By Yosef Sosnow
“If a child cannot learn on his own through no fault of his own, then we are deemed guilty for enabling that to continue! It makes no difference if the reason that he cannot learn Torah is because he never had a Torah education, he grew up in a dysfunctional home, he has a learning disability… if we don’t help, we as fellow Jews are doing something wrong. How can we be busy with ourselves and our indulgencies when the child next door can’t learn Torah! This is what Acheinu, the heiligeh organization Acheinu is all about. They care, they really care about every child who has not been privileged to learn Torah and keep mitzvos. They get kids into yeshivos and we must help them. We must realize that if a child somewhere can’t learn Torah, it is our obligation to see to it that he does. By helping Acheinu in its amazing work you are doing just that!”
These were the powerful words of HaGaon HaRav Yaakov Bender, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Darchei Torah of Far Rockaway at the recent Acheinu Flatbush Community Event held this past Sunday 24 Kislev/December 6 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Simcha Applegrad.
For the past five years, the Acheinu Flatbush Event has been a community milestone featuring numerous prominent Roshei Yeshiva from the United States and Eretz Yisrael as guest speakers. This year’s event, an upscale breakfast reception, did not disappoint. The throngs of participants left deeply inspired by Rav Bender’s heartfelt, emotional words and a sense of meaningful identification with Acheinu’s mission.
The event was chaired by Rabbi Dovid Morgenstern, Menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Torah of Far Rockaway. Rabbi Morgenstern set the tone for the morning by hailing Acheinu as an organization that is both profoundly caring and consummately professional. He said, “You know the valet parking company that parked your car as you came here is a good company because Simcha Applegrad hired them. You know the caterer that has prepared this breakfast is an excellent one, because Simcha Applegrad chose them. You can be sure that Acheinu is an exemplary professional kiruv organization that really gets results and uses a multi-pronged kiruv approach that transforms its charges into true bnei Torah because Simcha Applgrad associates himself with this organization and has hosted the Flatbush Event for the past five years!”
“It is a Retention Rate that Speaks for Itself!”
Indeed, both Rav Morgenstern and later Rav Bender in his remarks praised Acheinu’s unique, tailor-made approach to kiruv, an approach that has reaped unprecedented results, a 93 percent success rate! That remarkable, 93% success rate stems from Acheinu’s desire to bring accountability to kiruv and is based upon its three-step program: 1. Mentoring 2. Enrollment 3. Follow-up.
“It is a retention rate that speaks for itself!” Rabbi Bender exclaimed and then continued, “Before I came to speak about Acheinu I did my homework on the organization. Truth be told, I was amazed at their kiruv model. The number of kiruv activists who accompany every child from a non-religious lifestyle until he becomes a ben Torah is mindboggling. They follow each young man as he slowly becomes frum, becomes a yeshiva bochur and is eventually mainstreamed,” said Rav Bender. “Do you know what it means to get a kid into a yeshiva nowadays?! Imagine – he is a baal teshuva whose parents are not frum. Acheinu gets these kids into mainstream yeshivos! This is something so special it is hard to describe!”
This year was the first time that the Flatbush event was held as a breakfast and there was a tremendous turnout. The relaxed, unhurried atmosphere allowed for a lot of give and take between the participants and members of the Acheinu staff. The guests really wanted to understand what Acheinu does and the special niche that they have carved out for themselves in the kiruv world. They were clearly impressed and, as a result, Rav Bender’s remarks had an even more powerful impression on them.
The Ponovezher Rav’s Acheinu Message
At the conclusion of his remarks, Rav Bender told a powerful and poignant personal story that he used to illustrate and define Acheinu’s mission. “I was a young bochur when my father passed away fifty years ago. One day, when I went to daven for the amud and say Kaddish in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Williamsburg where there were constant minyanim, I noticed the famed Ponovezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman enter. I ran over to him and said, ‘Ponovezher Rav, shalom Aleichem!’ After he asked me who I was, I asked him if I could help him with anything. He replied that he was a chiyuv and needed to serve as chazzan. I fought with the gabbai to get him an amud. After davening he needed to go to the home of the Satmar Rebbe. I got him a ride and rode along with him. I watched in fascination at the sight of the way these two great gedolim honored one another. When he finished I asked him if I could do anything else for him and he told me he needed a taxi to take him back to Boro Park. I got him a taxi and asked if I could ride with him until the edge of Williamsburg. He responded, ‘Of course.’ As we were about to part ways I told the Ponvezher Rav that I had been orphaned from my father just a few months previously and I am sure it would make my mother very happy if I received a bracha from the Rav. I will never ever forget his reaction. The Ponovezher Rav leaned over and hugged me with such love, such sensitivity and then he began to ply me with the most beautiful brachos. With tears streaming down his patriarchal face, he gave me his heartfelt brachos. When I told my mother the numerous brachos, she too began to cry tears of emotion and joy. Rabbosai,” Rav Bender thundered, “I still feel that hug today from the Ponovezher Rav! He gave me something that day that was priceless. We too, must hug these kids. We have to hug the kids who can’t learn! Acheninu is hugging thousands of wonderful pure Jewish kids!”
Let’s join them!