On Monday night June 30, OU Israel hosted a dinner to honor its teachers. Their efforts enable the OU Israel Center to offer 70-80 courses, shiurim and lectures in English every week.
“It’s a privilege to stand before you, the giants of Jewish education,” Rabbi Avi Berman, Executive Director of OU Israel (at the microphone above), told the gathering. “You have helped develop the largest balei batish yeshiva in the world,” he said. “Your efforts in teaching Torah help create a beautiful tapestry that brings together hundreds of Jews to learn Torah everyday. This includes those who live here as well as those who are visiting and want to get a taste of Torat Eretz Yisrael.”
Rabbi Sholom Gold Phil Chernofsky
Rabbi Sholom Gold, head of the OU Israel Center’s Avrom Silver Jerusalem College for Adults said that, “it is fitting that we honor our teachers when we read Parshat Balak. One of the things we learn from this parsha is that perhaps we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. Sometimes we need the perspective of someone from outside our community to appreciate how special we are,” he says.
“As we honor you, I am honored to have a part in building one of the largest Torah establishments in the world,” he says.
Phil Chernofsky, Editor of Torah Tidbits and a veteran employee and teacher at the OU Israel Center recalled that “when I began working at the OU Israel Center, our goal was to strengthen the bond between the Jew and his Torah, as well as between the Jew and Eretz Yisrael. We couldn’t have accomplished what we have without our wonderful teachers, some of whom have been teaching here since the very beginning,” he says.
Meet some of the teachers
The staff of teachers comes from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have been in Israel for decades and others for just a few years. What they have in common is their enthusiasm for adult Torah education. And of course, their knowledge and teaching ability.
Pearl Borow, whose husband was a Rabbi in St. Louis, Missouri for 35 years, taught there for about 20 years. She has been teaching at the OU Israel Center for 13 years.
Rebbetzin Borow teaches four classes a week. The first is in Nevi’im. “We started from the beginning and now we’re studying Yirmiahu,” she says. She teaches in the Beit Midrash in the afternoons three times a week. “My topics in the Beit Midrash range from Women in Tanach to Futuristic Predictions in the Book of Daniel,” she says.
“I love the people who attend my shiurim,” she says, “and I like the overall environment of the OU Israel Center. I feel like I’m doing something special because I’m teaching Torah in Yerushalayim,” she says.
Rabbi Jeffrey Bienenfeld made aliyah from St. Louis eight years ago and started teaching at the OU Israel Center almost right away. He gives a Gemara shiur to about 15-25 men three times a week.
“I find teaching at the OU Israel Center intellectually challenging. I don’t teach beginners, so I find that I learn a lot from my students,” he says.
“The OU Israel Center has a warm and welcoming environment that fosters developing personal relationships,” he says. “Teaching here is an ongoing pleasure.”
Chaya Graus is an Israeli who went to university in England. Before retiring she was a math teacher at Hasmonean, one of London’s best known Orthodox Jewish day schools. She followed her children back to Israel and has been the OU Israel Center’s ulpan teacher once a week for the past 5 ½ years.
“When I started teaching here I found out that many of the people who attend the Center’s shiurim couldn’t read Hebrew,” she says.
“The people who come to the ulpan every week really want to learn. They work hard so that they can follow the parsha or Megillat Ruth,” she says. “I love to see how pleased they are then they tell me that they understood something in Hebrew that they didn’t understand before.”
Rav Chaim Eisen has been teaching Jewish philosophy at the OU Israel Center since the beginning, 31 years ago. This includes Pirkei Avot, Kuzari, Rambam, Ramban and Learning Jewish Philosophy through Parshat HaShavuah.
“I teach classic sources,” he explains. “I believe that a lack of knowledge of Jewish philosophy is one of the reasons Jews stop being religious,” he says.
“Some of the intellectual elite in the Orthodox community who should be the upcoming leaders are being lost because they never experienced satisfactory answers to their questions,” he says. “If their teachers had been well versed in the classics of Jewish thought, the answers they could have given might have changed lives.”
“The personality of the OU Israel Center changed when we moved from Strauss St. to Keren Hayesod St.,” he says. “People don’t just drop in any more. On the other hand we have a very diverse audience and we present demanding shiurim.”
“Teaching Jewish philosophy isn’t a spectator sport. It’s definitely a group effort,” he says. “From my perspective, the people who come here have a devotion to expanding their horizons. They work hard at integrating new concepts and develop an approach to Jewish philosophy based on the classics,” he says.
Shira Smiles is not new to adult education, although this is her first year teaching at the OU Israel Center. Before making aliyah she lived in Los Angeles. “We were on the first Nefesh b’Nefesh flight 12 years ago,” she says.
“My students at the OU Israel Center come from a wide range of backgrounds,” she says. “They are also different ages. What they have in common is that they are bright, motivated and growth-oriented,” she says.
“They ask great questions,” she says, “which helps me enjoy teaching them. I’m impressed by my students here every week.”
She usually has about 40-60 students. “I teach at the same time as Rabbi Aharon Adler’s Rambam shiur,” she says. “But that’s a good thing because at the OU Israel Center there are a lot of people learning Torah at the same time.”