Next Mission: December 26, 2023 - January 1, 2024
The Ohr Somayach experience came to the US, with a five-day Summer Retreat in Upstate New York that mirrored the Mentors’ Mission in Israel. Twenty-eight college students from across the country joined Ohr Somayach rabbis, staff and mentors for a heady mix of Torah study, adventure, business, and camaraderie.
“We brought Ohr Somayach to New York,” says Rabbi Tuli Bryks, Director of Admissions and Recruitment. “A taste of the Torah of Israel.” For five days, participants spent the morning learning Gemarah. The weekday afternoons were split, with recreation taking up part of the time, and special business lectures and panels by Torah-observant executives filling the remainder. The panels included a CEO Panel hosted by Dr. Jonathan Lewin, a prominent orthopedic surgeon, and an event hosted by George Karasick, CEO and Partner of Oxford Realty Group.
While nothing can rival the lure of Israel, the retreat gave the mentees an eye-opening New York Jewish experience, complete with the “heimish” atmosphere of all-Jewish communities and vacation spots. For the first time, the secular college students walked streets where virtually every store – supermarkets, clothing stores, toy stores, and everything else – is geared to Jewish life.
They stayed at a farm in Pomona, and were hosted for meals by mentors in Monsey, Manhattan, and the famed “Borsht Belt” in the Catskills. Their hosts wined and dined them, with barbecues, lavish dinners, and entertainment. The event kicked off with a magnificent barbecue at the Montebello home of Shalom Parnes, and included lavish dinners at the Lewin home in Teaneck and the Rothenberg home in Passaic; and dessert at the Karasick home in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
On Friday afternoon, the group enjoyed To’ameiha – literally, a taste of Shabbos – at the Tamarik bungalow colony. They were hosted by Aaron Wolfson, and everyone in the bungalow colony welcomed and mingled with the mentees. For the guests, it was an eye-opening exposure to real life in a Jewish summer community, where everyone is Torah-observant, and life revolves around Yiddishkeit. For the members of the bungalow colony, it was a sheer delight to meet young men who were so excited by the “everything Jewish” vibe.
The climax of the retreat was spending Shabbos in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin’s Camp Morris, arranged by Zecharya Fruchthandler. The boys stayed in different summer homes in camp, and ate their meals together with their hosts. They got to see Jewish family life – and yeshiva life – up close.
Zecharya Fruchthandler describes the scene at Shalosh Seudos, the final meal of Shabbos, in the yeshiva dining room.
“The lights were closed, and we were sitting and singing together with the Chaim Berlin boys. The atmosphere was electric. It was indescribable. It touched everyone’s heart.”
“Seeing the students running to sit close to the Rosh Yeshiva, so that they could better hear what he was saying, was the highlight of the trip.” For college students who had just tasted serious Torah study for the first time, and who had become truly enamored with Gemarah, it was eye-opening confirmation of what it means to truly love Torah.
Apparently, the love of Torah, and the Torah study with their mentors, struck a deep chord. A large number of participants have taken on new mitzvos, and are continuing to learn throughout the summer, and many have signed on to learn in Ohr Somayach. The Jewish spark – the pintele Yid - in their souls has been ignited. The flame of Torah is lighting up their lives.
“I come from a strong Torah home, and Torah was a main priority for me in shidduchim,” she said. “When a shidduch prospect asked me out, I said no. But when I heard that learned at Ohr Somayach, my ‘no’ switched to a ‘yes’, and here we are today, raising a Torah family.”
For the students, her words were confirmation that they could become part of the Jewish life they’d witnessed over the week, and that their journey could lead them to live full, inspired, Jewish lives, for themselves and for generations to come.