Educational success has yeshiva running out of room

By R.M. Grossblatt

Over a dozen bicycles are parked on the porch of Yisrael Ohr Yisrael. That’s because most of the 44 high school boys live so close to the Toco Hills school that they can walk or bike.

Rabbi Naftali Estreicher, the 11th-grade rebbe and senior placement counselor, leads a class.

Rabbi Naftali Estreicher, the 11th-grade rebbe and senior placement counselor, leads a class.

More than just close in proximity, Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael, off Holly Lane, is close to the heart of a community that yearned for a traditional yeshiva in Atlanta for many years.

Before the founding of YOY, graduating eighth-grade boys had to leave home to attend a traditional yeshiva. That changed about 15 years ago when Dr. Robert Cohen, a pediatric allergist who lived in Atlanta before making aliyah, sought a boys yeshiva for his son Dani.

With the support of Paul Rodbell and under the direction of Rabbi Mayer Neuberger as the rosh yeshiva (dean), the yeshiva took its first step toward becoming a reality: In August 2001, the Ohr Yisrael Kollel was formed.

Five married young men, committed to studying full time, moved to Atlanta with their families. Their job was to prepare the eighth-graders at Torah Day School for the opening of YOY the following year.

In 2002, seven ninth-graders walked through the door of the yeshiva’s first home in the former Channel 46 building on Briarcliff Road. The members of the kollel remained three more years to help create the caring, vibrant environment that remains a defining attribute of the school.

One of those early kollel members, Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich, is beginning his second year as head of school. Rabbi Freundlich spent the previous eight years as the associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Jacob, a role he still holds part time.

“The strength of the school is its ability to be a community yeshiva focusing on the needs of individual students,” Rabbi Freundlich said. He added that the purpose is “to combine a traditional yeshiva schedule emphasizing Talmud and Judaic texts with the goal of creating lifelong independent learners, together with a rigorous college preparatory general studies program.”

Rabbi Shimon Wiggins, the general studies principal, teaches a ninth-grade Talmud class in the morning and directs the secular teachers and students in the afternoon. The curriculum includes core subjects such as math, science, English and history, as well as physical fitness, SAT prep and Jewish history. The school, accredited by the Georgia Accrediting Commission, also offers AP and online courses.

Seniors Naftali Mamane (left) and Yosef Levi Grossblatt study in the beis midrash.

Seniors Naftali Mamane (left) and Yosef Levi Grossblatt study in the beis midrash.

“This is an opportunity to help students grow,” Rabbi Wiggins said. They “get educational life skills they need for college and beyond.”

While many hours are dedicated each week to studying, the yeshiva emphasizes growth and maturity of the entire person. Promoting exercise, the yeshiva arranges for the boys to play basketball several nights a week at the Torah Day School gym and compete in baseball and basketball leagues.

In the area of community service, YOY has an active chesed club that helps build sukkahs around the community and reaches out to those with special needs by volunteering for the Friendship Circle.

The school arranges Shabbatons and started sending a delegation to New York to participate in a Model Beit Din (religious court) competition with other high schools. On its first trip last semester, Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael won third place.

“High school is a really great time,” Rabbi Neuberger said. “These are critical, defining years if you can create the right environment inspiring wholesomeness and tolerance.”

The yeshiva has experienced a growth spurt in recent years, nearly outgrowing its current location, Rabbi Neuberger said. “There is a lot to be thankful for,” he said, recognizing that “the growth of the yeshiva and the growth of the community reflect each other.”

At its annual fundraising dinner Sunday, Nov. 8, Ohr Yisrael is honoring community supporters Dr. Thomas and Judy Spira, whose three sons exemplify YOY’s graduates. Menachem, a member of the first graduating class in 2006, is in his third year of medical school at Albert Einstein School of Medicine. Avi, who graduated in 2008, is learning at Yeshiva Ner Israel in Baltimore and beginning law school. Graduating in 2010, Yaakov is learning at Ner Israel and in a joint program of Talmudic studies and premed.

Graduates may no longer ride bikes to school, but the paths they choose to travel in life will forever be influenced by their growing high school years at Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael.