Last August, we said good bye to our daughter, son in law and granddaughter as they embarked for a year ( at least) in Israel at YU/RIETS’s Gruss Kollel. We kept in touch via cellphone and pictures. However, we decided to spend two weeks in Israel between the end of December and the middle of January. Our younger daughter joined us after completing finals at SCW. The following is a small travelogue of some of the highlights of our trip.
The Gruss Campus is nestled in the Bayit Vagan neighborhood of Yerushalayim, which affords some of the most gorgeous views of Ir HaKodesh, especially at night. It includes a Beis Medrash, classrooms and two buildings for accomodations for the kollelniks, most of whom are young married couples with preschool children. Unlike many kollelim, Gruss provides two hot meals a day and free board,as well as empty apartments ( if available) for family relatives, which are far less expensive than an apartment or hotel room. We stayed on campus for the two weeks.
Of course, we connected and met with some dear friends who had made aliyah and went to the Kotel. We did not do any real touring simply because we wanted to spend time with our children. We spent a lot of quality time babysitting , etc with our kids. We were amazed at the difference between our then 14 month old and a now 18 month old granddaughter who loves to be cuddled, read to , climb, run and chase the cats and birds around the Gruss campus as well as ride the swings and see her cousins in a nearby neighborhood!
Prior to our leaving in late December, my SIL advised me that his chavrusa would be returning to NY for some simchos. I decided that even with chavrusos and sedarim for learning in our neighborhood. and even though I could have had Net access in the Gruss building, that I needed to recharge my spiritual batteries as much as possible with as minimal interruption outside of meals and just sit and learn each morning to the best of my abilities. I went without Net access for the entire trip and without seeing a newspaper for most of the trip.
Every morning, I davened in a wonderful minyan that lasted about an hour-twice as long as the normal Shacharis weekday morning. The davening on Shabbos was wonderful-great Baalei Tefilah and Baalei Kriah. I couldn’t recall the last time that Kabalas Shabbos was so inspiring. Some of the Avreichim davened by the windows of the Beis Medrash just to have the view of the Makom HaMikdash raise their kavanah. To paraphrase a commercial, some things in life are priceless-davening facing the Makom HaMikdash is truely priceless.
We decided to learn during the morning seder so he could review for an upcoming bchinah.
After breakfast, we returned to the Beis Medrash and after a preliminary shiur in Mesilas Yesharim given by the Rosh Kollel, we proceeded to work hard at Perek Chezkas HaBatim, a wonderfully rich Perek in Bava Basra with many Shitos HaRishonim for most of the days we were in Gruss.. In the afternoon, after lunch and Mincha, I attended shiurim in Hilcos Nidah and Hiclos Ishus as well as wonderful shirim at night both in Gruss and as well with Bayit Vagan with R Asher Weiss in a neighborhood shul that was packed with Bnei Torah who represented the full spectrum of hashkafas in Israel.
Being in Yerushalayim means that you either hike the steps of the Arei Yehudah and the Chutzos Yerushalayim or take the buses. We did both. Taking the buses is a fascinating way of picking up a feel for the country, as is taking a far more expensive taxi.
We were also blessed with great weather. At the suggestion of a neigbor’s daughter who is now living with her family in Romema, we also met with R Sheinberg and received his brachos. We also did our share of shopping for Sefarim in Shanky’s, Manny’s and Girsa, three of the best ( but hardly the only seforim stores ) in Yerusahalayim. Somehow, we were not overweight upon our return to NY.
RYBS once commented that while he knew that some American Jews were Shomer Shabbos, few understood the meaning of Erev Shabbos. I finally understood the Pshat of that observation after watching so many Yidden shop for their challah, kugel, etc in Geulah. The aroma of the streets just was so evocative of the upcoming Shabbos Kodesh and the rush to complete preparations for Shabbos on such a short day.. Such an atmosphere cannot be duplicated anywhere else-possibly not in even the Chasidishe neighborhoods and definitely not in our more MO communities even with our bakeries. up to date stores with groceries., Glatt Kosher meat, etc.
The Gruss Kollel is a wonderful gem in the world of YU/RIETS. The Avreichim and their families represent the full spectrum of the RIETS Beis Medrash and Roshei Yeshiva . They celebrate their Simchos, work together in all means of Chesed and a Gmach and had a Tisch on one Shabbos while we were there for the Chasan Torah and Chasan Breishis for the past Simchas Torah with nosh, etc and Divrei Torah. The Kolelleit also serve as a liason for Mussar Vaadim and Hachnosas Orchim for talmidim in Yeshivas Torah Sharaga, a yeshiva for “gap year” Americans.
For those readers who have a son or son in law in a Kollel or even in a yeshiva for a one year program, I urge you to not just visit and take your kids out for dinner or away for Shabbos in a hotel or apartment. Spend some time in the Beis Medrash. Appreciate a Tefilah that is led by a Baal Tefilah, as opposed to a “chiyuv” with a less than inspiring command of Nusach HaTefilah or Perush HaMilos. Try to spend some time learning Torah with your son and SIL. There is simply no greater way of showing your family that you value and appreciate Talmud Torah.
For all of us, it was truly a wondeful trip, with our batteries recharged in so many ways.