On Tuesday, June 2, Zsolt Balla and Avraham Radbill will become the first Orthodox rabbis to receive semicha (rabbinical ordination) in Germany since before the Holocaust, over 70 years ago. Rabbis Balla and Radbill will be the the first two graduates of the newly established Orthodox rabbinical seminary “Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin.” The seminary was founded by the Central Council of Jews in Germany and The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, and grew naturally out of the programs of Yeshivas Beis Zion, the premier Torah study institution in Berlin and Germany today.
The Yeshiva in Berlin is the flagship institution of Lauder Yeshurun, an organization promoting Torah education and outreach in Germany and Central Europe. All nine students of the rabbinical seminary, including the two ordainees, are graduates of Yeshivas Beis Zion, and most became involved in Jewish life through the various programs of Lauder Yeshurun.
To witness this extremely significant and momentous occasion, Rabbi Steven Burg, International Director of NCSY, the youth organization of the Orthodox Union, will travel to Munich with Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky of Yeshiva University and NCSY Kollel. This historical event is a result of the vision and leadership of Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, founder and president of The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and President of the World Jewish Congress.
After the official ordination, Rabbi Burg and Rabbi Sobolofsky will lead Yeshivas Beis Zion’s students on a two-day mission touring Poland, which will include visits to Krakow and Warsaw. After returning to Germany from Poland, the group will spend an uplifting Shabbat at Yeshivas Beis Zion. Rabbi Burg declared, “The rabbinical ordination that is to take place in Munich is truly an incredible event. I am proud and honored that NCSY and the OU have found such incredible partners in the Lauder Foundation and Yeshivas Beis Zion as we work together to inspire Germanys’ Jewish youth. As for Zsolt Balla, whom I know personally from my previous trip to Germany, he is an outstanding individual with strong leadership skills who will no doubt be a strong role model wherever he goes.” Rabbi Burg previously traveled to Germany to work with the Lauder Foundation to develop effective strategies to inspire Jewish teens.
Rabbi Sobolofsky declared, “The granting of semicha in Munich is a historic event that serves as a reminder of the eternity of Torah and the Jewish people. It is truly an inspiration to witness the growth of Torah in Germany as another generation of Torah leaders is born.”
Zsolt, 30, and Avraham, 25, are not unfamiliar with the OU. They were both guests at the organization’s New York headquarters last August, when they participated in OU Kosher’s Ask OU9 program (sponsored by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ), a three-week intensive seminar on kashrut laws. At the time, Zsolt commented, “Anyone involved in the rabbanut (the rabbinate) needs knowledge of the laws of kashrut.” Zsolt also collaborated on the NCSY Bencher edited by David Olivestone, OU National Director of Communications and Planning, leading the effort to produce Hungarian and German editions together with his wife, Marina, and a team of activists from Lauder Yeshurun.
Now, just before his momentous ordination, the future Rabbi Balla reflected, “It is a great honor to be receiving semicha in Germany. My wife Marina and I both feel responsible for the many Jews in Central Europe. There is a lot of work to be done in the next few years in this region – already, the revival of religious communities in Germany is a great miracle that no one could have predicted a few years ago. Marina and I cannot forecast what will be achieved here in the next few years. The only thing we know is that we feel a tremendous responsibility towards the many Jews of Central Europe. This ordination is more a beginning than a completion now that the real work is starting.”
He continued, “I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the many people who made it possible for me to come to this stage in my life. The list is endless: family, roshei yeshiva, the Orthodox Union, rabbis, fellow students and friends, all deserve a great thank you. My wife and I feel very grateful for all their help and will do our best to pay back all that we have received.”