Matches Made For Heaven – OU Has Your Partner in Torah

November 20, 2013

By Atara Arbesfeld

image

Hundreds of graduates of Orthodox Union programs such as NCSY’s public school clubs and the Israel Free Spirit/Taglit Birthright trips have requested opportunities to expand their Jewish knowledge by learning with a mentor. Most are 18-26 year-olds, with limited Jewish education, and the OU is now teaming with Partners in Torah to help them to create one-on-one relationships fostered in building knowledge in Torah learning.

“Partners in Torah is considered the best program out there for long-distance learning with mentors and with students,” said Rabbi Dave Felsenthal, Director of the OU’s NextGen division for collegiate and post-grad individuals. “By using their world-class software, having them train our experienced NCSY staff, and creating sessions with materials specifically relating to our audience, the OU has supercharged the Partners in Torah model.”

Partners in Torah is an independent organization that offers Jewish adults of all backgrounds across North America a cost-free learning opportunity to discover Judaism – its culture, history, and traditions – at their own pace and on their own schedule. Jewish men and women with an interest in acquiring specific skills or who simply want to build on their base of Jewish knowledge are matched, one-on-one, with a carefully selected personal Torah trainer or “mentor” for up to an hour a week of over-the-phone (or over-Skype) study and discussion. Partners in Torah has engaged more than 50,000 Jews across North America, and today supports some 4,500 weekly study partnerships (over 9,000 individuals).

Established in 2011, “OU NextGen makes sure that all the OU resources for post-high school programs are used to have all of our oars rowing in the same direction,” said Rabbi Felsenthal. “We have tremendous synergy and we have seen all of our programs go through tremendous growth since this change was implemented.”

Rabbi Felsenthal and Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck, Director of OU Alumni Connections, and Partners in Torah’s Director Rabbi Eli Gewirtz and Executive Director Rabbi Yaacov Deyo are spearheading the OU Partners in Torah program.

The OU Partners in Torah program also enjoys the strong backing of OU President Martin Nachimson, former OU President Dr. Simcha Katz, and OU Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Savitsky. Mr. Savitsky, also a past president of the OU, calls Partners in Torah, “A project near and dear to my heart. I want to recruit members of OU synagogues to learn with NCSY and Birthright alumni who are looking for direction in maintaining Jewish life. This can lead to a real difference in the lives of young adults seeking to stay Jewish.”

Rabbi Felsenthal elaborated, “We always felt that chavrutot (one-on-one learning) is the most important tool in Jewish outreach and education.”

Partners in Torah requires a six to eight week commitment with a 30 to 60 minute long chavruta. After the initial commitment, learners will have the option of moving on to a new topic or switching chavrutot. Hebrew reading is the most requested topic for OU’s Partners in Torah. Other topics include:

• Judaism 101
• Business Ethics
• History
• Holidays
• Keeping Kosher
• Mourning
• Marriage/Family/Parenting
• Philosophy
• Prayer
• Spirituality/Mysticism
• Shabbat
• Talmud
• Torah – Textual Analysis
• Weekly Torah Portion

“One of the findings of the recent report of the Pew Research Center is that young Jews are leaving the fold due to a lack of Jewish education,” Rabbi Marchuck observed. “The Orthodox community has a unique opportunity to lead by reaching out and by showing love and care in the most personal way possible, by giving of our time to learn with them whatever these young people want to learn and beginning a relationship. Because of the Pew Report, we now have a lot of excitement from lay leadership to reach out to cohorts in OU synagogues and to run a campaign to attract lay leaders and synagogue members to dedicate one hour a week to learning with our students. Rabbi Judah Isaacs, Director of OU Community Engagement, has already secured several synagogues that are excited to promote this initiative and expects many more as we begin to get the word out.”

Mr. Savitsky and other lay leaders are currently actively recruiting in the shuls to match adults with students of similar professional interests. Rabbi Felsenthal said, “We do this because it is a natural connection, it will give them something to talk about. Doctors will be paired with students who want to be doctors and lawyers will be paired with students who want to be lawyers. It is the relationship that is the real magic. Learning Torah will have an incredible impact on them; using this program as a tool to create a lifelong relationship, the more there is a common interest between the mentor and the learner, the better that it’s going to be.”

Mentors may also come from the ranks of NCSY advisors, JLIC students, student leaders on campuses, and from Yeshiva University and its various divisions. All mentors are prescreened and trained using the Partners in Torah approach.

Rabbi Marchuck and Ari Klickstein, project coordinator for Partners in Torah, are involved with the training and monitoring progress of the program. Other coordinators include Rabbi Moshe Joselit, former junior director for Long Island NCSY and current city-wide director of Philadelphia NCSY, and Aliza Blumenthal, city director of Teaneck, New Jersey NCSY. Learning material for Partners in Torah includes copyrighted lesson plans from the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP); Partners in Torah materials adapted by NextGen staff; NCSY’s educational materials prepared by Education Director Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin; and new materials prepared by OU’s Karasick Department of Synagogue Services and by OU Communications.

Rabbi Felsenthal likened the process of arranging learning pairs to Jewish marriage. “The process of matching mentors and students is the hardest part; it’s like making marriage matches, which our Sages tell us is akin to splitting the Red Sea,” he concluded with a smile. Despite the challenges, OU Partners in Torah hopes to make 350 matches in the near future, with the ultimate goal of 613, the number of mitzvot in the Torah this year, and thousands in the future.

For more information on OU Partner’s in Torah, contact Ari Klickstein at {encode=”klicksteina@ncsy.org” title=”klicksteina@ncsy.org”} or 212-613-8349.

OU | Enhancing Jewish Life