Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Elul 5763 - September 25, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Week That Revolutionized Their Lives -- An Encounter with "Shteigen"

by N. Grossman

The 40th annual Bnei Torah Movement Summer Camp, a camp whose avowed goal is to acquaint yeshiva high school students with the Torah world and convey to them the lofty ideal of pristine Torah study, concluded a month ago with tremendous success. The Bnei Torah Camp was always warmly regarded, and this is especially true in these days when gedolei Torah, led by HaRav Eliashiv are leading a struggle against introducing foreign seedlings in the Jewish vineyard such as "chareidi yeshiva high schools" which undermine pure Jewish education. Here are impressions from camp life, at which the flag of the holy yeshivos which is the guarantee for the future of the Jewish people is held aloft.

The camp is designed to acquaint the students with the Torah world, to give them a taste of the lofty ideal of pristine Torah study and the amazing sweetness of yeshiva study studied in the yeshivish niggun. This is an ancient tradition passed down to us by our fathers, and no generation was ever without yeshivos.

Extracting the Precious Kernel

These first contacts between boys from yeshiva high schools and students from the yeshivos in the framework of the Bnei Torah camp are often not superficial. Many of the best students studying in Torah centers today, including maggidei shiurim, mashgichim and roshei yeshivos, owe their spiritual lives to the one who planned this holy project, the HaRav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ateres Yisroel. For the last forty years he invested huge efforts to instruct and direct students from yeshivos all over Israel, including Ateres Yisroel, Ponevezh, Beis Mattisyohu, Chevron, and others, on how to reach out to Jewish youths who are brought up on a mixture of the holy and profane.

The camp this year was organized by Rav Benzion Ezrachi, whose extensive planning and efforts for the Bnei Torah movement can be summarized by his father, the rosh yeshiva's, oft-quoted statement, "The maximum possible is the minimum required."

The teams of yeshiva students are led by counselors drawn from the best students of Ateres Yisroel. They lead private discussion groups whose goal is to discuss with the yeshiva high school students fundamental topics of Judaism -- faith, the observance of mitzvos, and pure study of Torah. Their method is to direct the discussion in such a way that the youths become very involved and often reach their own conclusions. Most of the discussions begin with a monologue or talk to stimulate a response from the high school students, which develops into more discussions throughout the day.

It is difficult to describe the almost magical atmosphere in the camp which literally creates bnei Torah. Many of these are unlikely to have a shining future in their present state, to say the least, but after making the correct changes, they will go on to conquer summits in the Torah world. One who has seen these achievements with his own eyes has no need to go into detail about the importance of the Bnei Torah camp.

A friend who was active in the camp for many years, went on vacation alone with his family for the first time this year. He told me with sorrow, "I didn't enjoy bein hazmanim this year. I didn't even enjoy my vacation, despite the best efforts of my parents and in- laws to ensure I would be refreshed for the upcoming Elul zman. I missed the camp atmosphere, and felt even worse when I recalled how active I had been in previous years, and how many souls I would have been able to inspire this year."

He continued, "A bochur just phoned to tell me two things -- he had become engaged and was appointed to lead discussions in the camp. I wished him mazel tov, and then told him I was especially happy over his appointment to lead discussions. I told him, `It's a great simcha for a young man to set up a house of Torah, but in your role as discussion leader, you will give life to many people, and will found many houses of Torah and yiras Shomayim."

"This is Torah which I Must Learn"

The fortieth session of the camp provided me with a good opportunity to meet with one of the discussion leaders. The young man was a top student of Ateres Yisroel, whose enthusiasm could be seen in his eyes. I wanted to hear from a firsthand source how they created the atmosphere in the camp.

What was the prevailing mood among high school youths, and how had it changed from previous years? What was their situation today? What were their views and outlook vis-a-vis the religious community that toils in Torah study? How did they find out about the Bnei Torah Camp and its special program this year, the fortieth year, in comparison with other years? The rest of this article is told in his words.

To quote the dry statistics, [he explained,] the difference in the camp this year is in the number of participants. There were an unprecedented 350 high school students and 220 yeshiva students. Besides the quantity, the quality was also unparalleled. The best of the high school students, who were studying in well known institutions, came to the camp.

This required the organizers of the camp to make far greater preparations, both physically, logistically, and spiritually. Logistically, it was a huge effort to prepare eight days of camp for almost 600 participants, and spiritually, to prepare properly for such a large number of youths, while ensuring that no youth was overlooked. The investment required was immense.

The first interesting fact, perhaps the most amazing of all, was that most of the yeshiva students had prepared themselves for difficult questions on religion and State that they expected to hear from the high school students. They prepared themselves to answer questions such as how Torah students insure the people's security, which requires deferment from army service -- but the questions they had anticipated didn't come. Most of the debate and discussions centered around proving to these youths basic axioms of a Jewish world view, such as explaining that they hadn't come to the world only to enjoy life, but that each has a role to fulfill in the world. Many explained the Torah's exclusive role as the supreme and sole value of a Jew's life, and not just as a "supplement" or cosmetic to be pulled out when convenient.

Apparently, to many of them verses such as, `Were it not for My treaty day and night, the laws of the heaven and earth I would not have established' (Yirmiyohu 33,25) were unknown, or at least not known with the same proficiency that they knew verses about the Jewish people's connection to the Land of Israel, which were harnessed to promote the religious Zionist idea.

Most interesting of all was their strong desire to listen, absorb and learn. The curiosity seen on their faces at this new world was fascinating. We thought they would be vexed, but all we found was confusion, curiosity and the desire simply to learn.

All the answers and explanations we had prepared about why genuine Judaism cannot accept any facet of political or practical Zionism, didn't even come up. No one asked about these topics, which in the past were a cornerstone of every discussion between a yeshiva student and his high school peer.

"Shteigen" -- the Peak of Success

But if you ask what was so mesmerizing about the camp, why it is so effective and why it has such a fabulous name -- I can't answer that for you. No lomdish explanation can explain why it is so or the dimensions of its success. The only possible answer might be the astounding personality of Ateres Yisroel's rosh yeshiva, HaRav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, whose spirit wafts over every facet of the camp.

One can see an extreme difference in the attitude of the participants on the first day of the camp, the first moment they are exposed to a ben yeshiva -- to the last day of the camp when they bid farewell. Some promise to meet again on a yeshiva bench. Others promise an eternal covenant between them, the Torah, and the bnei Torah who hold aloft the torch.

In the first minutes of the camp, they came across the slogan of the camp "Shteigen -- the peak of success." Some were dumbfounded, others smirked. What does this word mean? they wondered. A concept which is supposed to be the peak of success, what does it mean? Money, prestige, maybe a senior position?

At the end of a week of backbreaking work which included long conversations throughout the daily camp activities, personal talks into the night, and profound explanations of Torah principles, they found out. You could see the light in the eyes of those youths, who only a week before had been intimidated by these "blacks," with whom they were afraid they had nothing to discuss in common.

After half a week passed by, some were asking for a different colored yarmulke, and the "black uniform" of the yeshiva. Only the day before, it had seemed so strange to them, but today they understand it is a great honor to demonstrate that one is a member of the King's legions -- the select army of the Ribono shel Olom.

At the end of the week, they were swimming in Torah concepts, and yeshivish terms were flying off their tongue. When I asked my group at the end of the week what they are planning to do after the Bnei Torah Camp, their unhesitating, unequivocal answer, pleasant to our ears, was, "What will we do? We'll fulfill our purpose -- shteigen!"

To summarize my experience, let me tell you about the father of one of the best boys in my group. He came on the last day of the camp and asked to speak with me. He introduced himself as a graduate of Yeshivas Mercaz HaRav and a senior engineer in the Technion today. He began by telling me he has a bitter complaint against the camp.

You could imagine my feeling at that moment. I prepared myself for every possible complaint he might come up with, besides the one which actually came from his lips: "Why didn't you take my oldest son into your camp?"

When he saw how flabbergasted I was at his question, he explained, "My oldest son studies in one of the most reputable schools in the kipot serugot community, and he's a diligent student. But after speaking with my youngest son every evening in the past week, and hearing his experiences in the camp, I couldn't restrain myself and came here this evening to see it with my own eyes. I want all of my sons to be truly religious bnei Torah."

He concluded with, "Maybe I missed it with my oldest son, but I have a personal request from you. Take my second son to yeshiva."

I could barely function that night after hearing this! Even now, I get the chills every time I think about that father and what he told me that night.

And I have to tell you about a mother, who phoned about a week after the end of the camp to tell me about the bitter fights she used to have with her son, a pleasant, good- hearted fellow, over keeping mitzvos! "I had to fight with him to get him to put on a pair of tzitzis," she told me. "He wasn't particular to do it, not out of rebelliousness, but simply because he didn't see why it was important.

"Today," the mother told me, "the fights between us have changed. Today he is trying to convince me to let him study in a yeshiva. He convinced me,' she said, "and I gave my full agreement for him to study in a yeshiva in the coming year. I decided to support him financially as long as he wants to remain in learning."

These are the words of a mother who, a week ago, the apex of her ambition was to get her son to put on tzitzis. Now she is proud that her son will be a ben Torah in the future.

For years I heard stories about the camp's success, and had met several known talmidei chachomim who had been pointed out to me by a friend, "You see how he is surrounded by students? He also is a product of the Bnei Torah Camp."

But I wasn't aware of the extent of the camp's success. That's the reason why I was touched and excited after personally observing the camp's impressive achievements. I have no words to describe how I felt when hearing of such stories and others.

But when one experiences it in reality, the impression is far greater than any story one might hear. Today I am in awe of the camp and have tremendous admiration for the one who planned it. And the main thing -- we cannot forget to mention the tremendous siyata deShmaya which the Borei Olam bestowed throughout the week. The organizers made a great effort, and many praised them for it, but they know that "one who comes to purify is assisted." That's the real reason for the camp's success.

Every yeshiva student who participated in the camp knows that besides the great mitzva of kiruv and saving souls, the tremendous inspiration which every youth in the camp experiences cannot be described. Those who invested huge efforts in the camp see it particularly in the following Elul. We too experience a "shteigen" in the merit of the camp.

After all, shteigen is the peak of success!


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