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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Torah Tech, a new gap-year program in Israel for young men, will be hosting an open house in Teaneck on January 6. For many yeshiva high school graduates, spending a gap-year in Israel has become a gateway to the next stage of life. For some, however, choosing the right program can be challenging. Those who want to dedicate the year exclusively to Torah study can likely find a good match in one of the many traditional yeshivot in Israel. For others, maintaining a focus on a future career path while strengthening one’s spiritual self is a top priority. Those are the young men that Torah Tech is intended for.

Founder Yehuda Goldberg, a Passaic native who has been living in Tel Aviv with his wife and children for over a decade, created Torah Tech to offer yeshiva high school graduates an opportunity to achieve both religious and professional growth during their year in Israel. Along with Torah Tech’s educational director, Rabbi Shlomo Chayen, Goldberg has developed a program that encompasses Torah study alongside business and technology internships in the heart of Tel Aviv.

There are students who perhaps forego a gap year in Israel for fear that it will derail them from their academic pursuit and ultimate career path. Goldberg feels this would be a mistake, believing that a year in Israel provides an ideal opportunity for growth and maturity. According to Rabbi Chayen, Torah Tech offers students the tools to build a successful career and be a devoted Jew. “We want to demonstrate to students that you can do both successfully,” he explained.

Rabbi Chayen was born in America but raised in Israel, where upon completing yeshiva he was a paratrooper in the IDF, finishing his service as a commander. Rabbi Chayen proceeded to complete a professional course in nonprofit management and studied both life and couples coaching. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in education at Rehovot College and received rabbinical semicha from Rabbi Weitzman of Ma’alot. Rabbi Chayen understands that this is an important juncture in the life of a young Jewish man and he wants to tap into that sense of ambition.

The weekly schedule at Torah Tech consists of a three-day internship program and two full days of Torah study. Students are placed within companies that relate to their specific interests and are fully immersed in employee responsibilities. Internships this year included those in the fields of business, math, computer science and even videography. Goldberg works hard to make sure students are happy with their placement and get the most out of the experience.

Each day culminates with dinner, Maariv and night seder. The two days dedicated to Torah study focus primarily on subject-based learning, often related to topics of Halacha that will directly impact the boys throughout life as they pursue professional careers.

Goldberg, who consults for start-up companies, describes the student he is seeking as hard working, dedicated and sincerely religious. Students don’t have to be intense learners, but they do have to be committed young adults who understand responsibility. Davening is at 7 a.m. sharp every morning and the boys understand that attendance is non-negotiable. Rabbi Chayen explains that “discipline and consistency will lead to regularity of accomplishment.” Even on internship days, the students start the day learning a daily perek of mishna and Tanach.

Like most programs, there are tiyulim throughout the year, often to locations where stories from Tanach come to life. Exposing the boys to the beauty of Israel and the rich history it encapsulates is a highlight of the year.

At Torah Tech, the students have a real voice in the process. Goldberg has labeled the group V1, for version 1. This is a new venture and Goldberg appreciates the feedback from each of the young men on this journey. Looking ahead, Goldberg hopes to increase enrollment, but not at the expense of the individualized attention provided to each participant.

Ben Moskowitz, a Frisch graduate from Teaneck, was on the fence about spending a gap year in Israel. His parents, Gabi and Aryeh Moskowitz, believed there was intrinsic value in the experience but weren’t sure there was a program that would appeal to their son. During Ben’s senior year, his family travelled to Israel to visit his sister who was learning there and met with Goldberg and Rabbi Chayen to learn more about Torah Tech.

Ben ultimately decided to give it a try and almost immediately developed a special connection with Rabbi Chayen. “My son doesn’t typically connect with rabbis, but he truly loves Rabbi Shlomo,” expressed Mrs. Moskowitz. She also remarked how excited he is with his internship and how excited she is about all the domestic skills he is acquiring. “I can’t believe he almost missed out on this experience,” she added. “He is so happy and proud to be a part of the group.”

Beth and Jonathan Kepets are ambassadors for Torah Tech and are overjoyed with the experience their son Gavri is having. For Gavri, a Frisch graduate who plans to attend Cooper Union next fall, it was important to maintain a connection to technology and computer science. Immersed in Jewish life in Tel Aviv and working hard at Autofleet, a seven-person start-up where he is coding, Gavri says Torah Tech offers the perfect balance to what he wants to accomplish during his gap year.

Sending her son off to a first-year program definitely had Mrs. Kepets feeling a bit uneasy. Those fears were obliterated as soon as Gavri arrived at Torah Tech. She recalls that, remarkably, there was no adjustment period and says her son felt completely at home from the get-go. “Communication between Yehuda Goldberg, Rabbi Chayen and parents has been outstanding. They are constantly sending updates and pictures for parents to see firsthand what the boys are immersed in,” she said.

Mrs. Kepets believes there is a real need for a program like this in the yeshiva atmosphere. “Kids are on a sort of rhythm as they graduate high school,” she explains, “and the gap year can throw that off.” At Torah Tech, they excel at preserving that rhythm for the future while anchoring Judaism into daily life. Additionally, the boys are learning real life skills, like how to live independently, balance work with minyan and incorporate leisure time.

The open house will be held at 7 p.m. on January 6 at the Kepets home, 599 West Englewood Avenue in Teaneck. For further information or to RSVP, please email [email protected] or visist the Torah Tech website here - www.torahtech.co

By Andrea Nissel