the city of Rechovot, flag down any pedestrians you see, and ask them for directions to Rabbi Tzvi Schwartz's outreach center. Chances are that every one of them will know the way.

To get a sense of what Rabbi Schwartz has achieved in Rechovot, merely tag along with him for an hour or two. Even a casual walk down the street is an eye-opener. Every few paces Rabbi Schwartz pauses to chat with men or women of all ages, backgrounds and religious leanings. He addresses them all by their first names, and he manages somehow to remember each person's job, marital status and number of offspring. " . . . And how is your son doing in law school?" he will ask a middle-aged Rechovot matron.

Another few paces, and, "Nu, how is the Air Force treating you?" he queries a crew-cut youth clad in denim with a black leather jacket.

Rabbi Schwartz set off on his career of kiruv rechokim thirty-five years ago, as a representative of P'eylim. At the time, Rechovot was certainly no stronghold of religion.

The city was first settled in the late 1800's by a group of fifteen idealistic, Torah-observant Jews who had sailed from Russia to Palestine intending to found their own agricultural settlement. This group called themselves the BILU, an acronym for the Hebrew phrase, "Bais Yaakov Lechu Veneilcho -- House of Jacob, come let us go forth." The continuation of the posuk is: "be'or Hashem -- with the light of G-d."

However, with secular Zionism dominating the scene as the settlement developed, the descendants of the original group of Torah-observant settlers gradually abandoned the ways of Torah, and by the time Rabbi Schwartz arrived on the scene, religion had all but vanished from the area. Atheistic-minded intellectuals who taught and studied at the Weizman Institute, along with the decidedly anti-religious members of the dozen or so Shomer Hatzair kibbutzim that surrounded the city, set the tone of the region.

Rabbi Schwartz built his outreach center in this spiritual wasteland through sheer determination. He worked with tireless devotion, showering love and personal attention on his new students, as if each one were his own child. For many years Rabbi Schwartz worked single-handedly, spending all day involved in outreach work and raising funds to support his activities by night. Rabbi Tzvi Eliach, another old-time member of P'eylim who today serves on Lev L'Achim's directorate, recalls fondly the days when a much younger Tzvi Schwartz showed up regularly at his yeshiva dorm in Yerushalayim, collecting five-lira pledges from the bochurim who studied there. In those days traveling from Rechovot to Yerushalayim was no simple matter -- it was a grueling trip, involving hours of travel on miserably inadequate roads; yet that never deterred Rabbi Schwartz.

Today the picture is altogether different. P'eylim / Lev L'Achim's facility in Rechovot disseminates Torah knowledge to residents of Rechovot and a large area surrounding it, including such cities as Yavne, Mazkeret Batya, Nes Tziona, Rishon Letzion, Gederah and Kiryat Ekron. Rabbi Schwartz has touched countless lives over the course of the past few decades, and thousands of people have come back to the ways of Torah as a result.

Rabbi Schwartz no longer works alone. The facility has a staff of forty full-time outreach professionals who coordinate over seventy weekly beginner-level lectures in various sites throughout the region, including the Weizman Institute, local public schools and community centers. The lectures focus on highly relevant contemporary issues, and most target nonobservant men and women in their 20's and 30's. Over 1,400 individuals participate regularly in these lectures.

The public lecture program is an effective method of disseminating Torah knowledge among the populace, but it is also an important element in the scheme of Lev L'Achim's broader outreach work. At least five outreach workers attend each lecture, mingling with the audience, getting to know them personally, and handing out questionnaires. Participants are asked to fill in their names and telephone numbers, and to indicate whether they are interested in finding out more about Judaism. These questionnaires are then computer- processed at Lev L'Achim's headquarters.

The personal data that participants provide in the questionnaires enable staff members to track everyone's progress, and to determine the best ways of keeping each individual motivated: Those who attended a lecture for the first time, for example, receive a schedule of upcoming events in the mail, while individuals who have begun attending lectures on a regular basis receive a phone call or a personal visit from one of the center's outreach professionals.

The center's vibrant beis hamedrash boasts many accomplished Torah scholars who developed their potential in Torah learning there. The beis hamedrash, which bears a plaque marking a Hachnosas Sefer Torah commemorating Rabbi Avrohom Hirsch zt'l, the indefatigable leader of the American P'eylim movement, is a truly unique learning environment where one can find professors and nuclear physicists from the nearby Weizman Institute sitting shoulder to shoulder with fighter-pilots from the local air base. A number of distinguished scientists have taken sabbaticals, not to travel or to work on theses or doctoral dissertations, but to spend twelve- to fourteen-hour days in the Rechovot facility's beis hamedrash.

Among numerous other activities, Rabbi Schwartz and his staff assist newly observant individuals and couples in their struggle to overcome the discouraging, seemingly insurmountable obstacles that threaten to prevent them from returning to the ways of Torah. Drastic changes in lifestyle, difficult decisions regarding their children's education, and strained relations with family, friends and employers are just a few of the problematic issues with which ba'alei teshuvah must contend as they embark on their path of return. The Rechovot facility offers sensitive, intelligent and well-informed personal tutors to everyone who would benefit from them.

Rabbi Schwartz and his dynamic staff coordinate all of this manifold activity from severely cramped headquarters. The main complex consists of four small rooms and a maze of cubbyhole-sized side chambers. This facility serves as central synagogue, study hall, lecture room, auditorium, consultation room, and dining area. Rabbi Schwartz's own "executive cubicle" doubles as a cassette library.

To say that the Rechovot center is overcrowded and inadequate for Lev L'Achim's ever-expanding needs is a gross understatement. No more than one activity at a time can be held there, and due to the severe shortage of space, only a few people can participate in any given program. The beis medrash is filled to overflowing -- not even one more chair can fit in the room. Students sit along hallways and staircases and, weather permitting, in the center's outdoor parking lot. Classes are held in an apartment across the street.

The office and computer department are located in an adjacent building, while the Women's Division consists of a dozen rented apartments scattered throughout the city. Precious time and energy is spent transporting educational materials back and forth between the center's far-flung divisions. Creating a positive learning environment under these extremely limiting conditions poses a major challenge.

Since Lev L'Achim has no proper auditorium of its own, public lectures must be held in municipal buildings, where outreach work is prohibited as a matter of policy. Outreach professionals are not permitted to enter the lecture hall, nor may they distribute questionnaires, literature or any recorded materials. Understandably, these cumbersome restrictions severely impede their efforts.

Lev L'Achim's current Rechovot facility has no space for private consultation rooms, to accommodate discussion of sensitive matters with newly observant individuals. At present, such discussions must be held in a quiet hallway, in the relative privacy of the kitchen balcony, or during a stroll along the sidewalks of downtown Rechovot. Likewise, additional manpower is desperately needed to deal with the constant increase in Lev L'Achim's programs and activities, yet there is no space available to accommodate more employees. Considering the physical restrictions with which Rabbi Schwartz has been working all these years, his achievements are nothing short of miraculous. Yet the Sages tell us, "Ein somchin al hanes -- do not rely on miracles."

In early 1998, Lev L'Achim's directorate resolved to construct a suitable facility in which to house the Rechovot branch. A plot of land at 27 Zechariah Madar Street was acquired for this purpose in mid-October, 1998. Municipal authorities approved the architectural plans in early December, and construction is scheduled to begin immediately. Funds have been collected to erect the foundations and the basic supporting structure of the building, and now intensive efforts are under way to raise the funds necessary to complete the entire building by the summer of the year 2000.

Last motzei Shabbos, Rabbi Schwartz's thriving community of newly observant families and single students pooled their considerable talents in a gala event in honor the upcoming ground breaking, and to raise the funds to complete the building project. The owners of an elegant hall in Nes Tziona -- who had themselves returned to the path of Torah with Rabbi Schwartz's help -- generously hosted the evening at minimal cost, and more than 500 people attended.

Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook, chief rabbi of Rechovot, opened the evening, stressing that the new facility will serve as a beacon of Torah knowledge not only to the city of Rechovot, but to the entire region. "In a year or two," Rabbi Kook said, "when Lev L'Achim's new building is completed, all of us will want to point it out to our children, telling them with pride, `I too have a portion in it.'" Rabbi Kook made a personal pledge of $1,000 to the new building and urged everyone present to do likewise.

The Mayor of Rechovot, Yehoshua Forer (Likud), addressed the gathering with words that were very much in tune with the religious sensitivities of the audience. He expressed his sense of pride over his own small share in helping Lev L'Achim expand its scope of operations in Rechovot. "Words cannot possibly grasp the importance of Rabbi Schwartz's work," the mayor said. "All of the citizens of Rechovot -- religious and non-religious alike -- benefit from the newly awakened interest in traditional values of Judaism that Rabbi Schwartz and his staff are disseminating among the populace."

Rabbi Mordechai Neugroschel, paraphrasing the words of Chazal, referred to Rabbi Schwartz as "the entity that strikes the city of Rechovot and says to it: `grow!'" He expounded on the deeper meaning of the letters that comprise the name Lev L'Achim. "The letter lamed, when used as a preposition, means `toward,' which symbolizes movement. As for the letter bais, it means `into,' which symbolizes depth and internalization. This is the essence of Lev L'Achim -- to mobilize people throughout the country who can connect with the internal essence of every Jew."

Rabbi Neugroschel compared the Lev L'Achim activists to the craftsmen of the Mishkan:

"As Ramban points out, the men who worked under Betzalel, who had no previous training in such fine craftsmanship, should not have been able to manufacture the delicate vessels of the Mishkan. Yet their artistry defied all logic, and their efforts were crowned with complete success, for Hashem rewarded their mesiras nefesh by performing a miracle on their behalf.

"Similarly, logic dictates that only people who are well- versed in the combined disciplines of psychology, public speaking, sociology and theology should be able succeed in such extensive outreach work; yet we find that Lev L'Achim's activists, each with his own diverse talents and background, are bringing thousands upon thousands of Jews back to their roots. How can we explain this? Hashem rewards Lev L'Achim's activists for their mesiras nefesh, performing miracles on their behalf."

Rabbi Neugroschel urged Jews everywhere to help Lev L'Achim's organizers with the considerable financial burden that accompanies their efforts to bring Jews back to the ways of the Torah. "We -- those of us who realize the importance of Yiddishkeit -- are obligated to supply people like Rabbi Schwartz with the gasoline they need to fuel their activities."

Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, Lev L'Achim's Director General, served as the master of ceremonies. At one point he called Reb Eliyahu Schwartz, Rabbi Tzvi Schwartz's elderly father, to the podium for an impromptu appearance. In impeccable Yiddish, Reb Eliyahu intoned an impassioned plea to the Ribono Shel Olom that He bless the Jewish People with peace, eliminate all internal strife and dissension, and assist every Jew in the world who endeavors to disseminate Torah among the populace. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance could not understand a single word he said, yet the intensity of his plea struck a chord deep within everyone's heart.

As the evening drew to a close Rabbi Uri Zohar rose to the podium and showered more praises on Rabbi Schwartz. His speech concluded, the audience broke out in spontaneous song and dance, invigorated with all they had seen and heard in this unforgettable display of selfless dedication to Torah. Rabbi Schwartz found himself surrounded by concentric circles of dancers.

The organizers of the dinner report that a large number of signed pledges were handed in at the dinner -- beyond even the most optimistic expectations. "Boruch Hashem," concluded a cheerful but visibly exhausted Rabbi Schwartz, "it's a very good start."

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.