In Kiryat Gat, Israel it's two o'clock and the sun is
beating down on the schoolyard. A woman is waiting there
with her son. She looks anxious, while he looks like he
would rather be somewhere else. At long last the van pulls
up and all the rabbis file out.
She steps forward hesitantly. "Please, a bracha," she
says to the one with the kindest face, and pushes the boy
The rav extends his hand to the boy, who keeps his in his
pocket. The rav pulls it out gently. "May you become a
godol in Torah," the rav says. The boy looks up in
surprise and steps back. The woman pushes him forward
"Rebbi, please, a bracha that he should go to a
religious school. He doesn't want to. My youngest children,
I caught them in time. But he and his older sister, they!"
She dabs at her right eye with a tissue and doesn't finish
the sentence. The brochoh is given as requested, the
rabbi pinches the boy's cheek, and a bashful smile finally
breaks through the tough-guy act.
The rabbis file into a flat-roofed prefab structure, one of
a dozen strewn haphazardly in the fenced-in compound. It is
unexpectedly cool inside. A fan is cranking away somewhere
overhead. Some twenty little girls dressed in blue uniforms
have their Chumashim open at parshas Vezos
HaBerochoh. As the rabbis enter, they start a cute clap-
the-hands clap-the-table clap-the-hands-again singsong of
Who wants a brochoh from the rabbonim? the teacher
asks. Twenty little hands leap into the air. Yes, you in the
second row, over by the window, what brochoh would
you like the rabbonim to give you?
"That my parents should do teshuvah," she says in a
squeaky voice. "That my mother should cover her hair," says
another, not waiting for her turn. "That my brother should
keep Shabbos," says a third. "That Saba and Savta should
reach Gan Eden," says a fourth. "That I should have children
who are tzadikim," says a fifth. "That the Beis
Hamikdash should be rebuilt," says a sixth.
The rabbonim are looking intently at the children's faces.
One of the rabbonim has a smile pasted on his face, but his
eyes are getting awfully red and moist. Another one seems to
be having trouble swallowing, as though his throat were
swollen and he was trying to swallow past the lump. A third
is biting his lower lip and gently rocking his head from
side to side.
These and similar experiences were characteristic of a two-
day tour organized by Lev L'Achim of religious schools in
Eretz Yisroel catering to students from non-religious
From Cable TV To Chumash
The tour, held last Wednesday and Thursday, was headed by
HaRav Matisyahu Salomon, mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoha,
Lakewood. Participants included HaRav Shmuel Yaakov
Burshtein, rosh yeshivas Chevron Geula, Yerushalayim; HaRav
Moshe Hillel Hirsch, rosh yeshivas Slobodke, Bnei Brak;
HaRav Eliezer Dunner, chaver of Shearis Yisroel Beis
Din Tzedek, Bnei Brak; and Lev L'Achim hanholoh
members HaRav Boruch Shapira and HaRav Tzvi Eliach.
The group spent the day seeing some of the results of all
the hard work put in by Lev L'Achim, and then spent the
evening (on Wednesday) in the company of many of the workers
themselves at the annual Lev L'Achim kenes in Bnei
Brak, about which we plan to bring an extended report next
On their tour, the rabbonim met a startling assortment of
Israelis of all ages and backgrounds, their only common
denominator being their newness to a religious way of life
and their fervent desire to increase their growth in Torah
and to spread the light further.
Meeting these people was an unsettling experience.
Unsettling, in the sense that their words evoked within the
listener a kaleidoscope of conflicting feelings, running the
gamut from incredulity to amazement to admiration and back
to incredulity again.
Take Aviel, a little boy of ten, who stands up in shul
every Friday night and delivers a shiur on the weekly
parsha. He wears his yarmulke proudly while
walking around his anti-religious moshav and absorbs the
ridicule and the taunts with amazing courage. On Shabbos, he
walks a total of twelve miles to the nearest shul,
located in a nearby moshav.
Hearing this boy deliver a dvar Torah to the rabbonim
who visited him in Mabu'im, a moshav in the Negev populated
by high-income families, one comes away with the certainty
that he is an illui and a tzaddik, and that we
will be hearing of him in the not-too-distant future. Yet as
recently as twelve months ago this same little boy was in a
public school, running around the crime-infested schoolyard
without a clue in his head who Rashi was.
The story of Aviel's father, Ron, is just as startling. Ron
was a high-salaried employee for a cable television company
when a Lev L'Achim enrollment worker showed up at his door
and engaged him in a discussion about his children's
education. The argument was short, since the enrollment
worker did little more than echo the facts being splashed in
newspaper headlines on an almost daily basis: the public
school system's low scholastic level, the increasing
incidents of crime and violence on school grounds, the
apathy and the "who cares?" attitude of teachers and
principals. So it didn't take Ron too long to agree to give
religious school a try.
Aviel soon started exercising his powers of persuasion on
his father, and a few weeks after the start of the school
year there was Ron, attending a weekend seminar on religion.
A few more weeks of follow-up by Lev L'Achim kiruv
workers, and Ron was committed.
There were only two problems: his job and his wife.
Ron felt extremely uncomfortable about earning a living by
hooking up people to cable television and playing a part in
bringing all that filth into people's living rooms. And his
wife, a bank manager, remained committed to a non-religious
way of life.
The solution to the first problem, Ron explained to HaRav
Matisyahu Salomon and HaRav Hillel Hirsch, was simple: he
quit, and he is now proudly unemployed and looking for work.
He has received several calls from his former employers
asking him to reconsider, promising him that he will not be
expected to work on Shabbos or Yom Tov, and offering him a
substantial raise. But no, he says, I'm not having anything
to do with that filth. It's not tzanua. Did you ask a
sheila about this? one of the visiting rabbonim asked
him, obviously concerned about the man's situation. Yes I
did, Ron answered.
Ron's second problem is more serious. What good is it to
send his son to a religious school every day only to have
him return home to a non-religious and somewhat antagonistic
mother? So Ron meets Aviel's school bus and spends the
afternoon and early evening learning with him in one of
several botei medrash in the region. He takes Aviel
home at eight o'clock, shortly before his bedtime, and keeps
a close vigil on him until he tucks him in.
"I can manage," he says to the rabbonim. "I'm an adult, I
know what the truth is, and nothing is going to move me away
from it. But what about my child?" he says with tears
welling up into his eyes. "How much longer can I keep him by
my side like this?"
Yiras Shomayim In A Spiritual Wasteland
HaRav Eliezer Dunner, when asked for his impressions,
"I'm speechless. It's unbelievable. Children coming from a
spiritual wasteland, in such a short time they have
developed such yiras Shomayim. It's so simple to
them, and they want nothing more than to bring their parents
back as well. We are seeing the fulfillment of the last
posuk in Novi, `He will return the hearts of
fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to
their fathers!' (Malachi 4:24).
"Such little children, we have been meeting 7- and 8-year-
olds, and it's not that they are being brainwashed. The
school does not force them to wear a yarmulke, it's
all up to them. I heard about this project, but I never
imagined that it would be taking place here in such a big
scope. We're hoping to see great things from these
Asked why he thinks it is happening only in Eretz Yisroel,
HaRav Dunner answered, "Perhaps the reason is that we are
not trying anywhere else. Here Lev L'Achim are attempting to
According to HaRav Dunner, Lev L'Achim's enrollment campaign
will have long-term effects on the Torah community in Eretz
"In just a few years' time, the community will undergo a
tremendous growth. They are talking about thousands. In my
day, a baal teshuva was a rare thing, almost like a
ger tzedek. Today it is happening in masses. Lev L'
Achim's chiddush is that little children can bring
back their parents -- and it's working, it's getting bigger.
The only thing that is stopping them is funding. Otherwise,
there is no limit. This program is huge. It is a tremendous
zechus to be involved with it. Think of each child,
all of his mitzvos, the mitzvos of his parents, his
offspring and their mishpochah. Each child is an
Parents Need Help, Too
Yet when all is said and done, the battle remains an uphill
one. This was one of the messages the rabbonim heard loud
and clear, over and over again.
The facts are that nothing happens by itself. Behind every
miracle story is an overworked, underpaid, sleep-deprived,
caffeine-driven Lev L'Achim worker who makes his life
hefker for the cause.
During their tour of schools -- from Rechassim's "Ohr
Chadash" school in the north all the way to Ofakim's
"Afikim" school in the south -- the rabbonim were given a
good picture of the kinds of conflicts and problems that Lev
L'Achim's enrollment staff confronts on a daily basis, as
these comments from students show:
Illai: "I wanted to be at home for the Seder, but I
also didn't want to. I wanted to be at home because I wanted
to be together with my family. But I wanted to go to one of
my teacher's homes because I wanted to do the mitzvah of
eating the matzo in four minutes."
Nir: "At first I learned in a chiloni school, but it
was bad there. They cursed and hit all the time. The person
who enrolled my younger brother in a religious school, Asher
Malka, came to my house and talked to my parents about
transferring me as well. Now I tell my mother to eat only
Badatz [a glatt kosher hechsher]. She said to
me, `Slowly, slowly.' I keep Shabbos and everything. How
about my mother? Well, not yet, but hopefully soon."
Mor: "I used to think Torah was stories. Today I believe in
Hashem. When I was in a chiloni school, I didn't know
what gemora and mishna was. Now I know. I did
teshuva, and I hope my parents will, too."
How do the children manage at home if their parents are not
religious? HaRav Salomon asked Dina Etinger, the principal
of Chinuch Atzmai's school in Yad Rambam, where
approximately fifty per cent of the students were enrolled
by Lev L'Achim.
"We help the children cope with their parents in several
ways," she explained. "One way is to get the parents more
involved in what their children are learning at school. Lev
L'Achim sends bnei Torah to the children's homes and
they help parents gain a better understanding of what their
children are doing at school. Another way is to use P.T.A.
meetings for outreach work. Lev L'Achim will bring a
lecturer to talk about how to become a better parent and
educator, for example, but in actuality, he will give a
kiruv shiur in disguise. The point is to give the
parents a greater appreciation for what their children are
learning in school and, hopefully, to make them want to
become Torah observant. This, of course, is the best
And most of the time it works, Mrs. Etinger says. But it
doesn't always. Such as the time when the parent with the
earring and the ponytail threw a tantrum in the middle of
the P.T.A. meeting when he realized what was going on.
"I came here to speak with my child's teacher about how she
is doing in school," he screamed in outrage at Mrs. Etinger,
"not to hear some rabbi preach religion at me!" The man
stomped out of the school auditorium and stood by the
entrance, pacing back and forth and voicing bitter
criticisms throughout. After about twenty minutes of this, a
Lev L'Achim worker approached him and quietly talked him
into returning to his seat. After the lecture, the worker
assured him, he could vent his wrath to his heart's
The man returned to his seat, and no more was heard from him
until the end of the shiur. When everyone filed out
of the auditorium, he was still sitting there, transfixed to
his seat. He went up to the Lev L'Achim worker and declared
that he wanted to drive the lecturer home because he had a
few things he wanted to talk to him about. Shortly
thereafter the man went to an Arachim seminar. Lev L'Achim
continued the follow-up work, and today he is a baal
"Despite all the difficulties involved," Mrs. Etinger said
to Rav Salomon, "I wouldn't give up this job for anything.
What I am achieving here, I could never have achieved
teaching in a regular religious school."
A Sechar That Is Impossible To Calculate
HaRav Matisyahu Salomon spoke on several occasions during
the tour. His first drosho was in Netanya, to the
students of "Minchas Shai," a mesivta for children in
grades 7-9 who began learning within the last year and who
already look and behave like regular yeshiva bochurim.
The rabbonim davened mincha together with the
mesivta students and were moved by the intensity of
the davening. "I wish they would daven like that in
my yeshiva," said one of the visiting rosh yeshivas.
Other members of the delegation were impressed by the
students' midos. Throughout davening, they
kept offering chairs and siddurim to the guests, and
after davening, they insisted on carrying their
things to the van.
Rav Salomon spoke passionately to the students of "Minchas
"I want to tell you that you were mechazek me. We
know that Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves us, and that He
does miracles for us every single day. But today I felt it
stronger. In all my years, this may be the strongest I've
ever felt it.
"What we have seen here is not chazoro biteshuva, it
is techias hameisim. Hakodosh Boruch Hu, through good
shlichim, has given you boys chaim -- chaim to
recognize the emes, to understand what is tova, what
"I want to tell you a tremendous story that I heard from
HaRav Shmuel Greineman, the brother-in-law of the Chazon Ish
and a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim.
"He said that there was a time in Europe when the yeshivos
didn't have any money, and there was a danger that they
would close down. A group of rabbonim sat at the house of
the godol hador, the Chofetz Chaim, and tried to come
up with a way to solve the problem.
"They sat there for hours, but they couldn't come to a
decision. The Chofetz Chaim was heartbroken. He could not
move, he did not have an answer, and he was concerned what
would happen to the yeshivos. They went to sleep and hoped
that maybe tomorrow they would think of something. The
Chofetz Chaim, however, did not go to sleep.
"One of the rabbonim thought of an idea. He would give up
his sechar for putting on tefillin in exchange
for sustaining the yeshivos. He wanted to get up the next
morning and before putting on his tefillin, say to
the Ribono Shel Olam, `I hereby give the sechar
of my tefillin today to the yeshivos, please
sustain them.' But one doesn't do such a thing without
asking, so he went to the Chofetz Chaim and found him in the
same position as when he had seen him last.
"He said, `Rebbi, I have an answer,' and he told him what he
had planned. The Chofetz Chaim looked at him and said,
`Hakodosh Boruch Hu won't accept it.
"`But why?' the rabbi asked.
"`Imagine if a child found a one million shekel bill,' the
Chofetz Chaim answered. `Not understanding the value of the
bill in his hand, he walks into a toy store and tries to buy
a toy with it. The storekeeper will tell him, "You don't
understand the value of this bill. Go to your father, he'll
explain it to you. One doesn't buy a toy with a bill of one
"`The same is true of tefillin,' said the Chofetz
Chaim. `If you would understand the value of this mitzvah,
you would know that it is not possible to give it up in
order to sustain the yeshivos. The sechar of putting
on tefillin once is worth much, much more than
sustaining all of the yeshivos.' And so, the man
"Here we're not talking about putting on tefillin,"
HaRav Salomon continued. "We are talking about your
lives, that you should be full of mitzvos like a rimon,
talmidei chachomim, bnei Torah and yirei Hashem.
Every word of tefillah, of talmud Torah,
so many mitzvos! There is so much sechar that it
is impossible to calculate it. All we can do is rejoice in
our portion -- Hashem gave us His Torah, which is eternal
"May Hakodosh Boruch Hu help you be matzliach
in your lives, become talmidei chachomim yirei
Hashem. May you be zoche to build Torah homes and
raise families dedicated to Torah.
"And tell all your friends about this school and get them to
come here. And may we be zoche to welcome Moshiach
Tzidkeinu speedily and in our days."
The rabbonim saw and heard more beautiful things. So many
Such as the child who said matter-of-factly, "My parents ask
me questions about separating milk and meat. If I don't know
the answer, I ask the rav and I tell them what he said."
And there were also moments of humor. Like Arye Elul's
"One day I got up with a good feeling inside and told my
mother that I want to wear a yarmulke. She said,
`Your friends in school will laugh at you,' but I said, `I
don't care.' A few days later, I asked her for tzitzis,
and she bought them for me. Then I told her I wanted to
go to a religious school, and she agreed."
One of the rabbonim asked exuberant little Arye who told him
that it is good to wear a yarmulke and tzitzis
and to go to a religious school.
"Oh, that. Well, Tzivion [a Lev L'Achim worker] told me."
Ah. So it didn't happen by itself. But this didn't slow down
Arye, "who is always in a state of Elul," as one of the rosh
yeshivas put it.
"Before I started coming to this school, I would go to
shul and daven. I didn't know how, but I took
a siddur and tried to follow. I also asked the person
sitting behind me to show me the place. I would read Shir
Hashirim on Erev Shabbos. Oh, and once I gave a
brochoh to someone in the hospital who was about to
die, and the person got better."
"A kleine Shmuel," one of the rosh yeshivas commented
when the laughter died down.
But here's the thing: Arye wasn't joking. He was dead
serious. He and thousands of kleine Shmuels
throughout Eretz Yisroel are undergoing a form of
techias hameisim, and they are on fire. Lev L'Achim's
enrollment campaign has reached critical mass. It has
created a mass movement that cannot be stopped.
Where this is going to take us, no one knows for sure. But
those who are part of it know that their reward will be