21 Jul Helping Rebuild the Mikdash Me’At of Camp Yeshiva of Staten Island During the Nine Days
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE ROSH YESHIVA RAV REUVEN FEINSTEIN SHLITA
It was a beautiful, sunny day, the perfect day to visit Camp Yeshiva of Staten Island, right down the road from the old Granite Hotel/Hudson Valley Resort. The Rosh Yeshiva himself, Rav Reuven Feinstein shlita, honored me with a tour of the camp and the Beis Medrash, which is unfortunately stalled in its construction due to the lack of much needed funds. We first discussed how the Rosh Yeshiva’s brother, Rav Dovid shlita, needs a refuah sheleimah b’karov. Later we sat down to talk about the history of the camp, the Yeshiva, the funds needed to complete the Beis Medrash, and many other topics which will be featured in future articles iy’h throughout the remainder of the summer.
Camp Yeshiva of Staten Island began in the summer of 1970 when the Yeshiva needed a larger space for the summer months and moved into Reuven Gross’s house. That summer, the yeshiva started a special program to learn Mesechta Makkos during the three weeks. Each Rav took a perek to learn and many kids came to learn. They didn’t have any facilities to play as you would in a regular camp setting; this new setting afforded them with the opportunity to learn in a bigger and more comfortable environment. After that summer, the Posek Hador, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l understood that having a camp for the Yeshiva was a great idea in many ways. In a normal Yeshiva setting, a student sees his Rebbe, they learn together, and then the Rebbe goes home to his family. In a camp setting, the student sees how the Rebbe interacts with his family. They see his children and wife and they get to know him as a whole person. They see a life of Torah and what it really means to live a life of Torah. Camp Yeshiva of Staten Island has continued Rav Moshe zt”l’s vision of bringing together bochrim and families to learn upstate, but now they’ve added swimming and ball playing, as well!
The Yeshiva began renting properties to house the camp for the first ten years of its existence. Beginning with a property called the Lakewood House, they rented a motel style campus with a large main building. They then rented another property for three years in Ulster Heights. The time came to find another location, and hashgacha pratis led them to their current location in Kerhonkson.
They rented the property for a few years, but when the owners were looking to sell, the Yeshiva jumped at the opportunity to purchase the property for a minimal price. The Yeshiva gladly bought the property and the original Beis Medrash was used for forty five plus years.
The Rosh Yeshiva, Hagaon Harav Reuven Shlit’a realized that it was time to rebuild the Camp Beis Medrash and give the bochrim a modern place to study Torah. In the old Beis Medrash, there weren’t enough classrooms for all the shiurim that were happening. Shiurim happened all over the campus in whatever empty space could be found. The new Bais Medrash will have enough rooms to house all the shiurim under one roof. Additionally, there will be a beautiful Ezras Nashim which did not exist in the old Beis Medrash.
At the end of last summer, the old Beis Medrash was torn down and half of the dining room was temporarily converted into a Beis Medrash while construction was underway. Unfortunately, when COVID-19 struck, many of the promised funds could no longer be accessed, and the construction was halted. The shell is complete, but the interior is empty. The new Beis Medrash sits unusable and waits for the $500,000 in donations still needed in order to complete construction.
It’s a known fact that bochrim that learn in the Yeshiva of Staten Island don’t use shtenders. I asked the Rosh Yeshiva why this is so and he explained that Rav Moshe zt’l felt that if you sit back with shtenders, you’re not learning at full capacity, and if you don’t learn at full capacity, it’s Bitul Torah. Rav Moshe zt”l encouraged the students to sit at the front of the chair, which is not very comfortable, so that when they got into the sugya, they would feel alert and eventually forget about the discomfort. Rav Moshe zt’l felt that this was the best way to learn and this practice continues today.
After discussing the history of the camp and the Beis Medrash, the Rosh Yeshiva and I discussed numerous topics. One of the topics I asked the Rosh Yeshiva about was going into the Nine Days what issue Klal Yisrael should be focusing on during this sorrowful time. The Rosh Yeshiva said the following: “The Corona virus began to impact us right after Purim. Adar and Nissan are months of Geulah and during these months of Geula, we were forced to close our yeshivos and shuls all over the world. Why would this happen during the months of Geula? What is Hakodesh Baruch Hu trying to tell us? We see with Purim that even though the gezeira was against all of klal Yisrael, Mordechai came to Esther and said, “Kol Asher Karahu- All that happened to him.” In other words, if all of us in Klal Yisrael didn’t deserve it, it wouldn’t have happened. We learn in Parshas Balak that Hashem took the curses of Bilaam and turned them into brachos. He said “Mah Tovu Ohelecha Yaakov- How good are the tents of Yaakov.” Rav Yochanan says that this was saying that the homes of the Jewish people are so good. Their doors don’t even face each other because they’re so tzanua.
In another place Rav Yochanan argues with his first idea and he says that from this bracha we see what Bilaam really wanted to say. He wanted to say, “ Close your shuls and close your yeshivas.” This doesn’t sound like a bracha to me! The Rosh HaYeshiva, Reb Moshe zt’l says that Reb Yochanan meant that our houses are good enough. Why do you need your yeshivas and shuls if your houses are so good? And that’s what the Ribono Shel Olam did. He closed our yeshivas and shuls. Obviously there are tainas against us and each one of us has the responsibility to figure out what we need to do in order to do teshuva and this clearly has something to do with davening and learning. All of us have to think about what we need to do as individuals with our davening and learning.
We hold that 6000 years will be the end of this world as we know it and Mashiach will come. Mashiach and tichias hamasim must take place before; that’s only 220 years away! We need to be ready for him and for the geulah. We need to believe in Hakadosh Baruch Hu in a real and relatable way. We need to be ready and right now we’re not. We need to be somech on Hakodesh Baruch Hu in a real way. We go to doctors when we’re sick, but we need to realize that Hashem brought it to us and He will get rid of it. We need to really rely on Hashem and I believe that is what Hakodesh Baruch Hu is trying to show us.
We have been zoche over the last 200 years to see kibbutz galios. America is the only country that has such a large Jewish population outside of Eretz Yisrael. Slowly Jews are being pushed out of all the other countries and it may come one day that the same thing will happen here. Wherever we get too comfortable, Hakodesh Baruch Hu eventually kicks us out. “Tka Bshofar Gadol’ in Shmonei Esrei is for the nidche, the stragglers. We should daven during the Nine Days that the Beis Hamikdash should be rebuilt and that we shouldn’t have hatred against us, such as with the PLO. And if there’s going to be a great war, at least we will be in our own land with our people.”
It became very clear to me during the course of this interview how vital it is for the yeshiva to be able to continue building its Beis Medrash at Camp Yeshiva of Staten Island in the Catskills. Like the Rosh Yeshiva said, we have been closed for so many months because of COVID-19 and it is imperative that our learning improves and that we grow both communally and as individuals. Without the necessary funds that unfortunately the Yeshiva has been unable to collect during the pandemic, a beautiful building that can inspire so much Torah learning will remain unusable and wasted.
$500,000 is still needed to make this dream a reality.
The building has been dedicated in memory of the Rosh Yeshiva’s Rebbetzin, Shelia (Chava Sara), and the Beis Medrash has been dedicated in memory of the Menahel, Rav Gershon Weiss zt”l, who was niftar this past year. Other dedication opportunities are also available.
CHECKS CAN BE MADE OUT TO:
YESHIVA OF STATEN ISLAND BEIS MEDRASH
118 BLOOMINGDALE ROAD STATEN ISLAND, NY 10309
PHONE NUMBER: 917-946-2974
YOU CAN ALSO DONATE ONLINE THROUGH THE CHESED FUND AT: