It was an evening of appreciation all around. More than 100 JNet volunteers gathered at the Jewish Children’s Museum on Sunday night for an event in their honor that featured a welcome by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, a keynote address by Rabbi Levke Kaplan, and a delectable dinner.
As they enjoyed sushi and a hot buffet in the elegantly lit room, dozens of volunteers stopped for video interviews to voice their appreciation for JNet and reveal the gains from their involvement in the program. “I look forward all week to speaking with my chavrusa,” one guest said. “My weekly JNet session has enriched my own personal learning,” said another. “I love being involved in shlichus from Crown Heights,” they all enthused.
JNet – the Jewish Learning Network – was launched eight years ago by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch with the aim of making personalized Torah learning available to everyone, everywhere, at every level. Volunteers are matched with chavrusas and learn the topic of their choice once a week on the phone or Skype. Under the direction of Rabbi Yehuda Dukes, JNet has grown to include thousands of chavrusas learning every week and has expanded to online courses, learning campaigns, and a “JNet en Espanol” branch that has more than 220 chavrusas learning in Spanish every week.
The evening’s program opened with a video of the Rebbe speaking of the shlichus that every Jew is entrusted with – that of spreading Torah and mitzvos – and the level of devotion that it entails.
“When the shliach is dedicated fully to his mission, he is indeed one with the Rebbe, but there are two halves here,” the Rebbe said. “The shliach’s part is crucial. The shliach… must devote himself as much as humanly possible.”
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Chairman of JNet, praised the volunteers for that level of devotion they show to JNet and warmly blessed them to see the fruits of their efforts. Such fruits were very apparent as Rabbi Dukes described the impact that JNet volunteers have had on the people they study with.
“A young man who had drifted away from his Modern Orthodox upbringing was set up with a JNet chavrusa, but lost touch after only one conversation,” Rabbi Dukes said. “I called him to ask if there had been a problem – perhaps he hadn’t connected well with the chavrusa? The young man told me that actually, since that conversation with his chavrusa – that one conversation! – he had started to once again put on tefillin every day.”
Amongst other anecdotes, Rabbi Dukes described a Jewish rice farmer in Thailand who learned to read Alef Bais and a 65-year old man who celebrated his bar mitzvah after learning his Haftora with his JNet chavrusa.
“You may not realize how much of an effect you have, since you don’t actually see your chavrusa in person,” he said, “but every conversation can make a difference in their life.”
The event’s keynote speaker Rabbi Levke Kaplan, a veteran educator and himself a JNet volunteer, spoke candidly of having felt lost as a young bochur in yeshiva. “One night I was walking through the Zal, and a bochur was sitting by himself and learning,” he related. “The bochur looked at me and said, ‘Come, learn with me.’ That evening began a three-year long partnership of nightly learning, and remains to this day my most treasured memory of Yeshiva. When the bochur left Yeshiva, it was then my turn to find a young bochur and tell him, ‘Come, learn with me.’ And that chavrusa continued for three years as well.”
“I’ve found that when someone truly has a love of learning, it’s almost always been sparked by someone else,” Rabbi Kaplan said. “It’s up to us to transmit that love to others.”
The crowd listened intently and many took notes as Rabbi Kaplan shared practical tips on how to get the most out of learning sessions. Cards on the tables displayed highlighted points of the Rabbi’s speech, titled “Five Ways to Enhance Your Chavrusa Experience”.
Rabbi Dukes thanked his hardworking team, JNet’s women’s coordinator Mushkie Shemtov and Spanish coordinator Rabbi Chai Kohan, as well as Chava Namdar who coordinated the evening.
As the guests left, they received a parting gift from JNet – the book “Seeds of Wisdom”, a collection of short stories and encounters with the Rebbe.
“To our volunteers,” the in leaf read. “A token of appreciation for your dedication to this Shlichus.”
Visit www.JNet.org to sign up as a volunteer today. JNet is a division of Merkos L’Ionyonei Chinuch and was established with a generous grant from the Rohr Foundation.