By Mordechai Kastlebaum
The inaugural open house for Yeshiva Orchos Chaim took place this past motzaei Shabbos in Cedarhurst with over 100 people in attendance. It was clear from the energy and positive momentum in the room that Orchos Chaim is not going to be an ordinary yeshiva. The dynamic team of mechanchim that spoke were articulate and passionate about their goals for the new yeshiva and the extraordinary chinuch that it will provide for its talmidim.
Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzberg, mara d’asra of Chofetz Chaim Torah Center, which hosted the event, opened the evening by giving the overflow crowd a personal glimpse of the rosh hayeshiva, Rav Shlomo Yonoson Harris. Ascribing to him the gevurah personified by Yehuda, he described how the idea for the yeshiva was conceived. Though Rav Harris enjoyed a highly successful 19 years as menahel of the world-class Mesivta Chofetz Chaim in Queens, he saw the opportunity to more fully utilize his kochos to spread Torah in the Five Towns and he pursued it with determination.
Rabbi Ginzberg immediately dispelled the apprehension that parents associate with new yeshivos. “Don’t think that this is a new yeshiva! In fact it is an old, well-established yeshiva in a new location.” It brings with it the rich, empowering mesorah of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, with decades of harbotzas Torah and a reputation for producing wonderful bnei Torah.
Most importantly, stressed Rabbi Ginzberg, is the lifelong relationship talmidim can expect to form with their rebbeim, something that he sees in his experience as a rav as being sorely lacking in our generation.
Rav Harris then spoke of his expectations for the yeshiva. In essence, he explained, the yeshiva’s purpose is to develop each talmid in the fullest sense. This means firstly to develop his thinking abilities, something which requires specialized skill to be able to keenly relate to the talmid’s way of thinking—to “get into his head”—and guide him to hone his thinking skills so that he will be empowered to clearly understand the Torah he learns and eventually grow into a true talmid chacham.
This fundamental approach to chinuch applies to every aspect of the talmid’s growth, especially his middos and growth as a ben Torah. Through close relationships with rebbeim, a talmid is able to grow on his own, not by coercion, but rather through the gentle guidance of a caring role model. Rav Harris spoke passionately about the powerful impact a rebbi can have on a talmid when they enjoy a close, trusting relationship. The results are amazing.
Rabbi Avrumi Portowicz, general-studies principal, then spoke and immediately indicated the high bar that he expects from the general-studies program. “Some people believe that it is not possible to develop a true ben Torah who is well educated. I disagree,” he stated emphatically. “A ben Torah needs to have a strong education wherever life may lead him, and we are determined to provide it for him.”
Simply passing the Regents exams will not be viewed as a success. It will be viewed as the minimum goal—the sights have been set much higher and students will be challenged to excel, not just pass. He also spoke of the importance of writing skills and how that will be a primary focus in the yeshiva. He will introduce power writing courses and other enrichment programs to ensure that every student is equipped with strong writing skills when he completes high school. Overall, Rabbi Portowicz expressed his vision of a highly professional general-studies staff that will deliver a top-notch program for the yeshiva.
Judging from the discussions and excitement of the audience at the event’s close, there is great interest in the unique chinuch that Orchos Chaim has to offer. As one parent put it simply, “I’m sold!”
It is clear that the hanhalah of Yeshiva Orchos Chaim intends to hit the ground running—putting all the essential elements in place to build a remarkable makom Torah in our community, one that is built from the ground up with the focus on every talmid’s success. v