Report from the Torah Umesorah Convention – Raising Maaminim in a Disbelieving World

I had the good fortune to attend the 52nd Annual Torah Umesorah Convention this past Shabbos. I was attending as an exhibitor for my company InfoGrasp, which sells Web-based Software for Schools, Shuls and Non Profits to manage their financials, academics and operations. (InfoGrasp and another venture named InfoSilk, which delivers Web Based reporting without programming, help support Beyond BT, so give us a call if applicable.)

The convention, which was held at the Friar Tuck Inn in upstate NY, was attended by close to 1,300 Torah Observant Jews, primarily from the yeshivish end of the spectrum and the atmosphere was heimish and friendly. Torah Umesorah is an organization that fosters and promotes Torah-based Jewish religious education in North America and the convention is geared towards teachers, principals and administrators. My own involvement with Torah Umesorah began over 20 years ago, in my early days of observance, when I had the good fortune to attend a number of Seed Programs over the course of a few summers. In the Great Neck, NY Seed that I attended, Lakewood Yeshiva students set up a Kollel for two weeks and I had the wonderful opportunity to learn Gemora and attend many shiurim. It was a fantastic experience.

Now I’m at the other end of the Teacher-Student relationship as a mentor in another Torah Umesorah program, Partners in Torah. I’ve been learning for close to three years with a car dealer from Lakewood and it has been a tremendous experience. My chavrusa loves to learn and every week he reads the Art Scroll Chumash and goes over every note. He asks great questions and it’s great seeing him grow and participating in other learning programs in Lakewood. Partners in Torah needs many mentors, so please consider volunteering some time each week, you won’t regret it.

Before and after Shabbos there were workshops on many issues relating to chinuch. You can visit Torah Umesorah’s site, which provides free materials for teachers to use, to see the schedule.

The convention was filled with some of the greatest Rebbeim in America. On Shabbos we heard drashas from Rabbi Aharon Feldman, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, Rabbi Dovid Harris, Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, Rabbi Hillel David and Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon. In addition, Rabbi Zev Leff and Rabbi Berel Wein flew in from Eretz Yisroel, and were joined by Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein and Rabbi Yonah Lazer in addressing the convention. All the drashos and speeches were in English. Rabbi Horowitz came up for the day on Friday and I spoke to him about the theme of the convention.

The theme was “Raising Maaminim (believers) in a Disbelieving World”. The speakers on Shabbos addressed the topic titled “Why We Are Not Reaching Our Talmidim’s Neshamos”. Before the speeches I asked a few people how they understood the title – was the problem with a minority of students or with most. As it turned out the speakers themselves struggled with this question. On one hand we see the tremendous growth of Torah in America and there are many emunah oriented students and our Rebbeim deserve our whole hearted appreciation for their great efforts at sub-standard pay scales. On the other hand a significant number of students are leaving the Torah Observant fold. And in the middle one speaker pointed out that the average Torah Observant Jew does not seem to be fired up about his davening, learning, chesed and Emunah. So even before we get to the possible solutions, the parameters of the question itself needs analysis, as is true with many Torah-community problems.

Here are some thoughts that the Rebbeim gave:

  • There has to be more focus on each individual student
  • Too much focusing on what’s good for the school or for the Rebbe harms the students
  • We have to accept that we can’t always answer every question and a bad answer is worse than no answer
  • We have to recognize that different tools, methods and messages are needed for differing places, times, and circumstances
  • We need to focus on developing more Emunah in ourselves
  • Torah has to be taught with the joy and enthusiasm and the clarity that this is the Torah received at Sinai
  • Student and teacher need to bond heart to heart

All in all it was a great experience and it’s heartening to see that our leaders recognize there are problems, there is always room for improvement, and they’re spending time and resources attempting to address them.