The Cherry Hill Community Kollel Uplifts an Entire Community - first printed in Yaated Neeman
Six years ago, Dr. Herbert Cohen, a lifelong secular Jew was homebound after suffering from a mysterious illness that took away his ability to walk. The doctors were unable to diagnose or treat his affliction. Then his son, Lee, asked if he would like a Rabbi from the Cherry Hill Community Kollel in New Jersey to come to his home and talk with him. He said, “why not, it can’t hurt.”
Dr. Cohen recounted, “when Rabbi Nacham Gradon came to my house, he asked me if I was angry at Hashem? I told him I didn’t know who Hashem was. When he explained to me, I said, the funny thing is, I think Hashem is speaking to me, I just don’t know what he’s trying to tell me.’”
“At first Rabbi Gradon came to my house once a week. After six months, I began to have a complete recovery without any medical treatment, just prayer and learning with the Rabbi. When I got better I started going to the Kollel regularly and I have been doing so ever since! That was six years ago and now I study Torah there and attend classes every week. The greatest thrill of my life now is learning Torah in the Kollel.”
One of the most effective ways for a town to become a Torah town is through the formation of a Kollel. The inviting atmosphere of a Kollel encourages others to join in learning Torah, and the added spiritual force of Torah study in the area creates a powerful spiritual dimension within the entire community as evidenced in Cherry Hill, which has a large predominantly secular Jewish population.
Last Sunday a reception benefiting the Cherry Hill Community Kollel was hosted at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Rocky Stefansky in Lakewood in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Herbert Cohen for their dedication of the Kollel’s first Sefer Torah and in support of the Kollel and its community as they embark on the next level: to have the Kollel yungeleit living in Cherry Hill.
The guests from Cherry Hill, to Lakewood, Brooklyn, Monsey and beyond were treated to a stimulating evening of chizuk in supporting the Kollel and Torah growth in Cherry Hill. Rav Yissocher Frand set the tone by opening the evening affair with his stirring words.
“History remembers those who stepped up and accepted the challenge when it counted. When Rav Dovid Dryan wrote to the rabbonim in England to open a Kollel in Gateshead, only one rav responded: Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler. He recognized the opportunity and seized upon it. And today we have Michtav Me’eliyahu and the Gateshead Kollel because of his vision. That’s the opportunity all of us here tonight have. We can step up for the Kollel and the 50,000 plus Jews who live in the greater Cherry Hill Community and be among those who make it happen.”
“I had no idea that a Kollel could affect a community that much,” said one of the attendees of the reception. “We live in a makom (place of) Torah and take for granted the power and effect that the Torah has on a community,” he proclaimed. Cherry Hill is certainly not like Lakewood or any other Frum Community. Until about ten years ago it only had one Orthodox Shul. Now, since the Kollel has been there, it has five. Coincidence? Supporters of the Kollel don’t think so.
The Kollel has been commuting from Lakewood to Cherry Hill, about a one hour drive, for ten years and the community wants more. They understand the tremendous advantage of having the Kollel families living in Cherry Hill and becoming active members of the community.
“The Kollel can accomplish one hundred times what it accomplishes today when the yungeleit live and become an integral part of the community,” said Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Zichron Moshe of South Fallsburg, and a prime backer of the Kollel.
“One of the beautiful aspects of the Cherry Hill Kollel is that the local community members are the ones asking for the Kollel. They’re motivated and have experienced for themselves the benefits of the Kollel,” said one activist working on behalf of the Kollel. “When I meet prospective donors I bring members of the Cherry Hill Community with me. I don’t do the talking, they do. Their drive and enthusiasm for the Kollel and their fellow Jews is felt by everyone we contact.”
Rabbi Frand closed his speech with a story about a wealthy Jew who told him, “I had all of my retirement money invested with Bernard Madoff and it is all gone. The only thing I have left from that Madoff money is the tzedakah that I gave. It has created something tangible and invaluable in the world. All the rest of it is gone.”
The spirited singing of Yehudah Green interspersed with heartfelt divrei chizuk brought out the unified feeling of all the attendees to rally behind this Kollel. The crowd joined in the singing and dancing in celebration of the Kollel and Torah and the explosion of their growth in Cherry Hill.
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, Rav of Congregation Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill, spoke of the tremendous impact the Kollel has had to date and the future impact the Kollel can have from this point forward with the support of the attendees and others. He introduced the Board of Directors, and presented a plaque to each member thanking them for their support at this critical juncture.
The concluding moment said it all with the words of Dr. Herbert Cohen, one of the main forces behind the Kollel, when he spoke of his first contact with the Kollel and its healing power both physically and spiritually.
“And the best thing about the Kollel,” Dr. Cohen continued, “is that it’s open for all. Anybody who is interested in studying Torah is invited to take part. I was completely secular when I started studying six years ago at the age of 66 and it has completely changed my life for the better! Now my hope is that everyone will step up and support us in moving the Kollel Rabbis into Cherry Hill, because together, we can change an entire community!”