Giving and Receiving
It is not a coincidence that the beleaguered city of Lod was chosen as the home of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s third branch, established three years ago. Plagued by a weak population, low-income families and a large influx of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, Lod provides Ohr Torah Stone with an opportunity to make an impact on society in a concrete, hands-on manner. At the same time, students receive a uniquely inspirational learning experience through their exposure to the city’s diverse network of social and educational activists.
“It’s impossible to live in Lod and remain in an ivory tower,” says Rabbanit Naama Frankel, Rosh Beit Midrash of Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod and city resident, explaining why weekly volunteer service with the weaker populations in the city is an integral part of the seminary’s curriculum. “Lindenbaum-Lod is characterized as much by its its commitment to social and communal development as by our high level of Torah learning,” she says.
Each Sunday, right after the seminary’s 27 students return from Shabbat with their families, the first thing they do is set off to their volunteer positions motivated to make a real difference.
“Our students come back to school each Sunday and immerse themselves immediately in their surroundings. Only then do they dive into a week of intensive Torah learning – from a platform of chessed, fueled with the understanding that Torah needs to be connected to action to reality, and to life,” says Frankel.
Student placements include the city’s after-school programs for kids whose parents were deemed dysfunctional by the welfare department; homes in which one of the parents has a psychiatric disorder; local junior high schools with a high percentage of disadvantaged populations; a day-club for adults with cognitive disabilities; a kindergarten for children with autism; working with elderly residents of Lod who are all alone in the world; and Enosh – a service center for adults with mental illness.
“My work at Enosh has opened my eyes to so many things – not only about society, but also about myself,” reveals Lindenbaum-Lod student Tali. “I had always been afraid of people with mental illness in the past; I didn’t know what to say to them, so I simply avoided them and when I was placed here I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I asked Naama if I could switch and she told me, ‘Give it a few weeks, and if you still want to leave you can.’ I’m so glad that she encouraged me to persist, because I now find this position to be so rewarding! I’ve come to learn that people with mental illness are people first, they deserve a place in society, and they need our social interaction and respect.”
It’s Only Natural
Yet other Lindenbaum-Lod students spend their Sunday afternoons tutoring children in another of Lod’s under-privileged neighborhoods. “Our students work one-on-one with specific children, playing with them, helping them with their homework and keeping in contact with their teachers and parents,” says Frankel. “Unlike the after-school programs from the city’s welfare department, these kids aren’t necessary from dysfunctional homes, but because of their parents’ economic situation they require a boost and our students are there to give it to them.”
Several of these children also attend the weekly “Shulchan Shabbat” program which Frankel coordinates in Lod – a Shabbat meal, held on a rotating basis at five different public locations, which embraces families who are struggling financially.
“Our students experienced ‘Shulchan Shabbat’; they are able to identify on their own which families needed the extra boost,” says Frankel. “In general, our students are surrounded by a hot-house of social activism and chessed: they are aware that their Rosh Yeshiva donates food to the less fortunate each Shabbat; they know that the majority of their teachers give of their time and resources to disadvantaged people and populations. People who work in Lod come from a place of social action and chessed and that permeates our students’ existential reality to the point that it is only natural that they, of their own initiative, also pick up the reins. For example,” Frankel reveals, “our students wrap up all the leftovers of their lunches, every day, and bring them to needy families they have met through Shulchan Shabbat, or to a local soup kitchen. The impact of their involvement in the city is organic.”
“It inspires in us a desire to want to make a difference ourselves”
In addition to the faculty role models Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod students interact with daily in their beit midrash, the seminary also orchestrates encounters with role models from outside of the bubble: each week, after their volunteer work, they meet a different resident of Lod who is making an inspirational impact on the city.
Among the personalities brought to speak to the students were Itzik, a nurse who works with mentally ill children; Noa, who volunteers with former prostitutes; Shireen, an Arab elementary school principal; and Sharon, a medical clown. “We bring females and males, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs, young and old, because it’s important that our students see that every person in God’s world has a place and a role in bettering society and perfecting the world,” says Frankel.
“Whenever I’m asked about what makes Lindenbaum-Lod so unique I explain about the integral connection between the beit midrash and the city we live in,” says Lindenbaum-Lod student Oriya. “One of the first things that come to mind are these Sunday evening encounters with inspirational figures. I’ve had so many epiphanies in the wake of these meetings, on subjects of which I wasn’t even aware previously! These conversations are an opening to understanding people and professions, to seeing how the Torah simply affects our everyday life, and to a stronger connection to the city,” she states. “It inspires in us a desire to want make a difference ourselves.”
The meetings take place in an open atmosphere which encourages students to ask questions. “One student asked Margalit, who teaches prisoners toward attaining a high school diploma, why we should bother helping convicts,” Frankel reports. “A meeting with Elad, a social worker who helps addicts and homeless people turned into a fascinating conversation about addictions in contemporary life. Yossi, the city’s deputy mayor was questioned about his feelings toward the city’s Arab population, while students inquired of Yochi, a member of the Chabad community, whether or not she believed that the Lubavicher Rebbe was still alive. But it goes without saying that everything is asked respectfully,” says Frankel. “Our students have a genuine desire to learn and grow into people who will also, eventually, change the world.”