This year Torah MiTzion is celebrating 20 years since it began operation. Recently, they were featured in Arutz Sheva, highlighting the amazing work they do. You can read the full article here – below are some extracts:
Torah scholars often study Talmud while standing, placing the text they are using on a plain wooden lectern – called a shtender in yeshivas. If you go to the Torah MiTzion Beit Midrash in Washington D.C., you will notice an unusual shtender, unusual because the name of the Gush Etzion community Neve Daniel is written on it in bold, large letters.
The shtender belonged to a Torah MiTzion shaliach (emissary from Israel) who had written the words Neve Daniel as a daily reminder to everyone – including himself – of the fact that his real home is in the Holy Land.
When this shaliach finished his stint in Washington and returned to Neve Daniel, several families and young men followed him to the same community – and this was not coincidence.
A young man from Kansas City made aliya to study in the Otniel hesder yeshiva and then went on to serve in the IDF Golani Brigade, just as his Israeli chavruta (Talmud study partner), a shaliach of Torah Mitzion, did.
The shaliach in Perth, Australia was looked at by many congregation members as a model for them to emulate and a number of them made aliya in his footsteps.
These stories are just a small taste of the fruits the Torah MiTzion shlichim(plural of shaliach) harvest upon returning to Israel from their educational missions overseas.
Torah MiTzion, the international network of Zionist Kollels, is celebrating twenty years since its founding. The idea was born when a challenge was handed to Religious Zionist activist Ze’ev Schwartz by Solly Sacks and Avraham Duvdevani (Duvdev) of World Mizrachi and the Jewish Agency’s Religious Zionist Department.
They charged him with raising a new generation of World Mizrachi leaders.
Schwartz came on aliya from Johannesburg 31 years ago, so that he realized that this was an absolute necessity, but while planning how to accomplish it, he found that something was bothering him.
“I noticed that most of the young people who come to Israel for a year and study in our yeshivas and young women’s midrashot go back to their country of birth and break the connection with the kind of Torah study they experienced in Israel. If they are serious learners, they join hareidi institutions and if not, they let the whole thing fade away. There is no follow-up to their uplifting spiritual year in Israel.”
Schwartz is a great fan of Bnei Akiva and its work in Jewish communities outside of Israel, but noted that in its youth groups, those who wanted to study Torah seriously did not have a properly organized framework for learning.
In order to make sure that the Israeli learning experience continued, he felt that there had to be some kind of Beit Midrash available. He took the hesder yeshiva model of a Zionist Kollel extant in Israel and built a similar model, basically a Zionist Kollel for the Diaspora that included a Rosh Kollel to head the men’s learning program, unmarried and married students and their wives, with a women’s midrasha headed by the wife of the Rosh Kollel.
After creating the model, he had to market it in hesder yeshivas. “This was a revolutionary idea for Religious Zionists, one that did not exist in the definitions of Religious Zionist emissaries to the Diaspora. Although Bnei Akiva had many branches overseas, their clients were youngsters. Rabbis and congregations were occupied with their own community issues. A place of Torah, a model to live up to in learning – did not exist in the Religious Zionist lay congregation. We had a lot to learn from the hareidi world and Chabad.”…
“Our vision was taken from the verse in Isaiah, ‘For out of Zion shall come forth Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.’ We wanted a living link between Israel and the Diaspora, and although in this virtual age people send files and hyperlinks, we send real people.”
Schwartz explains that, unlike the Chabad “shlichim,” who travel to spiritual deserts and build Jewish communities, the shlichim of Torah Mitzion go to existing congregations, large and small, some of them thriving centers of Jewish life and some simply places where people meet to pray.
“In every community there is someone who loves the idea or a synagogue group that wants us to come. They invite us, accept financial responsibility for our stay so that we can teach the ‘Torah of Eretz YIsrael’.”
“A prerequisite for our mission is wholehearted partnership with the community. We don’t come from Israel to run their community for them, we work hand in hand with them. When we are invited to strong communities with day schools and synagogues, including places with significant numbers of hareidim, our goal is to establish a place for Torah study that is imbued with Zionism, with the spirit of Eretz Yisrael, to show that Religious Zionists, as Rabbi Kook envisioned when he coined the term Torah of Eretz Yisrael, are also dedicated to studying Torah on a high level, not just the hareidim.”
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