Dovid Rose is the COO (Chief Operating Officer) of Lauder Yeshurun in Germany, a branch of the Torah Projects division of the Ronald S. Lauder foundation, and the largest Orthodox Jewish organization in Germany today.
Dovid graduated the Kollel at the end of 2005, and set off to Berlin - along with his wife Talya and their two children – to take the helm of Yeshivas Beis Zion. The Yeshiva, founded in 2000, was originally conceived to cater to the educational needs of the rapidly growing Jewish community, fed by a steady immigration from the former Soviet Union, and numbering upwards of 150,000 Jews. Besides overseeing the running of the Yeshiva (not to mention teaching there) Dovid was presented with a mandate of expanding the sphere of influence of the Yeshiva, both socially and geographically; to take the Yeshiva from being an educational academy for its student body and to transform it into the basis of what would become a larger Torah community in Germany.
In accordance with his vision for the Yeshivah as a focal point for all Jewish activities in the country, an iconic Makom Torah around which all other kiruv activities would develop, Dovid began by setting up a Kollel. By the end of 2006 there were six kollel families studying Torah in Berlin, upping the level of learning and strengthening the atmosphere in the Yeshivah, in addition to taking active roles in various outreach programs.
In just over two years, the community has gone from 3 Shomer Shabbos familes to over twenty, approximately half of whom are graduates of the Yeshivah, most married to girls from the Lauder Midrasha (a sister school to the Yeshiva, which recently relocated from Frankfurt to Berlin).
The progress in the community, in such a short time, is astounding: The Yeshiva and Midrasha students are continuing to marry and join the community (six weddings coming up in the coming months alone!), other families around Germany are excited at the prospect of joining such a community, pre-school education has started, and a school is planned for after the summer. Active outreach programs also abound, and the influence is spreading: There’s a Morasha Program, in which tens of students in Berlin, Hamburg, and Leipzig attend weekly shiurim for a stipend. Satellite branches of the Yeshiva are already in place, in the ToraZentrum in Leipzig, and Lauder Nordhause in Hamburg, both providing rich recruiting grounds for the Yeshiva.
As Dovid is currently in the process of handing over the operations of the Yeshivah in Berlin, as he assumes responsibility for the further development of vibrant Torah Judaism on a national scale, one thing is clear: Dovid’s vision is becoming a reality.
We managed to pull Dovid from his busy schedule to chat with him for a few moments:
JK: You spent three years studying under Rabbi Berkovits at the Kollel, covering the entire gamut of the Kollel curriculum, including Halacha (Torah law) in all pertinent matters, Hashkafa (Jewish perspectives), and practical Rabbinics. Do you feel that you were adequately prepared for what you’ve been encountering in the field? What do you think could be done differently?
DR: Looking back, I find the time I spent at the Jerusalem Kollel highly productive both from the scholarship point of view, covering large areas of halacha, hashkafa, as well as practical Rabbinics. But, even more importantly, the time I spent under the guidance of Rabbi Berkovits himself, has stood by me successfully in the endeavors that I came to be involved with. I refer to not just the learning, but also to his sensitive advice on how to deal with situations and with people, and I find myself in many different situations being very well prepared having been under the influence of this tremendous scholar.
JK: Would you compare yourself to Yosef in Mitzrayim, with the image of his father Jacob appearing in front of his face?
DR: I think that would be a little exaggerated, but at the same time, I can say that not a day goes by that one of the fundamental principles that Rabbi Berkovits would impress on us - that I don’t find myself saying over to other people or saying it to myself.
JK: Everyone in the field of outreach seems to be in agreement that time is running out in the battle against Jewish ignorance and assimilation. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what the kiruv establishment could or should be doing differently. Based on your experiences, what do you think?
DR: I’ve only been exposed to a very small portion of the larger Jewish population, here in Germany, with very unique circumstances. Within the context of this particular group of Jews I do feel very strongly that time is running out. In terms of the rest of the Jewish world, there is certainly a tremendous sense of how much needs to be done. From my experience – as with others I know in the field - it seems that those people who value every individual Jewish neshama and each word of Torah to be precious - above and beyond other considerations like numbers – I find them to be the most successful. One person at a time – one Jew at a time – bringing them back to Hashem…to a life of Torah and Mitzvos.
JK: Rabbi Berkovits suggested recently, in the daily chumash class, that that too much emphasis is being invested by kiruv personnel into programs that create and cultivate Jewish awareness by bring together Jewish people, entertaining them, giving them a Jewish "feeling", and creating a "comfortable" Jewish medium, in short – the fun stuff. And while all that is a necessary starting point, he feels that it is disproportionate with what should be the heart and soul of any kiruv project – namely a drive towards authentic Jewish education and personal growth. What are your thoughts?
DR: From my experience in running programs for ”disconnected” Jews, I have found that the social aspect is an essential element to get them to listen to what we have to say, but ultimately what lights the spark in them is hearing is hearing truth, hearing Torah, in being connected to what they have not been connected to before. If we are trying to compete with the secular world with our social events, we are going to struggle. We have a special marketing tool which is unique to us, that our competitors don’t have, and that is the Torah. And ultimately through cultivating and nurturing people through the exposure to this Torah, this is going to bring the real success, and should ultimately be our major focus.
JK: The Jews that you’re working with - what you referred to as "disconnected" Jews – what is it that motivates them Jewishly?
DR: Unlike Jews from the western world, who have always had the opportunity, these Jews, from the former Soviet Union, were forcibly deprived. They find this as an opportunity – to learn in Yeshiva, to live as a Jew. It’s not so much of a Baal Teshuvah experience, as much as living out something that was not available beforehand.
JK: To turn our conversation in a more personal direction: There seems to be an almost universal experience of couples feeling overwhelmed upon leaving the academic and Torah-focused confines of the Kollel environment and going "OUT". What was your and Talya’s experience like?
DR: We had both reached a stage in our lives that we began to feel that we are ready to start giving back what we had begun to learn. We were fortunate that the responsibilities we took up were not so great that overnight we were suddenly overwhelmed with the task at hand. But, nevertheless, it became clear in a short time that this endeavor that we had undertaken was something that would take all our efforts, and we learned that there’s ultimately no limit to the amount of things that a person can be involved with. A person finds himself in the field faced with so many opportunities that he will ultimately need to prioritize and to find his balance. Regarding this too, we received so much guidance from Rabbi Berkovits - that the foundation of any success in teaching, in building a community, in building people - is to first have completion in your own family life, in your children. As soon as other responsibilities are at the expense of the family and children, one is not going to be very successful. It‘s a very important balance between putting all of ones efforts into the task at hand versus keeping time for one’s family. For us, it’s often having a Shabbos seudah with our family.
JK: I remember Rabbi Berkovits speaking at your seudas preidah (farewell party) and pointing out the poetic irony of your going out to teach Torah and spread Judaism on the same cursed soil upon which the Nazis had come so close to eradicating the Jewish people. Have you been feeling this? What about the people – both Jew and gentile – that you encounter? Is there guilt and apologetics?
DR: We have very little contact with the local gentile population. All of our interaction is with the people with whom we are working. Nevertheless, even in Berlin, having so many signs of the past, in terms of memories, surrounding us in everything we do, that make clear to us, in spite of the passage of time, the horrific occurrences that happened here. We live in an area that was largely populated with Jews before the war, and we often wonder about what happened – even in those apartments we live in now; It’s something that we live with all the time. On the one hand we feel the necessity to move on, to be positive, to create a positive atmosphere; the Yiddishkeit that what we’re trying to build is new and fresh. But on the other hand, we are always aware that we are here right on the scene of such horrific things, guarded to not blind ourselves, and not to ignore everything that has happened in the past. So on the one hand, you can’t be too focused because you become overwhelmed, but on the other hand to not block it out - you should be aware of where you are.
JK: How is Talya enjoying what she’s doing?
DR: Despite the initial difficulty of moving in, and the language barrier (which remains), she enjoys immensely her teaching and being involved with the wives and the girls from the 'sem'. She sees this as a unique opportunity to share what she herself spent time studying in Jerusalem, especially under the program with Rebbetzin Spetner. She’s in constant contact with her teachers in Jerusalem, for advice on how to correctly deal with circumstances, to get guidance on how to deal with complex issues and daily challenges. Overall, this is the time of her life that she has been able to give the most, and she appreciates the opportunity.
JK: What would you say is the most important attitude for a couple going OUT into the field?
DR: I’ll echo something that Rabbi Berkovits always said. We’re not meant to take a job, to negotiate a contract get a deal… We’re going to help Klal Yisrael. Although we may be working for and hired by an organization, ultimately we are working for ourselves to bring out our full potential in what we’re doing. One can be going with so much dedication and sacrifice – and a couple needs to recognize that in every area of what they’re doing in order to feel truly fulfilled.
JK: In closing, how are you going to be celebrating Purim?
DR: Actually there’s a few things going on. The Kollel is working with families with their Purim seudos – a big do with music and all. There is also a group of 18 NCSY students who are coming to spend ten days in Germany, meeting their local counterparts here, discussion history together, etc – so they’ll be having their own Purim event. As for me, we’ll be having a seuda in our home with a few families and a few bochurim, as we have done in past years.
JK: Well, have a great Purim, and keep up all the incredible stuff you’re doing there. Only one word comes to mind: "WOW"! Bracha v'hatzlacha.