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Thursday
Aug302012

BAIS TORAS MENACHEM: 
NOT JUST A 
SMICHA PROGRAM


Located in Los Angeles, Bais Toras Menachem is a unique yeshiva. Since its founding four years ago it has been educating young men looking for an alternative to the typical mainstream yeshiva, but yet who want to learn in a high quality program with a chassidishe environment. Its challenging yet warm smicha program, which combines a rigorous course of study with vocational training and individualized attention, has given talmidim the opportunity to flourish on many different levels. Beis Moshiach sat down with Rabbi and Mrs. Mordechai Katz, the founders of the yeshiva, and got the inside story.

How did Bais Toras Menachem begin?

It all began when we were looking for an appropriate yeshiva for our then eighteen-year-old son. Our criteria was very well defined: we were targeting a group of sincere bachurim, from good homes, who were looking for a high quality learning program, but for various reasons were not well suited to the “regular” system. Far from being an institution that caters to “second tier” bachurim, Bais Toras Menachem has become a top notch destination that appeals to local students looking for an alternative to the existing yeshivos without relocating, bachurim who wish to avoid the expense and risk of attending an out of town yeshiva, or out-of-towners looking for a change and a facility whose smaller size and comfortable environment will enable them to flourish.

Through weeks of intensive work, clear acts of hashgacha pratis and many brachos of the Rebbe via Igros Kodesh, the yeshiva opened its doors on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan 5769/November 2008. It soon became clear that there were many more in the Anash community who would benefit from Bais Toras Menachem’s combination of warmth and learning. So together with Yosef Shidler, a young bachur at the time who envisioned a yeshiva that also offered a smicha program, Bais Toras Menachem evolved into a full-scale yeshiva.

The benefits of adding this additional facet to the yeshiva were readily apparent. It quickly became clear that while the bachurim were younger than most who would typically pursue smicha, having a clearly defined goal was a strong motivational factor. As a two-year program, the bachurim would need to demonstrate a firm commitment. Our Maggid Shiur Rabbi Levi Chazan developed a demanding program that encouraged the boys to excel, culminating in a rigorous examination by the esteemed Rav Elchanan Tauber, Mora D’asra and Av Bais Din of K’hal Yehuda in Los Angeles.

For what type of bachurim is the program designed?

Bais Toras Menachem caters to beis midrash aged students, ages nineteen and up, who want to continue their learning and study for smicha, but in an environment that is typically more relaxed than that of a mainstream yeshiva, allowing for time to pursue other interests, as well as providing quieter bachurim with an opportunity to shine. Some students need the opportunity to develop and express their talents in a positive way while others are already intent on preparing themselves for their upcoming roles as husbands and fathers, but all are fine, goal oriented talmidim who take both their learning and the ability to obtain a well-respected Smicha very seriously.

The curriculum at Bais Toras Menachem includes not only smicha studies but also Chassidus, Halacha and Hashkafa and includes opportunities to volunteer in the community with local shluchim, vocational training, a GED program, a college preparatory program and vital recreational opportunities such as music, martial arts, hikes, trips and barbeques.

“We are living in difficult times,” explained Rabbi Chazan. “The yetzer ha’ra and his tactics are unfortunately stronger than ever. Desperate times call for desperate measures and it is important that we do whatever we can to combat what our bachurim are constantly facing. We must try and try until we succeed.”

The hanhala at Bais Toras Menachem is constantly looking to improve and enhance our program in order to motivate our students and keep them content within the four walls of the yeshiva so that the outside world, with all its distractions, loses its appeal. As the Rebbe discussed on many occasions, when we concentrate on “aseh tov” then “sur mei’ra” automatically takes place.

Another strength of our program is that we have many bachurim who are quite worthy of recognition, but in a large, mainstream program, may be overlooked or unintentionally under-appreciated. Yet, in Bais Toras Menachem, they have a great opportunity to stand out and often become leaders.

Among the talmidim at Bais Toras Menachem are married men, who hope to obtain their Smicha by learning during their free time, including their lunch breaks.

“Bais Toras Menachem gave me an insight into Jewish learning that was unlike anything I had ever experienced before,” said Rabbi Feivel Glabman. “I had always learned Torah on a superficial level, but going through the Smicha program not only gave me knowledge, it gave me an appreciation of how our Sages of blessed memory put together our whole system of learning.”

What are the goals of the program and how are they achieved?

While it is well known that the Rebbe encouraged bachurim to receive their Smicha, preferably before marriage, many assume that this only applies to those who plan to take on some type of official position in the rabbanus or as a shliach. In truth, the Rebbe clarified that the purpose of obtaining smicha is for every bachur to one day become the Rav of his own home, giving him the ability to look up a halacha with confidence or know when it is time to call a Rav. This is something that is vital for anyone who wants to have a home based on Torah and Mitzvos.

Rabbi Levi Chazan is a Maggid Shiur par excellence. His dynamic shiurim are exciting and relevant, with bachurim being tested one cheilek at a time by the renowned Rav Elchanan Tauber. By being tested in this way, the bachurim work towards a clearly defined goal. With each cheilek successfully mastered, the talmidim experience a sense of pride and happiness in their accomplishment, the effects of which can be readily seen in all other aspects of their lives.

“It is hard to describe the feeling of nachas we experience when we greet the boys after hearing that they have taken their test and passed with flying colors,” said Mrs. Katz, who serves as the program coordinator. “It is truly a simcha for us all!”

A central part of the curriculum is a strong focus on the often-overlooked practical halachos as outlined in the Shulchan Aruch. The halacha shiur, which includes an opportunity to review b’chavrusa, is an integral part of the program. Ensuring that the bachurim have a solid foundation in the basics of Yiddishkait, which can sometimes be neglected in typical programs, Bais Toras Menachem aims to ensure that every bachur is well-versed in crucial areas such as Hilchos T’filla, N’tillas Yadayim and Birchas Ha’nehenin, with mandatory testing and minimum grade requirements in these areas in order to become eligible to be tested for smicha.

While there is no doubt that learning is a top priority, offering the bachurim the opportunity to assist local shluchim in their work provides a hands-on education of another sort, as they assist in various programs including outreach and holiday programs. This enables each bachur to use his particular talents and personality to make a difference in the lives of others, as well as being financially compensated for using those skills in some cases. By offering a program with this extra focus, the bachurim are reinvigorated, and both their learning and their Avodas Hashem are enhanced. By providing the opportunity to develop themselves as individuals, as well as a part of Chabad Anash, our bachurim develop a sense of self-confidence that carries through in all facets of their lives. Additionally, by offering social outlets including Chassidishe farbrengens, Shabbatons and specialized in-house Shabbos experiences, the bachurim develop a very real and meaningful connection to Hashem, a love of Yiddishkait, a hiskashrus to the Rebbe, as well as an important sense of Chassidishe pride, which should be part and parcel of every yeshiva and smicha program.

What is unique about Bais Torah Menachem in contrast to other Smicha programs?

By offering morning s’darim in Chassidus and night s’darim in Hashkafa and using many motivational tools, the bachurim receive the necessary balance, confidence and pride in their Yiddishkait that will enable them to succeed in their day to day lives for years to come. The Rebbe often encouraged people to develop their individual talents and unlike other smicha programs, Bais Toras Menachem devotes time and resources to this pursuit, with the knowledge that when given a chance to shine, everyone can make a difference in the lives of others. Be it an interest in photography, graphics or music, students are given the ability to develop those talents and the yeshiva brings in teachers to help guide them in these pursuits so that they can fully utilize the abilities that Hashem bestowed upon them.

“The fact that these Talmidim are experiencing a sense of accomplishment, productivity and fun in other arenas has only enhanced their sense of spiritual growth on the Limudei Kodesh front,” explained Rabbi Mordechai Katz, dean of the yeshiva. “The success of this program lies in the synthesis of these two elements as opposed to the usual sense of perceived conflict between them.”

While clearly shlichus is one option for the bachurim, not every bachur will be able to find a position that will support a family as a shliach. Therefore, our bachurim are provided with the opportunity to develop the necessary skills they will need to obtain meaningful employment by helping them obtain GEDs and improving their English and Math skills. Other classes that are offered include computer classes, web design, internet marketing, web optimization and social marketing. The yeshiva is currently in the process of forming an alliance with a local vocational college that would provide an all-men’s cohort giving the opportunity for talmidim to be awarded with an associates degree in a meaningful profession, without ever having to attend a secular college. The stage for this partnership has already been set and the yeshiva is actively trying to tap into financial resources to help subsidize the associated fees in order to alleviate the financial burden for our parent body.

A great bonus of the varied extra curricular activities is that they provide bachurim the opportunity to share many unique experiences, creating a sense of achdus and resulting in a powerful bond, which continues for years as our students become a “team” and become valued members of the “BTM family.” Many alumni feel so at home in our local community that they often end up relocating permanently and finding employment here. Our alumni, supporters and friends open their hearts and their homes to the bachurim, creating a relationship that benefits all parties involved.

“The two years I spent in the “Katz Smicha Program,” as it has fondly come to be known since Rabbi and Mrs. Katz invested their hearts and souls into this mosad, have been the most productive of my life,” said alumnus Rabbi Eliyahu Piperno. “Rabbi Chazan is the most wonderful Maggid Shiur and there was a perfect blend of Chassidus, Halacha and Farbrengens with respected members of the Los Angeles community. The bachurim in the program bonded as a family and many, such as myself, are Baruch Hashem married and have embarked upon their next stage in life, to build a Bayis Ne’eman B’Yisroel upon the yesodos of Torah and mitzvos, equipped with the practical knowledge gained by obtaining smicha and a knowledge of the halachos that are applicable in my day to day life, both in my workplace and at home.”

“In my observations over the past year, I have seen talmidim really grow, as human beings, as Yidden and chassidim,” said Rabbi Yoni Sarue, the yeshiva’s mashpia. “As talmidim in BTM they gain skills in davening and learning, and have more chayus in these concepts, I believe, as a result of the many balanced outlets they are provided with. BTM encourages self-expression and brings out the potential in each of its students.”

What does a typical day in the yeshiva look like?

The morning starts with a seder in Chassidus, followed by Shacharis and a wholesome breakfast. Shiurim in Shulchan Aruch and hachana for the smicha shiur take up the rest of the morning and a nice lunch break allows for the bachurim to run errands, take a walk in the park or just relax. Rabbi Chazan’s smicha shiur is followed by chavrusa time to review the material learned and Rabbi Chazan is available to respond to any additional questions. The rest of the afternoon is occupied with general studies and vocational courses , after which the bachurim enjoy a nutritious supper, followed by night seder, very often given in a coffee shop or in the backyard of one of Anash.

How does the yeshiva meet its financial obligations?

Bais Toras Menachem operates on a very tight budget funded by tuition and donations from generous individuals. While the yeshiva cannot afford to give discounts, the administration strives to work fairly with parents to make the necessary arrangements in order to accommodate all talmidim. Baruch Hashem, we have seen tremendous siyata d’Shmaya over the years.

In one incident, a local businessman took it upon himself to sponsor the full tuition cost for one of our talmidim. Over a year later, he confided to us that from the moment he made his first donation to Bais Toras Menachem, he saw a marked improvement in his business and he attributed this turn of events to his decision to help support our yeshiva. Baruch Hashem, as a way of showing his appreciation to Hashem for the improvement in his business, he elected to continue his donations to Bais Toras Menachem.

What are your plans for the coming year?

“As we embark upon our fourth year, we are enthusiastic about achieving new heights in terms of what this program has to offer, and we hope to cater to many bachurim who can benefit from our program,” said Mrs. Katz. “We are expanding the staff infrastructure to surround the students with even more experienced teachers and mashpiim, and so that each talmid finds someone they can connect with. We are working on preventing any gaps in the day by filling them with more courses of interest as well as those that will further prepare them for future job placement.

“We are extremely thankful for the z’chus Hashem has given us to provide bachurim with a structured program which promotes a positive learning experience offered in a well balanced, trusting and warm environment.”

Clearly Bais Toras Menachem has found its niche within the Anash community. In the words of one parent, “We have no words to thank you for opening your doors and hearts to our son. He was at a turning point in his life, unsure of which direction he wanted to take. But after spending a year at Bais Toras Menachem, he is extremely happy with his decision. He felt as cared for as if he was at home and he is looking forward to another special year in this unique institution, truly more than just a smicha program but a home away from home.”

To inquire further regarding Bais Toras Menachem for the 5773 semester call 323.463.0855.

 

ONE OF THE GREATEST GIFTS

Rabbi Yossi Shagalov, a supporter of the yeshiva, had the following to say:
I have had the opportunity to farbreng many times with BTM’s bachurim. I can vouch for the fact that a very central goal of the hanhala is to bring the bachurim’s level of hiskashrus higher and deeper. For some bachurim, the Rebbe is portrayed as a leader of Klal Yisroel, but they lack a personal connection. We know the Rebbe is close, now more than ever, but unfortunately, bachurim this age may have never even seen the Rebbe b’guf gashmi. And even if they have, it was when they were infants or very young children. Through many farbrengens and other events the bachurim come out relating to the Rebbe on a personal level, with the hergesh that the Rebbe is personally involved in their lives and has a burning love for each and every one of them. This, I think, is one of the greatest gifts a student can hope to have.

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