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February 23, 2012 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-02-23

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Bayla and Rabbi J at Young Israel
of Oak Park

The Jewish Way

Relocated Machon L'Torah still seeks to
quench student spiritual thirst.

Robert Sklar

I

Contributing Editor

is roots run deep into the soul of
Jewish Detroit as a fundamental
source of learning about the wisdom
and joy of Torah, no matter what your
level of religious observance.
Over a momentous 30-year period,
_
Bayla and Rabbi Avraham Jacobovitz built
Machon L'Torah from scratch in Oak Park
with seed money donated by a Holocaust
survivor.
Machon L'Torah, Hebrew for
"Foundation for the Torah;' is now a
trans-Atlantic Jewish learning network. It
has been based in Israel since mid-2010,
when the Jacobovitzes relocated. A Tel Aviv
native, he is Machon's international direc-
tor. A Brooklyn native, Bayla not only runs
the Goldie Wrotslaysky Women's Division,
but also is one of its essential teachers.
The couple returned to Young Israel of
Oak Park for Machon's annual dinner and
Chinese auction. The synagogue is across
10 Mile from where Machon's Jewish
Learning Network of Michigan house once
stood.
About 150 people paid $180 per couple
or more on Feb. 12 to hear the rabbi's mes-
sage about the nonprofit's new frontiers.
"Machon has changed in many ways
in the past two years, but we've kept what
unites us — our commitment to and love
for Torah:' Rabbi J, as he's affectionately
known, told guests.

14

February 23 • 2012

This year's dinner theme was "Kindness
& Faith:' Rabbi J's core point: Jews who
believe God loves them should tell God
that through Torah-inspired values and
action — demonstrating how much God
and the Jewish people are entangled by
Torah's "eternal pages:'

Campus Thrust ,
The Jacobovitzes were in the U.S. primar-
ily to visit campuses with Machon out-
reach branches, including Rutgers and the
University of Washington.
In his Feb. 12 dvar Torah, Rabbi J
yearned for compelling follow-up so all
Jewish students — from the unaffiliated
to the religiously observant — could tap
into spiritual nourishment while fighting
anti-Semitism and Jewish indifference on
American campuses.
With so many draws in the secular
world, Rabbi J said, many Jewish stu-
dents wrestle with religious identity and
heritage. His focus harkened to his oft-
expressed view that "college campuses
could be either the burial site of the Jewish
future or the cornerstone for a very won-
derful life and Jewish future'
Whether students observe Shabbat or
keep kosher isn't Rabbi J's paramount
concern. Foremost, he wants to instill a
love for being Jewish. For every Jewish
student touched by Hillel or Chabad on
campus, dozens of others thirst for spiri-
tual quenching because they don't know
what being Jewish means. They have no

answers for why Israel matters. Some give
in to Jews for Jesus or other Christian
proselytizers.
Rabbi J is Orthodox and teaches Torah
Judaism, but no Jewish student is turned
away or forced to accept a predetermined
takeaway. It's up to each student how to
define "a good Jewish life' It's better, the
rabbi believes, to have young adults dis-
cover Judaism's relevance to them than be
told they somehow are lesser Jews.
Tension, however, has bubbled up.
At times, less-observant parents have
questioned Machon's wide welcome mat,
including a small stipend to study, when
their children found a more-observant
pathway in Rabbi J's midst.

Providing Answers
Rabbi J spotlighted a new initiative that's
galvanizing young Israeli rabbis with the
knowledge and confidence to respond to
young Jews for whom Judaism and Israel
hardly resonate. He announced plans for a
similar instructional program in America
for Jewish educators and lay leaders.
A signature Machon program is the
Maimonides Jewish Leaders Fellowships,
now independently active on more than
50 North American campuses. The MJLF
enables Jewish students to embrace
Judaism, get involved communally and
develop leadership skill at their pace. It
began in 2001 with 17 fellows at the Jewish
Resource Center (JRC) at the University
of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Its success

exposed the need to serve the thousands
of Maimonides fellows who went to Israel
to be immersed in learning and Jewish
life. Thus came Yeshivalite — Machon's
burgeoning outreach opportunity.
Machon's Jewish Awareness America,
meanwhile, continues to speak to a broad-
er range of Jewish young adults seeking a
sturdier Jewish identity and Jewish pres-
ence in their lives.
Locally, Machon maintains a stream of
Torah classes. It also provides individual
and family counseling. Skype and telecon-
ferencing have extended the organization's
teaching reach.
Rabbi J made a funding pitch for the
Machon L'Torah Israel Educational Center
he and Bayla envision near their home in
Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, about 45 min-
utes from Jerusalem. The young adult cen-
ter would house Yeshivalite, plus a more-
intensive yeshivah experience as well as
an accredited Jewish Studies Semester
Abroad program, Shabbat enrichment,
student-outreach training, and special
seminars and retreats.
Until that dream is realized, the
Jacobovitzes open their home to young
Jewish Detroiters studying in Israel and who
want to observe Shabbat in a heimish setting.

U - M Connection
Jake Rothman, a University of Michigan
junior, was a Maimonides participant last
fall through the Ann Arbor JRC. Under
Rabbi Fully Eisenberger, the 20-year-old
economics major from Atlantic City "saw
different perspectives and viewpoints of
real-world issues affecting Jews today"
Rothman especially liked "the in-depth
lessons and lively discussions that were
focused on Torah and the Talmud, which
made both come alive."
"Rabbi Fully," he added, "does an incred-
ible job at teaching and motivating his
students to become more involved and
active in Jewish learning, while simultane-
ously grooming us for our status as future
leaders in our Jewish community"
Rothman's top takeaway: "That Rabbi
Fully and the others at the JRC enabled
a group of students from diverse back-
grounds and attitudes on their faith to
unify into an enthusiastic group with a
proud Jewish identity." 0

Jake Rothman at Israel's Western Wall
during his sophomore year

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