Creating A Refuge // How an accidental yeshivah turned into a much-needed beis midrash for older bachurim

Across the street from the renowned Zichron Moshe shul on Rechov Pri Chadash is a building that is outwardly similar to all the others. It has no signs, markings or other identifiers to indicate that it is different. And yet, this humble edifice houses one of Yerushalayim’s premier kollelim, helmed by Rav Yitzchok Soloveitchik. Born in Spring Valley, New York, this scion of the Beis Halevi was known as “the masmid of the yeshivah” during his days in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin. Shortly after his wedding he moved to Eretz Yisrael and opened a yeshivah for American bachurim, which eventually turned into one of the elite kollelim in Yerushalayim when Rav Yitzchok’s talmidim clamored to continue to learn under his mastery. Now the kollel is filled with tremendous talmidei chachamim who look forward to hearing his shiurim. Recently, however, the kollel has experienced an influx of new talmidim, which is actually the reason I have come here today.

 A tall, slender yungerman with a short brown beard comes out of the building to greet me. Rav Dovid Soloveitchik is Rav Yitzchok’s youngest son, and the person responsible for bringing more than 60 new bachurim to his father’s kollel.
“Although we’re located in the same building, my beis midrash is a separate entity,” he tells me. “On the second floor we have a chaburah of several dozen bachurim, all of whom are in their mid-20s to mid-30s. Rav Dovid exhibits a surprising fluency in English, albeit with a slight accent.
“How did this chaburah begin?” I wonder.
“It happened by accident,” Rav Dovid says with a smile. “My father’s yeshivah is mostly a kollel these days, but its night seder wasn’t fully attended, as many of the yungeleit don’t live in the neighborhood and choose to learn closer to their homes at night. There was a kvutzah of Mirrer bachurim, primarily from England, who were interested in hearing shiurim from my father, so my father started giving them shiurim once or twice a week. It was quite successful. The group grew to around 30 bachurim, with a third of them being Israeli. This lasted until the pandemic.”
When Covid hit, the Israeli government was extremely zealous about closing down the country and had some of the strictest lockdowns in the world.
“They had the army patrolling the streets in certain neighborhoods,” Rav Dovid recalls. “All of the yeshivos were locked down—it was a crazy situation. Then one day I got a phone call from one of the Israeli bachurim who comes from a family of 14 kids. They had only two bedrooms and his grandmother had also moved in because of Covid so they could take care of her. ‘I’m suffocating!’ he said. He asked if we could do something to help. I told him to talk to the other bachurim to see if they would be interested. When he got back to me, he said that all of them were desperate for some kind of an arrangement.”
Rav Dovid clarifies that this was before any yeshivos had opened “bubbles,” and the government was making zero exceptions.
“We couldn’t use our yeshivah because we didn’t have an attached dorm and we also didn’t have permission. Then I had an idea. A supporter of the yeshivah owned a large home in Ramat Eshkol that was empty because he was planning on fixing it up. The house had plenty of space for all of the bachurim, as well as a big room that could serve as a beis midrash. So we brought in sefarim and a sefer Torah and ordered food from supermarkets.” He laughs at the craziness of those early days. “I remember leaving the food outside for a while to make sure that the ‘germs’ had died. The bachurim were very happy. They had plenty of space and companionship, and the sedarim reflected their enthusiasm. They were koching in learning, and the fact that there was a lockdown helped because there was nowhere else to go. It was an ideal situation. Since this was a private residence, they all could legally claim that they lived together, which they did. Had it been designated as a yeshivah building it would have been illegal.”
Rav Dovid attended the sedarim heavily masked, and even Rav Yitzchok came to give shiurim. “My father made sure to wear a mask, and they built one of those elaborate plastic enclosures for him to sit behind.”

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