Chabad of Manhattan’s Upper West Side Opens Kollel Program

Jewish Community Ripe For More Intensive Torah Study

Chabad of Manhattan’s Upper West Side Opens Kollel Program

The Kollel Rabbis

October 12, 2010

( Chabad of the Upper West Side opened its Kollel Erev (evening Kollel) this Monday, adding an authentic yeshiva experience to the variety of opportunities for Jewish engagement at this burgeoning center of Jewish life. 

The Kollel, under the guidance Rabbi Yisroel Fried, brings a quorum of rabbinical students from the Chabad-Lubavitch flagship yeshiva in Brooklyn to Chabad of the Upper West Side’s interim address at 97th Street, four afternoons a week. The students come prepared to explore a wide range of texts, from Talmud to Kabbalah, with their study partners. 

Mark Elzweig, owner of a Wall Street executive search firm has been studying the Second Book of Samuel each Thursday evening for the past year in a program that preceded the newly launched Kollel. Elzweig draws inspiration from the deep love of learning that permeates the atmosphere.

In particular, he says, he was struck by “the rabbis’ commitment to Jewish learning.” Even during the worst winter months, when only one or two showed up for sessions, “Rabbi Fried would happily open the building. And when he sits down to learn, you can see that this is very joyous experience for him."

With a very high concentration of Jews—some claim there are easily 7000 Jews attending Shabbat synagogue services on the Upper West Side—this Jewish community, brimming with social and educational activities designed to attract educated professionals, is ripe for the program.

“We felt that many in the community here are ready for the next step in their Jewish growth,” said Rabbi Shlomo Kugel, director of Chabad of the Upper West Side who founded Chabad here with his wife Rivka, 27 years ago. 

The Kugels have established a variety of popular and well regarded educational programs, cultivating an interest in Torah study among all ages and skill levels within the community. Many are already involved in some form of Jewish learning, and the new Kollel, explained Rabbi Kugel, “will offer them a more intensive Torah study experience.”

The advanced rabbinical students will dedicate several hours daily to their own studies and the remainder to teaching and studying with community members in traditional chevrusa (pairs). Rabbi Kugel tallies the numbers: 

“We’ve got 10 rabbis, each committing to teaching someone two hours a day, so that’s 20 hours a day multiplied by four days a week. 

“That’s 80 hours, and our goal is to fill every one of those slots.”

Study sessions will be geared to the various skill levels of the participants who may choose to focus on one or more areas of interest including: Talmud, TaNach, Halacha, and Chasidic texts. 

Jason Strulowitz owns a limousine company in New York City. Like Elzweig, he has been studying at Chabad on Thursday evenings for the past year and a half. He is grateful for the chevrusa style of study that has helped him delve into the Chasidic texts he chose to study. 

“I really don’t have the skills to learn by myself, so chevrusa learning is great—it allows me to do a lot more than if I were doing this on my own.”

For this Upper West Sider, the experience is also a refreshing departure from the plethora of activities and programs typical of the local scene.

“This Kollel is not about hearing a lecture, you’re not sitting down socially with people who want to promote an idea—which happens a lot in many of the synagogues. This is just about people who want to help someone learn Torah. It’s not about the rabbis, it’s about you and what you can take away from it—there’s no self-promotion, no money involved, they’re not asking money of anyone, so the selfless way this happens leaves you feeling that what you have here is incredible.” 

Rabbi Meir Ossey, a full time rabbi at Chabad of the Upper West Side who is involved with the Kollel, notes that major support for the program has been provided by Mr. David Slager in memory of his grandparents, Mr. David and Leah Slager and Mr. David and Rina Attar.

At a Shabbat Kiddush celebrating the opening of the Kollel, Mr. Slager admitted that he’s “a great fan of the Chabad Shluchim of the Upper West Side,” and expressed a desire to share with others the good fortune he enjoys studying with them. 

“Throughout our history and through every economic cycle, we as a people have always supported yeshivas and Torah institutions. That has always been a priority.”

As the Kollel grows, so will the cacophony of voices arguing and debating the finer points of a Jewish law, a talmudic statement, a Chasidic “vort.” For Elzweig, a father of two boys, the noise is part of the Kollel’s charm.

“Some nights there were only four of us, but there was a fairly high noise level. The experience of sitting in a room of active learners, actively engaged in the material, asking questions, thinking about it, talking about it—it all makes the learning a lot deeper. You experience it and retain it for a lot longer.” 

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