A Model Shul

Last week was spent in Toronto, where most of my davening was in Congregation Shomrai Shabbos. One instantly notices that a great deal of thought went into the design of the shul, with an eye to maximizing Torah learning. Whenever there is a minyan in one of the large rooms in the morning, there are at least three other rooms available for chavrusos and chaburos, each beautifully designed to foster harchavas hadaas. There are chaburos and chavrusos throughout the shul both early and late.

But what strikes me most about the shul is not just the amount of Torah learning, but the closeness of the members to one another and their allegiance to the rav, Rabbi Yacov Shalom Felder. Shomrai Shabbos is a chevra of Jews who have joined together with other aspiring bnei aliyah to strengthen one another in the growth process. And in Rabbi Felder they have a rav focused on building a community and on the ruchniyos growth of each member, despite the heavy demands on his time as vice-chairman of the Rabbinical Vaad HaKashrus of Toronto. His success is reflected in the wide diversity of the community in terms of backgrounds, hashkafah, and dress – an increasingly rare phenomenon in an era where we too often obsess over distinctions based on fine differences.

The current issue of Klal Perspectives, an on-line policy journal (on whose editorial board I am the least active member), is devoted to the stress on today’s baalebatim from the multiple competing demands on their time and tensions involved in the transition from kollel to the working world. Rabbi Menachem Zupnik, rav of Bais Torah U’Tefillah of Passaic, notes in his important piece for the journal, “The Simple Jew is Not Simple,” three specific advantages of the Chassidic world with respect to the transition from full-time learning to the working world.

The first is the “greater appreciation for the exquisite beauty of simply being a frum Yid and performing mitzvos each day.” Second is the emphasis on chevra and the importance of being part of a group of like-minded seeking individuals. And the third is the desire for rabbinic mentoring. Each of those elements are found at Shomrai Shabbos.

Ironically, it may be easier to create a shul around common spiritual aspirations where few of the members learned for many years in post-high school yeshivos and kollelim. The members of Shomrai Shabbos or Rabbi Zupnick’s BTT, with its high percentage of ba’alei teshuva, are able to be excited about their Torah learning, without being distracted by thoughts that they once learned with greater iyun or a vague sense of failure that they are no longer in full-time learning. They never imagined that they would be roshei yeshiva one day.

And because the members of Shomrai Shabbos do not have the same loyalty and ongoing connection to a rosh yeshiva or a feeling that their real chabura are those with whom they learned in kollel (and from whom they may now feel slightly estranged) it is easier for them to attach closely to a rav whom they now see every day and to a new group of friends with whom they share a desire to grow in Torah.

My point is not, chas ve’Shalom, that former kolleleit cease to be bnei aliyah upon leaving kollel. There are hundreds of batei medrash in Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey, not to mention Lakewood, where one can find any early morning or late evening former kolleleit learning with chavrusos with all their former fire. Rather my point is that the focus point of their continued growth is less likely to be the chevra of a particular shul.

Facilitating a less jolting transition between kollel and working world is a major subject of the current Klal Perspectives, and one to which we shall return in weeks to come.

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5 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    Sounds like you’re dealing with, “I never thought I could act this way
    And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it
    I don’t know where we went wrong
    But the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back”

    While we might look for a shul to answer the call, another wise man answered the question with the following :
    “Who seeketh Utter Wisdom, not power-play nor pelf.

    Let him not seek Belquinor but within himself.”

    BTW Did R’ Zupnick confirm the high percentage of baalei tshuva? It doesn’t seem consistent with my anecdotal observations there (although I don’t know whether not being a baal tshuva automatically correlates with kollel)

    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,

  2. Dr. E says:

    Reb Jonathan:

    You paint a picture of a kehllah of diverse elements that is committed to growth in Torah. That is commendable. A model shul may indeed have a Beis Medrish that takes men back to their Yeshiva years. But, I’m sure that you would also agree that a “model shul” is more than just a place where Bnei Torah have a context in which to continue their learning at a high level. However, it’s not all about the guys. To qualify as a “model shul” in 2015, it would also be a context through which children, teens, and women can daven, learn, gain inspiration, and be involved in their communities.

  3. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    I am happy to report that Binah magazine has also taken on the topic, with the cover article of the June 8th issue entitled “Kollel to Work: The Transtion” and a follow-up feature with letters and Rabbinic responses in the July 6th issue. I have no doubt that this is trickle-down from the Klal Perspectives Winter issue. And I’m curious in what way we will return to this topic in weeks to come…

  4. Shmuel says:

    Reb Joel: This is only an anecdote, but Rabbi Zupnick’s shul Beis Torah UTefillah (BTU) is colloquially described as Baal Teshuva University. There are plenty of FFB folks who daven there but I believe many (read: most) who seek Rabbi Z’s guidance exclusively are in fact Baalei Teshuva.

  5. tzippi says:

    Dr. Bill, some people may see it as chicken and egg. Many shuls have been doing what you say, through active sisterhoods and shiurim for women, youth minyanim, and more. Of course, this isn’t the case all over; many of the women may be part of larger, community organizations, the children too part of community endeavors. I see this to an extent in my own community.
    But what a thing of beauty if the men are united in a commitment to kvius haTorah, and if they find their own batei kneses a welcoming place for limud haTorah too (with time to devoted to learning with their children)….

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