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8 Adar II 5763 - March 12, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik on Purim Day All Over the World
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik needs little introduction, but many people wonder who and what is behind the project, which just may be the most successful idea for fostering Torah learning since the Daf Yomi was begun by Rav Meir Shapira some eighty years ago. To find some answers to this question we interviewed Rav Naftoli Meir Falk, Rosh Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik.

Rav Falk, what new developments can you share with us regarding this year's Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik?

First of all we have grown, boruch Hashem. The growth rate is fantastic. This year we are expecting 50,000 children, ken yirbu, to participate in Eretz Yisroel alone.

Fifty thousand! That's truly an amazing figure. Where did you find all of them?

Actually they have been finding us. Our base consists of Avos Ubonim branches, where boys and their fathers meet every erev Shabbos during the summer and every motzei Shabbos during the winter for an hour of learning together. Avos Ubonim has become so popular that people come to us begging to open other branches at various locations around the country and abroad. Today there are 680 branches in Eretz Yisroel and another 250 in other parts of the world.

Regular participants comprise the majority of the children who participate in Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik on Purim. But there are also thousands of fathers and sons who take part in the learning program only on Purim.

When is there free time to learn on Purim? Six years ago everybody knew there was no time to learn on Purim.

The children always had time, it was the fathers who didn't have the time. But when a precious Jewish child begs his father to come with him to learn, eventually the father will be happy to capitulate. And when we offer attractive prizes the children simply won't pass it up. This is a tried and true recipe for success.

How did you develop the study program? Would it have succeeded without prizes?

The first Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik in modern times was held eleven years ago in 5752 in Lakewood by Rav Moshe Mayers. He wanted to urge people to learn on Purim. After a few failed attempts over the course of several years he decided to try offering the children prizes. Within three years there were 3,000 children learning on Purim morning in Lakewood and another 1,000 in Monsey. But this program did not include adults; the boys learned on their own.

In 5754 Rav Mattisyohu Salomon, then mashgiach at Yeshivas Gateshead and today mashgiach at Yeshivas Lakewood, organized Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik in Gateshead, but according to the Avos Ubonim formula. He stipulated prizes would only be rewarded to children who brought their fathers. All of a sudden the beis medrash was packed on Purim!

Five years later in 5759 the program was brought from Gateshead to Eretz Yisroel, where it began to flower and bloom in conjunction with Avos Ubonim, which is under the direction of Rav Dovid Hirshkovitz, Rav Eliyohu Meir Sheinman and myself.

Avos Ubonim makes full use of prizes, lotteries, club membership and other means to stir suspense and excitement among the children. Of course at the core is a desire to learn Torah, but after all is said and done children are children. They have to be treated accordingly, using methods that draw their interest.

In your opinion has this approach proven itself on Purim as well?

Definitely. The numbers speak for themselves. Four years ago we had 400 children learning in a single branch of Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik in Eretz Yisroel. A year later there were 14,500 children in 90 branches, a growth rate of 3500 percent! Two years ago 25,183 children came to over 300 branches located throughout Eretz Yisroel. And last year we reached 32,480 children in more than 500 branches in Israel alone, and nearly 40,000 children worldwide.

That would make this the biggest Torah learning program in Am Yisroel since the Daf Yomi was founded.

Indeed. Through siyata deShmaya our program has been accepted across the spectrum, much like the Daf Yomi. Avos Ubonim and Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik branches are held in every type of beis knesses and beis medrash in Torah-true Judaism--Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Yemenite, Chassidic, Lithuanian, people living in Meah Shearim and people living in Gush Etzion, baalei batim and lamdonim--in short, everybody.

It is interesting to note how each group tailors the program to fit different needs. For instance, most branches of Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik operate during the early afternoon, between shlach monos and the seudah, but Chassidic communities learn in the morning before the tefilloh because admorim hold a tish in the afternoon. In Antwerp there is also an interesting twist: all of the city's branches of Avos Ubonim gather together to learn in a huge hall. Berov om hadras Melech!

So there really is no uniform study program. What, then, is the Central Committee's task?

We mainly provide counselling and guidance along with the promotional material and prizes, which are ordered and printed in huge quantities, greatly reducing costs for the branches. The Central Committee also serves as the main think tank for developing new ideas and ways of expanding. We also serve as a communications link for the rabbonim, whose opinions are binding for the entire organization.

The administration and running costs of Avos Ubonim are in the hands of local organizers at each and every branch, with the help of regional organizers as well. But Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik as a whole is organized and funded by the Central Committee.

Which rabbonim are on the committee? On what matters have you received directives from them?

Rosh Yeshivas Mir-Brachfeld HaRav Aryeh Finkel is the main decision-maker. What kinds of questions arise? Just one week ago, for example, a branch in Netanya asked whether they could learn for only 40 minutes instead of a whole hour. Rebbe Aryeh, as he is known at Mir, considered the various sides to the question and in the end decided they should learn for a whole hour, based on the importance Chazal attributed to an entire hour--yofeh sho'oh achas.

However most of the decisions relate to matters that arise during the fundraising process. For example, should we accept money only from private individuals in order to give them the zchus of the great mitzvah of supporting Torah, not "wasting" the mitzvah on commercial or official providers? For this reason he instructed us not to give anyone the zchus to assume more than one-third of the total costs in order to allow the rest of Klal Yisroel to participate in this great mitzvah.

What do you mean by "zchus?"

To support thousands of tinokos shel beis rabbon who are sitting and learning happily on Purim, a day when, were it not for the Yeshiva, there would be hardly anyone learning at all--this is a tremendous zchus beyond measure. Also, many families have seen various yeshu'os when they helped sponsor this special mitzvah. People merited zera shel kayamo after long years of anticipation, unmarried people finally found their match, sick people recovered . . .

Every year before Purim I receive phone calls from Jews in pain and suffering all over the world asking to donate to the program to merit yeshu'oh, and every year after Purim I receive another round of calls from people who want to express hakoras hatov.

Sometimes the yeshu'oh arrives almost immediately. One person donated a large sum the day before Purim in his daughter's merit and the next day she received her shidduch proposal! Many of our donors came to us after HaRav Aryeh Finkel sent them to merit yeshu'oh and they continue to support us years later.

People say that according to HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman the obvious miracle involving the car bomb in Meah Shearim a few days after Purim two years ago was in the merit of Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik.

He did in fact say that, which is not surprising. After all the original Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik in which 22,000 children learned Torah with Mordechai Hatzaddik in the capital city of Shushan 2,500 years ago saved all of the Jews of that period. The importance of Torah learning among children has not diminished today, and besiyata deShmaya we have managed to organize more than the 22,000 children who were in Shushan!

Last year as well two attempted terrorist attacks in the Haifa area were foiled on Purim Day, and later it was discovered that one of the terrorists was accosted exactly during the hour when Haifa's Tiferes Yisroel branch of Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik was learning, while the second attack was stopped during the hour when the Ramat Vishnitz branch in Haifa was learning. Everyone can see this is no mere coincidence.

You must get a great deal of satisfaction out of taking part in the defense of Klal Yisroel.

Yes, but the greatest feeling of nachas comes when you see the bonds forming between fathers and sons as a result of learning Torah together. This is really the primary goal of the weekly Avos Ubonim program, but it can be seen on Purim as well. Chaim Walder wrote in his weekly column that if there was a Nobel Prize for education he would nominate Avos Ubonim and Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik for their combination of support and emotional encouragement for the participants.

That's a good idea. Maybe someone will suggest it to the Nobel Prize Committee.

No thanks. I'm not willing to receive a prize as long as we have yet to solve one weak link in avos ubonim: those boys who do not have fathers who can come and learn with them -- orphans, or children whose fathers are sick, children from Russian homes. Local organizers, together with the national organizers, R' Dovid, R' Eliyohu Meir and I, have begun to focus on finding surrogate fathers for boys who need them, but a great deal of work remains to be done!

What happens at branches outside of Israel?

For now we want to focus on expanding the level of activity abroad. Branches already operating abroad receive materials and prizes from us in accordance with their needs, and can make use of the experience we have acquired.

And now for the big question: How does such a large organization support itself financially?

Boruch Hashem we have fabulous supporters. Today the merit of hosting a branch of Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik in a certain beis knesses is a matter of prestige. Last year a debate over who would sponsor one of the branches even went to din Torah when the Yeshiva simply spilled over into the adjacent beis knesses due to the large number of participants! One of the regulars at the second beis knesses vied with the sponsor of the original branch. The first insisted the zchus was his because all of the participants in the second beis knesses were overflow from his beis knesses. The rov determined that the original sponsor retained the rights and the other party should find another branch to support.

What are the total costs of the operations?

The total cost is $4.50 per child. We would like to allow ever donor to merit a portion of the Torah learning of each and every child. A donor can give one agora for each of the 50,000 children who come to learn in Eretz Yisroel--a total of NIS 500--thereby receiving the merit of Torah learning of the entire yeshiva at all of its branches!

But despite the importance of acquiring funding our primary focus is expanding the present number of branches and opening other ones. What we need most is people willing to serve as organizers, branch directors, etc.

They probably need to do a lot of work . . .

Less than you might expect. In the past our biggest concern was a lack of participants, but this concern has completely vanished. Now we have the opposite problem--not letting matters get out of control. But our experience shows that running Avos Ubonim and Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik bring so much pleasure and satisfaction that the organizers get a burst of energy that lasts for several weeks.

Everyone who has taken part is familiar with the amazing sight, immersed with kedushoh, of dozens of pure children, ken yirbu, coming to the beis knesses to study at Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik. They run, hop and dance on their way to learn, arm-in-arm with their fathers, dressed in costumes and wearing masks, or just smiling a big ear-to-ear Purim smile. But then everyone takes their seats and the atmosphere becomes electrified and filled with the geshmack of Torah learning. The fathers are thrilled when they see the great pleasure their sons derive from Torah learning, while the sons are enthusiastic over the opportunity to receive personal attention and to learn with their fathers.

After an hour of learning, the prize becomes a thing of minor importance. Nobody is in a big rush to go home. Some branches add another minute of learning at the end of the hour, a minute of learning lishmoh, not for the sake of prizes.

All this is an unforgettable experience, and not a single branch director has asked to resign from his post because of the time and effort it involves.

I'm sure those who have read this interview so far want to know just one thing: how to contact the organization.

That's very simple. Our address is Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik, Rechov Ezrat Torah 19, Jerusalem, 95320. The phone number is 1-700-500-613 and the fax number is 02-5003406. We will be glad to answer any questions and to do all we can to open additional branches.

One last question, a bit personal: Where do you find the time for all of these activities?

Besiyata deShmaya and the fact that people can always find time for things they love to do. Our dream is to see all of Klal Yisroel learning on Purim. If every individual does his share, we will merit to see our dream come true!


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