Naftali Herc Beit Midrash
Under the vibrant leadership of Rav Dudi and Rebbetzin Chani Winkler and a group of four charismatic and energetic post-Hesder bachurim from Israel, the Naftali Herc Beit Midrash is a silver platter offering members of the Mizrachi kehilla and the wider Jewish community the opportunity to enhance their Torah knowledge. Whether it be one-on-one chevrutot or a group shiur; beginners or advanced learners; men or women; young or not so young; through textual or hands-on learning – there are endless opportunities to enjoy the buzz that permeates the Beit Midrash on a daily basis.
The schedule of over fourteen weekly shiurim on topics such as Parashat HaShavua, Halachic Dilemmas, Israel and Jewish Philosophy, provides a range of learning options to men and women of all ages and levels. Shiurim are delivered by Rav Dudi Winkler, Rebbetzin Chani Winkler, the post-Hesder bachurim and regular guest speakers.
This one-on-one learning experience provides people with the opportunity to learn particular topics of interest in depth, either amongst themselves or with any one of the Beit Midrash staff on a topic of their choice and at a time that suits their individual schedules.
Every Thursday night over twenty youth gather for an evening of song, words of Torah and a hearty Israeli-style meal of pita and chummus.
The post-Hesder bachurim host seuda shlishit in their home every Shabbat afternoon, where over thirty youth gather to enjoy refreshments and spend the last hours of Shabbat in song.
At the conclusion of Shabbat, the post-Hesder bachurim lead a musical havdala in the Beit Midrash, enjoyed by the many young people who attend.
Every Sunday morning the post-Hesder bachurim are joined by high school students for shacharit followed by a hearty bagel breakfast and refreshing words of Torah.
The Origins of Kollel Torah Mitzion, Melbourne
By the early ‘nineties, the concept of spending the year after finishing High School, in Israel on a study program offered by Bnei Akiva or other groups had become well entrenched in the Mizrachi community. The year was seen as having a profound effect on the youngsters who participated. However it had become apparent that it was difficult to keep the enthusiasm and the commitment alive after returning to Melbourne, because of the distractions of tertiary study, providing leadership to Bnei Akiva and, most critically, the lack of a venue which provided the atmosphere, the ruach, the hashkafah, similar to that enjoyed by the students in Israel.
All returning students were encouraged to continue their learning, but the discontinuity between the Israeli experience and what was available here, made this very difficult. There was nothing for our girls, because the institutions for young ladies already operating in Melbourne had very specific hashgafot attuned to their respective sponsoring communities. Our bogrot could not relate to this at all.
For the men, at first glance, the situation seemed much better. They were invited to learn in shiurim, chavrutot, by themselves, whatever, however and whenever it suited. But in practice, on too many occasions, our youngsters ended up in intense ideological debates about Zionism and other issues which resulted, for most people, but by no means all, in feeling alienated, and dropping out of those institutions, and for lack of an alternative place of learning, dropping out of learning altogether.
In 1992, a “Beit Midrash program” on Tuesday nights was convened by David Fisher and organised by Rabbis Dovid Nojowitz and Rabbi Shlomo Kimche assisted by Danny Wajnblum. Not long afterwards, the present premises became available and the Bet Midrash activities were located there.
Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick was then asked to take charge of the budding Bet Midrash. Rabbi Gutnick had moved from Doncaster around that time and joined Mizrachi as the Rav of the Elsternwick Kehilla and as the Rabbinic Administrator of Mizrachi Kashrut, as it was then.
The Bet Midrash was very low-key in those days. From time to time, public shiurim were held in the Bet Midrash, a few chavrutot were formed and some individuals learned there.
The Bet Midrash was named in memory of Reb Naftali Herc Gottlieb z”l who passed away on Shavuot, 1994. The late Mr Gottlieb had been a member of Mizrachi, Melbourne, since its inception and previously had been a member of pre-war Mizrachi in Europe. Reb Naftali Herc was completely devoted to Jewish learning and was an accomplished Talmid Chacham, who very rarely revealed the extent of his learning. Bet Midrash Naftali Herc was formally dedicated on 11 August 1996.
From 1992 to 1996, Danny Lamm served his first term as President of Melbourne Mizrachi. Towards the end of that period, Danny heard from his cousin Tommy Lamm in Israel about the establishment of a Kollel in Cape Town, South Africa, under the auspices of a new organisation called Torah MiTzion, established to promote, co-ordinate and provide personnel to communal kollelim around the world. Danny recognised this as the way forward for our Bet Midrash and began negotiations in Yerushalyim while selling the idea to Mizrachi in Melbourne.
In 1996, Warren Zauer took over as President of Melbourne Mizrachi, and he shared Danny’s view of the suitability of the Torah MiTzion concept for Melbourne. It was recognised that this new venture would be extremely expensive, so to help establish it, seed funding was sought and successfully obtained from the L A Pincus Jewish Education Fund for the Diaspora. This was a three year grant which was particularly helpful in the first years, although the extremely complicated paperwork demanded by the Fund’s managers, created a very heavy administrative burden on our Organisation.
There were a number of generous donors whose support enabled our Melbourne Kollel to commence and establish successfully, but special mention should be made of the Bachrach Foundation, which swung its support behind the Kollel immediately and whose support continues to this day. The far-sightedness of the Bachrach family, particularly the late Mrs Gini Bachrach a”h, and the Foundation Trustees, Mr Ben Slonim and Professor Louis Waller, in ensuring the financial stability of this great program, can never be adequately acknowledged.
The Melbourne branch of Torah MiTzion opened in 1998. It was the second branch to open in the world, and many more followed in succeeding years. Torah MiTzion’s world-wide success led to many difficulties, as providing so many bachurim and roshei kollel to service all the branches was a gigantic task. But that is another story.
Dr Peter Kloot
Life Member and Past Executive Director