A programme of fathers and sons learning together gives birth to another programme that sets the bar even higher
By Chandrea Serebro
What better time is there for both parties than father and son time? The amount of love and inspiration and spiritual growth that comes from just hitting a ball or taking a walk is unparalleled. Now, add Torah learning into the mix, and the mountains that can be conquered are limitless. Avos U’Bonim, which literally means Fathers and Sons, is a learning mentorship programme that has been running across the world for about 25 years, and which was brought to South Africa over 20 years ago by Asher Goldberg and Rabbi Sender Grossnass, with only a handful of boys and their father’s taking part to start. Under the mantel of dedicated leadership of Pinchas Goldberg, who took it over from his brother Asher, it has grown into over 120 boys who, with their fathers, are learning every motzaei Shabbos (Saturday night). The Goldbergs grew it into a vibrant programme, and gave their brother, Yehuda Goldberg, who subsequently took over, and Calman Zaidel a strong platform upon which to work and further grow the programme.
Rabbi Paysach Krohn coined the phrase: ‘Turn Saturday night into motzaei Shabbos’, to sum up exactly what Avos U’Bonim does – “we do this specifically on motzaei Shabbos because, after Shabbos ends, it’s a difficult time, when people just want to relax and ready themselves for the week. But this is exactly when we need to turn our minds to learning Torah, to emphasise the importance it has in our lives and our upcoming week, and, thereby, add even greater value to the learning,” says Zaidel. “Too often during the week we don’t get to spend enough time together with our kids, or to sit and learn Torah together in a dedicated, committed way.”
It’s precisely when you are tired and lazy and feel as if you don’t want to do anything, so what better time to find renewed inspiration for the week, and imbue the week with some Torah from the very start? And this learning programme does just that – it gives a time and a place where boys come and learn with their fathers for an hour or so, whatever they wish to learn, no matter the level they are on, with prizes and incentives and an atmosphere of Torah growth and fun all around. It’s an amazing exercise in mentorship and the role that a rebbe – whether this is the rabbi himself, the child’s father, or even a big brother or grandfather – can take in shaping a child and his growth in Torah at the same time as enjoying a unique bonding experience, like an island in time out of our busy weeks. “In essence, the goal is to just arrive – which is not such a low-level goal, especially when you look around and see 250 people, all there, on a motzaei Shabbos, learning Torah. It is inspiring.”
The participants – both fathers and sons – are all very enthusiastic, and these 45 minutes of learning gives them a boost for the rest of the week. Avos U’Bonim run incentives for the boys, great prizes, and various raffles throughout the year wherein the boys stand to win more wonderful prizes. And the strength and beauty of the programme is that it is at your own pace. Each partnership chooses what they learn and sets their own goals, without any prescribed content, which opens the event up to all people, of all levels, from all walks of Jewish life. Some learn parsha (the weekly Torah portion), some mishna, some gemara, some read Torah stories, or even do revision from school. It is the quality of the experience and the opportune Torah learning with a meaningful mentor which takes precedence over content.
Dovid Joffee, together with this father, Dr Charles Joffee, helps out at Avos U’Bonim on a volunteer basis, and for him and his brothers, Yonatan and Aharon, the programme has been integral to their lives. Dovid says, “I feel privileged to be a part of it. A lot of people take projects such as these on offer in South Africa for granted and don’t realise the tremendous effort that goes into running them. I personally have been going for the last nine years and I have enjoyed every second of it and it is definitely one of the highlights of my week.”
“I think that it is been the best programme that I have been a part of. My role model is definitely my father – he encourages me to learn and daven every day and he learns with me and guides me,” says Yonatan. “I started going to the programme since I was really little for a few reasons. Firstly, you can win cool prizes and it also really helps with your learning. It is vital to always learn and nothing should prevent you from learning Torah or achieving your goals in learning,” says Aharon.
If Avos U’Bonim is an exercise in diversity and bonding in Torah learning and mentorship, with an emphasis on each person’s unique potential, then the new project launched under the umbrella of Avos U’Bonim, Hadran Aloch (which literally means “I will return to you” and comes from the text said when making a siyum, a celebration at the conclusion of learning a portion of Torah) – is an exercise in goal-setting and success in Torah learning.
“Hadron Aloch was the brainchild of Rabbi Yisroel Kaye, who together with Yehuda Goldberg’s devoted strategic and operational help, including being instrumental to the final siyum, developed a learning programme with the single intention of encouraging increased learning. “That siyum involved: 382 maseches (tractates), 2 700 perakim (chapters), with over 22 000 individual mishnayos and over 900 dapim (pages) of gemara learned. Hadron Aloch looks to encourage boys to do extra learning after school with a male mentor in their lives to help them and guide them, with a pre-established goal and target to achieve in their own time and at their own pace.”
The younger, pre-bar mitzvah boys were given a seder (in total, the mishnah is comprised of six sedarim) of mishnayos and the older boys a maseches of gemara to learn, with milestones and targets to be reached and rewards achieved upon reaching the goals, including some great incentives and prizes. “The prizes were great incentives to the boys – like Sandton City gift vouchers, cumulative gift vouchers, double bonuses for passing extra tests in an area, and additional vouchers for high achievements, R3 000 and R5 000 travel vouchers, trips to Israel – everybody felt buoyed and wanted to succeed.”
“When the Hadran Aloch programme began, we thought it wouldn’t be a huge turnout and, yet, it turned out to be an overwhelming success. It was inspiring to see 35 boys complete the required learning for the year, and, at the end of the year, we made a siyum to celebrate the achievements of these boys.” The siyum was a catered dinner at Ohr Somayach with live music, attended by over 150 people and some proud parents and grandparents, all so happy to be there celebrating the achievement of the boys, including Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, who expressed his pride at the amount of learning going on.
Rabbi Yisroel Brown and his ten-year-old son, Mordechai, took part in the Hadran Aloch programme, and they came out of it with renewed faith in their abilities and with the knowledge that they can achieve what they set out to do – and more. “We took part in Avos U’Bonim because we are very happy to be learning together on a weekly basis, and it is a special time for us. When the Hadran Aloch programme started it was a great way for us to set up goals and achieve targets in learning with a great incentive system, and it taught us so much about both setting and achieving goals, together. We set out to complete seder moed (one part of the six parts of the entire Shas Mishnayos) which is a lofty goal. And it seemed like it would take so long and be so hard that we would never achieve it. But having the set goal on our minds and in our sights all the time, we achieved things we never thought we would ever have achieved before hand – including being tested on it – and Mordechai did so well on the tests, it made me so proud,” says Rabbi Brown.
“I started it with my father to be able to learn and grow in Torah learning and the idea that I might be able to win something made it easier for me to go out there and learn on a more dedicated basis. The programme made us feel like we always want to learn more, because when we finish, we get more stuff and that pushed us to learn faster and better.” And it also helped the boys to realise that they had goals for their broader lives, giving them the tools to dream big. “I would love to finish Shas Mishnayos before my bar mitzvah. The excitement of finishing something big and succeeding was amazing.”
“It’s so important to look toward a goal, to reach for it, and to achieve it,” says Rabbi Brown, “because, if not, we don’t actually maximise our capabilities.” The siyum on completion of the learning, he says, was an “amazing, one-of-a-kind event”. “To have so many boys, fathers – so many different types of people from various schools and different backgrounds – all coming together to just celebrate one thing, the achievement of the one goal that each boy gave himself, the achievement of setting special time to learn, the achievement of the parents who helped push the boys to learn. It was the most beautiful sight to see.”
After completing the required learning to be eligible for the draw, twelve year old Betzalel Stein and his father, Ilan, won the Hadran Aloch 2019 draw, winning two tickets to Israel. “I wanted to learn mishnayot, and I felt that joining the programme would help push me to learn more and finish a seder. And I learned that consistency counts; a bit every day adds up – which is what helped me to complete what I needed to do. I enjoy learning, and feel that I am using my time positively and I know that the Torah that I learn will always be with me.”
“I took part because it was a good way to revise the learning that I did. It helped me set a goal that I must finish learning something, know it, and understand it properly – and the test helped me to realise that, in all learning, one has to actually know it before one can move on. Hadran Aloch was a great incentive and it was also inspiring to be part of the programme. It showed so many how important it is to achieve your goals, because it helps you to keep moving in life and, if you don’t keep moving, you will remain stagnant and never get anywhere,” says another participant, Boruch Saffer, 18 years old.
Nesanel Simmons, 17 years old, was inspired by the one goal of Hadran Aloch – that is to finish what you undertook to complete. “One of the most positive and profound things I learned is the importance of not pushing off for tomorrow what you can do today. When you start something, finish it, and this works with anything life, especially learning. Once you achieve one goal, it leads to another and so on, until infinity. Programmes like Hadran Aloch that bring in people of all ages and children of all ages to learn are an amazing source of motivation, and to see the joy in one’s own success so evident at the siyum was inspiring.”
Avos U’Bonim runs two holiday programmes as well with great incentives and prizes. Avos U’Bonim is a non-profit organisation relying on sponsorships and support.
For more information, contact Calman Zaidel 083 298 4432.