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Rosh Yeshiva Arrives Early

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Veteran Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yisroel Friedman came to Camp Gan Israel in Parksville, NY, days ahead of Yarchei Kallah. Here’s why.

By COLlive reporter @campganisrael

A familiar yet unlikely figure has been spending the last few days at Camp Gan Israel, the veteran Chabad overnight boys camp in Parksville, NY, to the excitement and benefit of staff members and even children.

Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, Rosh Yeshiva of Oholei Torah Zal in Crown Heights, arrived on camp grounds this week, days before many of his colleagues from around the world will be coming as well to participate in the annual Global Yarchei Kallah.

Rabbi Friedman will be one of the 51 Rosh Yeshivas, Mashpi’im and Rabbis gathering to honor the Rebbe‘s revered father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, of blessed memory, with the study of Torah during the annual 4-day summit.

Having spent the summer at Yeshivas Kayitz in Kingston, Rabbi Friedman was welcomed to remain Upstate New York and stay at Gan Israel. He was warmly welcomed by its directors Rabbi Avrohom Shemtov and Rabbi Yossie Futerfas.

Rabbi Friedman agreed to be interviewed for COLlive.com ahead of the Yarchei Kallah which starts on Wednesday, the 20th of Av, with a Chassidic farbrengen to be held at Ohel Chabad Lubavitch Center in Cambria Heights, Queens, near the Rebbe’s Ohel.

The summit will culminate with a festive Melave Malka gathering on Motzoei Shabbos, starting at 10:30 PM. The event, to which the Rebbe encouraged Chassidim to attend, will feature words of Torah by the guests. A musical program of Chabad niggunim will be presented by singer Eli Marcus.

Bravely overcoming an illness in recent years, Rabbi Friedman’s love for learning and humility is a role model for the young campers. Our discussion was repeatedly interrupted by bochurim scheduling time to learn with this world-renowned 80-year-old scholar. He didn’t refuse them.

Here are excerpts of his conversation with COLlive.com:

Question: You were just asked by 2 bochurim to study with them Gemara. Why did you choose to schedule with them at separate times and not together?

Answer: One is “fire” and one is “water”. Each talmid has their abilities in learning, and combining them won’t work – for either of them. Each needs to be taught on their level.

Do you notice a difference between bochurim today and those of when you were a student in Yeshiva?

Sure. Today’s bochurim are more mekusharim (connected to the Rebbe). In our days, it wasn’t a topic that was discussed or dealt with. It took us 4 months to cross the Atlantic by ship to see the Rebbe, not to mention the time before that spent saving up money to afford the trip. If you would ask a bochur then ‘are you mekushar’, it wouldn’t be a question. It was a given.

Today, on the other hand, bochurim who haven’t seen the Rebbe are working on themselves to be mekusharim. They make an effort to become close to the Rebbe. It is one of the miracles of this generation. I remember after Gimmel Tammuz, a non-Lubavitcher came in to the Yeshiva on a Thursday and commented, ‘here, Lubavitch is over’. Years later I saw him again, this time he said ‘you can see their Rebbe is alive’.

Yarchei Kallah brings together the heads of Chabad Yeshivos. What is an area you would like to see improvement?

There has to be a greater emphasis on learning. Iyun (in-depth) learning in Nigleh and Chassidus and thinking for the sake of fully understanding. The Rebbe once commented that a bochur should be knowing Shaagas Aryeh etc.

I remember the faculty of the Yeshiva were in Yechidus and the Rebbe inquired about one bochur’s learning of Chassidus. One of the people answered that it was positive. The Rebbe then opened a drawer and pulled out a report from that same bochur and said, he writes me the opposite, that he’s having difficulty. The Rebbe cared about each bochur and wanted bochurim to learn.

A considerable amount of Yarchei Kallah participants were your students…

I don’t know if they are happy to see me… but I am happy to see them. It is a point of pride to see people who were once students and have now become teachers and leaders in their own right. It shows that Lubavitch has grown.

You have attended Yarchei Kallah since its inception in 5734. Past participants weren’t only Lubavitchers.

There were many who attended over the years. There was Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik from Chicago, Rabbi Pinchas Hirshprung from Montreal, Rabbi Dov Brisman from Philadelphia and others. The Rebbe said that Yarchei Kallah is ‘his personal thing’. It takes place on the yartzeit of the Rebbe’s father and it is part of the honor the Rebbe gives his father.

I remember the Rebbe once spoke at a Shabbos farbrengen about it and instructed Chassidim to participate. That Motzoei Shabbos a bus was quickly organized and a whole group came for the Melave Malka in camp. There’s no question that everyone should be doing the same today.

As a veteran participant, it seems like you feel at home here…

The Rebbe felt at home here! I remember the Rebbe’s third visit to Gan Israel when it was in Swan Lake. It was in 5717. The Rebbe was young, holding a siddur in his hand, and walked so quickly that we almost needed to run to catch up.

The Rebbe looked at every bunkhouse and then sat down for a farbrengen and you can see the Rebbe felt at home. The Rebbe would usually cough while saying a Maamar. Here the Rebbe said an entire Maamar for some 10 minutes, without coughing even once.

I come to camp because I want to be by the Rebbe.