“On a flight to Eretz Yisroel at this time of year,” recounts Rabbi Refael Fried, mashpia of Oorah’s Discover U program for post-high school young men, “you will always meet parents who are spending their mid-winter vacation on the way to visiting their child, whom they sent off six months ago, to see how they’re doing and get an update on their progress. I told my plane mates that Rabbi Mintz is doing the same, en route to visit forty of his children, whom he sent off six months ago to experience the magic of a year in Eretz Yisroel away from personal and general distractions.”
For many of the students they visited, the Oorah staff truly took the place of family, as many did not have the full support of their own families back home. The group stopped at many seminaries and yeshivos where Oorah students are learning.
“In all the seminaries, the teachers told us that Oorah girls were the best girls and that we should send them more,” one volunteer staff member says. “It is not because we gave them the brightest girls or even the best behaved students. Oorah girls have a deep passion of wanting to grow. They also have a strong support system, which apparently makes them stand out way about the rest.”
That support system includes Oorah Shabbatonim, or “ShabbaZones” as they are affectionately called, as well as constant contact with camp staff and TorahMates, and Discover U. At meetings with the rabbeim and roshei yeshiva, “it is clear that there is a constant worry on the rabbeim’s minds, as successful as the students are, about what will keep their success alive after the year is over and the students return home,” says Rabbi Fried. “After explaining the goals and ambitions of the Discover U program, they are refreshed to hear that someone will actually be there to support these people and keep their growth alive, to help them follow through to get married and set up their homes.”
As Oorah’s tuition coordinator, Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Yoffe has a unique perspective on the students studying in Eretz Yisroel, as he was often heavily involved in the behind-the-scenes work of finding the right yeshiva for them, convincing their parents to allow them to go and getting them accepted.
“It was a nachas to see how all the boys and girls, who we struggled with placing in seminary and yeshiva, are enjoying their year in Israel,” he says.
“I walked into a bais medrash on Sunday, and one of our boys, who always managed to beat the rules, was running into bais medrash so as not to be late to seder, and he is happy,” Rabbi Yoffe relates. “Wednesday, I walked into a yeshiva and saw a boy shteiging away on a Ritva. This boy has an independent streak, so we could not have him in camp. Yet, we still made sure he is in yeshiva. The guy is shteiging away and the yeshiva would love to have many more boys like him.”
Even the questions the boys asked at the Ask the Rabbi session on Shabbos showed how much they are growing, said Rabbi Fried.
“They asked more practical, deeper questions, like, ‘What does Hashem expect of me?’ and ‘How do I know how to spend my time wisely?’ and ‘My parents want me to come home and attend college, yet I want to stay for a second year and I know it’s the best thing for me.’ It’s questions like these that tell us that the guys are growing.”
And for the Oorah staff and volunteers, that’s the best thing they could hear.