“What is the higher priority, Talmud Torah or doing chesed?” Rabbi Yosef Adler, Rosh HaYeshiva of TABC recounted how this question was posed to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z”l and Rav Aharon responded that “both deserve a 100 percent commitment of our available time.” Rabbi Aharon added that “at different stages of lives we need to reevaluate how to strike the appropriate balance between the two.” “During our talmidims’ years in yeshiva,” Rabbi Adler explained, “the primary focus needs to be on Talmud Torah. At the same time, we strive to impart the importance of chesed on our talmidim, for what we hope will be a lifetime of their being baalei chesed.”
TABC offers a plethora of chesed opportunities for its talmidim. The sophomores just partook in their chesed day, an experience that each of the grades will have throughout the year. Over the course of the day, one group helped pack meals in the Masbia soup kitchen, another aided in maintaining the cemetery of the Free Hebrew Burial Society and a third group visited the Alzheimer’s unit in the JCC on the Palisades where they sang, danced and played games with the patients there. Finally, a group went to the Daughters of Miriam senior center and had the opportunity to daven with the residents, spend time listening to their stories. The morning concluded with putting up mezuzot throughout the facility.
Shortly thereafter, TABC, together with NCSY, sent a chesed mission to New Orleans. The talmidim spent the first day working with Habitat for Humanity, building houses for disadvantaged families. The next day, they, in conjunction with Green Light, installed energy efficient light bulbs for low income families and discussed the advantages of “going green” with the families. Finally, over Shabbat, the TABC/NCSY talmidim were essential for the local shul’s tefillah, as they acted as chazanim, lained and gave divrei Torah.
“One of the goals of the chesed programming in TABC,” explained Rabbi Michael Hoenig, TABC’s Chesed Coordinator, “is to offer different opportunities, so that there is something that works with each talmid’s strength and skills.” Beyond the chesed days for each grade, TABC will be sending a mission to Philadelphia where boys will work with the local Tomchei Shabbat and SCHI (the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence). In another effort, students, together with Kosher Troops, are collecting chocolate bars to be distributed over Hanukkah to American troops who keep kosher. One student is coordinating visits to local nursing homes. A chapter of MusicVs—an international movement which uses the arts to create inter-generational conversation—is opening. Finally, Friendship Circle meets in TABC once a month for a night of sports.
“Ultimately,” Rabbi Hoenig said, “we want our talmidim to integrate the values of chesed into their everyday lives. They should be empathetic, caring, sensitive people with their friends and family as well.” This goal very much defines TABC relationship with SINAI Schools, which operates a school within TABC for boys with intellectual/developmental disabilities. TABC talmidim and SINAI students have a “lunch buddies” program (students from both schools go out to lunch together) and a “sports buddies” program (they shoot hoops with each other). Mrs. Esther Klavan, Director of SINAI at TABC, described the symbiotic relationship between the two schools as follows, “The SINAI students benefit from being part of a larger school community with so many additional opportunities, and the TABC students learn to be more open and compassionate and in many cases, form real, substantive relationships with our students.”
Andrew Haberman, a junior who initiated the “sports buddies” program, explained his motivation for suggesting the program: “Playing sports with students from SINAI allows us to interact with them and include them in activities that they cannot always take part in by themselves.” Mrs. Klavan painted the picture of the lunch buddies: “Going into EJ’s, you see many TABC and SINAI students together enjoying pizza and watching sports, both common typical high school experiences.”
TABC talmidim also act as SINAI Ambassadors, looking out for SINAI students at events, making sure that they get food and the like during night seder and at games. Zach Orenshein, a senior, said of his experience in this role, “I hang out with students in SINAI because they are really great guys and I enjoy spending time with them. Participating in programs with SINAI has allowed me to form genuine relationships that I am grateful for having.”