Every time I come to Poland there is some new sign of the resurgence of the religious Jewish community. This past August, while sitting in the garden of the Jewish Community Center of Warsaw on my first day, I overheard a family talking in Hebrew. At first I thought they were tourists who had quickly built a nice rapport with the other members of the community whom they were talking to. But then I was introduced to Rabbi Ephraim and Efrat Meisels of Torah MiTzion Kollel.
Rabbi Meisels had just arrived a week earlier and was busy getting to know the people that came to the Community Center. I asked him what his plans were and he surprised me by saying that he came to Poland from Israel, as a shaliach of Torah MiTzion, to open a Kollel.
Intrigued, I sat down with Rabbi Meisels to find out more. Is there a need for a kollel in Warsaw? How many people does he expect will join him in his program? What courses of study will he offer? Who will pay for the salaries and what exactly is Torah MiTzion.
A kollel is usually an advanced Jewish study program for married men on a full-time basis. Kollelim are usually connected to large yeshivot and considered a continuance of ones education. Unlike most other institutes of higher learning, a person in a kollel does not aim for a degree but learns for the sake of its own merit. Comprised of married men, who would normally have to work to earn a living, the kollel gives a stipend to its students and is supported by the community in which it is located.
The initiative for Torah MiTzion originated from the Beit Midrash of Yeshivat Har-Etzion with the support of its Roshei Yeshiva – Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Yehuda Amital. The first kollel in the U.S. was set up in Cleveland, Ohio, with Rabbi Binyamin Tabory as the first Rosh Kollel. At the same time, Rabbi Jonathan Glass made a dream come true by establishing the Yeshiva of Cape Town, South Africa. Today there are over 25 kollelim, on five continents, under the auspices of Torah MiTzion.
The aim of the program is to assist local leadership strengthen Judaism in their communities, through the creation of a unique Torah atmosphere, which includes Judaism and Zionism. The kollel students divide their time between intensive studies in the beit midrash, under the leadership of a charismatic and scholarly rosh kollel, and participation in local community life.
Time is invested in shiurim (classes), study in the chavrutah (one-on-one tutoring and learning) format together with members of the community, and general educational activities in the community from school to shul (synagogue), during the week and Shabbat – all aimed at strengthening Jewish identity and Torah knowledge among all sectors of the Jewish community.
Rabbi Ephraim Meisels giving his morning Torah class in the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw.
The kollel wives are also a crucial part of the system – they teach formally in the schools, arrange special shiurim for girls and women of the community, host families at their homes and are involved on all levels with the kollel activities.
There is no single model for a kollel program. The kollel can consist of a rosh kollel and young married men (avreichim) or unmarried students (bachurim). Each program strives to meet the specific needs of that community.
In Warsaw, Rabbi Meisels has, since I met him, set up daily classes after every prayer session, and regular classes at all levels, as his students have hardly had a chance for regular Torah classes, until now. He also travels to other cities, outside Warsaw, to bring them a higher level of learning.
One Shabbat, while in Poland, I was privileged to be in the city of Lodz at the same time as Rabbi Meisels and I enjoyed his classes. He has also taken an interest in the practical needs of the community and works closely with the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, in many other matters.
At first, Rabbi Meisels spoke no Polish and very little English. But after one month, he was already picking up both languages. It is remarkable to watch his two children running around Warsaw with his wife Efrat rushing after them.
Since I have come back to the U.S., I have learned that there is a new member in the Meisels family, as Efrat has given birth to a third child, a boy (I will pass on the name of the baby as soon as I get it). The Meisels are an amazing family, willing to travel to a foreign country, to enrich and enhance Jewish communities around the world by promoting the lofty ideals of Torat Yisrael, Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.
Shmuel Ben Eliezer