Elul 2011/5771
...behind us we felt it was time for everyone to begin
catching up. I personally through my travels have the
opportunity to stay in touch with some, and I find
myself repeating the same stories to all of you so this
update is a way to share.
From year 6 until present there is a pretty core group
of guys that live near each other and who get together
regularly for Shabbatot, shurim, and just to hang out.
Rav Sheftel and myself see them in Queens, NY and at
weddings at a fairly regular basis. But here is an entire
world of older Talmidim, that are married with
growing families. They helped build the Yeshiva in its
early years. They
spent just as much
time at the Yeshiva
and in our homes
and remain in our
hearts. They are less
in touch, with each
other, the Yeshiva,
and certainly the
newer Talmidm. In
the hope that you
are all as interested
in knowing each
other as much as I
am we have put
together what we
hope will be the
first volume of a
regular series
chronicling the
stories of our
Ultimately that is
the story of
Derech Etz
Chaim. The Shas
Siyumim (latest by Uri Herzberg year 3) Phd’s (Mazal tov to
Dov Finman year 2,3) and and all the other interesting things
that you have to share.
BJ who has observed the Yeshiva since year 3 either as a
Talmid or neighbor has taken on the task of coordinating the
articles and your participation and feedback will only improve
and continue to produce these newsletters.
Please send him your feedback at [email protected]
Aharon Ka!
A lot has changed in Derech Etz Chaim
since its inception, yet much has
stayed the same. Reb Mendel Horowitz
can still be found joining the Yeshiva on
many Tiyulim (now with older children
participating), Rav Sheftel Weinberg
can still be seen doing dorm “wakeup” (if a fire hose is handy), Rav Moshe
Eliyahu Rosenbaum can still be heard
rocking with his Shana Bet Shiur
(occasionally at El Gaucho’s All-YouCan-Eat), and Rabbi Katz’s door can
still be found open to Talmidim at all
hours of the night. Joining the Yeshiva
cast in recent years are Rav Yonasan
Cohen and Rav Shmuel Kornfeld who
have both become a major draw for
new and returning Talmidim.
Additionally, Rav Kornfeld has been
giving a Shiur in Rav Yochanan Zweig’s
yeshiva in Miami for two consecutive
summers which draws many past and
present Talmidim.
The other major change was the
Yeshiva’s move in 2008 from Rechov
Ibn Dnan 4 all the way to Rechov
Ibn Dnan 12. The new building has
12 rooms which can sleep 39, a
Madrich suite, bathrooms off
almost every room, a beautiful
back porch, and two enormous
upstairs porches. Most dramatic of
all, the Beis Medrash and dining
room both offer sweeping views of
the Jerusalem Forest and
mountains through floor to ceiling
windows running the length of the
I was asked to write an update of what I
have been up to since leaving DEC 10
years ago (wow, that’s a long time).
After spending 2.5 years at DEC (Years
2-4), I moved to Merrick, New York to
learn at Yeshivat Torah Mitzion (A”H)
while attending classes at Touro College
at night (Flatbush, not Landers). I then
moved to Queens, finished undergrad
with a BA in Psychology, and began a
Masters Program in Social Work. In my
last year of graduate school I met my wife
Shira, got married, and as soon as I
finished the program we moved to
Baltimore. Neither of us could wait to
get out of New York. I began working at
Jewish Community Services in Baltimore
and specialized in assisting adults with
developmental disabilities. After 3.5 years
in that position I began a new position
this past June at Johns Hopkins Bayview
Medical Center, working as a clinical
social worker with Adults with disabilities
in the Community Psychiatry
Department. I have a two year old son
named Akiva and another one on the
way, IMY”H. I still sing Kah Echsof, Kah
Ribon and Shoshanas Yaakov as often as I
can (and Chad Gadya of course …
Thanks, Ben [Year 1-2]). I have not
succeeded in finding a Chavrusa who
cracked me up the way Nosson Sobel
(Years 2-4) did. My fondest memories
are the Shalush Seudos and Purim Seudos
at Rav Sheftel’s as well as Matzah Baking.
But I do have a vague memory of dangling
off a cliff on a Tiyul with Dov Ber
Medinets (Year 2-3) and I feel the need to
mention Toby Mintz (Year 4) sleeping in
the refrigerator box, Eric Adelman (Years
3-4) in the blue lagoon, and Cheech (our
dog). I also still crack up about the night
of the Super Bowl when we met the
“REAL” DuDu. In a nut shell, I am doing
well and actually enjoyed writing this
article - it feels good to reminisce. I hope
everyone else is doing well. Wishing
everyone the best!
Dani (with an O) Berliant
Years 2-4
Enrollment next year is the highest
ever with 47 Talmidim: 21 Shana Alef,
18 Shana Bet, and 8 Shana Gimel (and
beyond). This year will see the return
of the fabled Yeshiva apartment which
will add an extra dimension of
excitement to the new year. We
encourage all alumni to consider
visiting throughout the year.
Some personal info first: I was Year 4 at DEC, in 2001-2002.
Nothing much interesting happened until March 2011, when I
married Michal Yablong. She is going into her final year of
college at Northwestern, and I am beginning my last year of
law school at Penn. We'll be moving back and forth between
Philadelphia and Chicago for the next year while we both
finish school. I'm working for a law firm in New York for the
summer, and hope to return there after I graduate.
It's been 11 years since
Moshe Kasser (Years
1-3), my senior colleague
at Ben Yehuda Pizza in
Silver Spring, impressed
upon me what a great
yeshiva he went to. I'd
never heard of the place,
but I was game to hear
more. And, next month,
it will be ten years since I
got off the bus from the
airport, two giant duffel
bags and a steamer trunk
in tow, and met Rabbi
Katz for the first time on
the sidewalk outside 4
Ibn Dnan. It truly feels
like yesterday.
Unlike most of my peers at DEC, and as far as I know, most
of its talmidim these days, I was a one-and-done. I didn't stay
shana bet, and didn't change my plans and go to Y.U.; if
Lander existed at the time, it wasn't on my radar. Instead, I
went off to secular college, and spent no more time in yeshiva
after that year.
So, I'm really grateful not only for all the friends I've kept
from DEC, but for how much the institution and its alumni
have retained a sense of family. Rabbi and Mrs. Katz are
always happy to talk, even though there have been hundreds
of other alumni in the interim, and they always make time to
get together when they're in the U.S. At reunions,
shabbatonim, the banquet, and weddings, I always enjoy not
only seeing my friends from DEC, but catching up with casual
acquaintances or meeting more recent students. The DEC
connection means that people have each other's backs, a
phenomenon that probably wouldn't exist at a larger yeshiva.
To illustrate that point, this is a great opportunity to thank the
DEC people who've helped me out over the years:
I spent about a year before law school traveling around the
country, and was hosted by Leib (Years 3-4) and Yona
Zalesch in Denver (multiple times), Eric (Years 3-4) and
Malka Adelman in Atlanta
(multiple times), Yoni
(Years 4 and 5) and
Davida Graber, also in
Atlanta, Jon (Years 2-4)
and Shoshanna Weinberg
in Savannah, Ari (Years
4-5) and Rachie Gold in
Houston, Micah (Year 4)
and Erica Zimmerman in
San Francisco, Micah's
Uncle Dan in New
Orleans and Aunt Aimee
and Uncle Jerome in
Colorado Springs, and
Sam Calabrese's (Year 5)
parents in Columbus.
Moshe (Years 1-3) and
Shira Kasser and Reuven
(Years 4-5) and Meira Burkom
in Baltimore/Silver Spring always had an open door, and of
course Yoli Margolese (Years 5-7) regularly had tons of guys
over in Lakewood. Richard Silverman (Year 3) gave me advice
about law school, Uri Herzberg (Year 3) filled me in about his
firm, and David Manheim (Years 5-8( spent a day loading a
moving truck, and dragged his wife to Chicago for our
wedding. And this summer, when we temporarily moved to
New York, Aaron Roller (Year 4) and Shira Rosenbaum and
Aaron (Year 4) and Arielle Paine went out of their way to
have us for shabbos more times than we deserved. Thanks
everyone! Looking forward to the next ten years.
Jacob “Chuck” Boyars
Year 4
Since leaving yeshiva in 2001, I learned in various yeshivas- MTJ, Skokie,
Silver Spring, and eventually joined the Kollel in Phoenix, AZ. Along the way
I completed an MA and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and received
Semichah from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg in Isur v’Heter. In the years
after DEC, I completed Maseches Shabbos, Gitin, Kidushin, Sotah, Megilah
and Makos, and I am currently working on completing Shulchan Aruch. At
this point I’ve completed Orach Chaim and I’m almost finished with Yoreh
De’ah, after which I will begin Choshen Mishpat. My Limud is Mechaber,
Rema, and Nosei Keilim as needed.
I’m currently living in Far Rockaway, NY, with my wife Chaya, and our two
children Simcha and Atara. I am a professor of psychology at Adelphi
University, as well as a night seder rebbi in a new program for Balei Teshuva
at Shor Yoshuv. I also see people for therapy at Ohel’s Tikvah clinic.
The time I spent at DEC was invaluable. The Hadrachah and support, as well
as the personal care and concern that I received from Rabbi Katz and all of
the rebbeim, is something that I am extremely grateful
for. I keep in touch with Rabbi Katz, mostly through email. Since I’ve been
out in Phoenix I haven’t seen Rav Sheftel or Rav Moshe Eliyahu when they
visited the U.S., but I look forward to seeing more of our rebbeim now
that I am back in New York.
Dov Finman
Year 2-3
One of the things that sets DEC, and DEC
alumni, apart, is the emphasis on being able
to learn and think independently. Examples of
this are a Beki’us Shiur that teaches you how
to read Gemara (if you can read Kidushin,
you can read Shas) and an Iyun Shiur that
teaches you how to think like a Rishon (not
just know what they say). At DEC, I didn’t
just go to Israel to learn for a couple of years.
I learned how to learn in a couple of years.
This independence from needing a Shiur in
order to learn has enabled me to continue to learn while
completing my undergraduate and doctorate degree in
Materials Science and Engineering, and continues to enable me
to learn as I work for the Food and Drug Administration
reviewing orthopedic devices. This approach to learning and life
is a refreshing change from the ever-present philosophy of
Kollel or bust, i.e. the belief that either one is learning full-time,
or working full-time, with attending a Daf Yomi Shiur being the
only thing in between. When I made a Siyum on Seder Moed
(Gemara) last summer, the Rav of the community commented
to me that this is the only Gemara Siyum he has been to that
resulted from prolonged independent study not related to a
Daf Yomi Shiur.
This is an unfortunate reality;
that there seems to be a lack of
professionals that are Bnei
Torah, that many think this is an
either/or kind of thing. It’s not,
but it takes the right combination
of factors: a supportive wife, a
job/commute with a reasonable
work/life balance, and the skills
and drive to learn independently.
This last factor is crucial, as life’s
unexpected twists and turns often make it impractical to
consistently attend a Shiur or learn with a Chavrusah. I thank
DEC for supplying me with the required skills and drive (they
also played no small role in finding a supportive wife), and wish
all alumni Hatzlachah as they pursue their goals, both religious
and academic. I recently started Maseches Zevachim and
continue to plug away at Shas at about a Daf a day. I only have
8 more Masechtos (Sotah, Nazir, Nedarim, Bava Basra,
Menachos, Krisos, Temurah, and Me’ilah) left until I start the
cycle again. Although I may not always have a Chavrusah, I
know that I won’t be studying alone.
Moshe Kasser
Years 1-3
If there is one thing I can most thank
Derech Etz Chaim for, it is the gift of
clarity. Looking back, I see myself at
eighteen as a passionate but rudderless
young man, sure that I wanted to make
some sort of difference but unsure of
what that meant - and even less sure how
to do it. I had been the one-eyed king in
the land of the blind, needing to be cast
down before I could begin to grow in
meaningful ways. In messages implicit and
explicit, I learned from my Rebbeim
during my first year in Yeshiva that I was
not everything I had thought or been told
I was. Those messages were as important
for my development as plowing earth is
success. Speaking with a brilliant high
to the prosperity of future plants - if no
school freshman last year, I heard myself
less apparent or appreciated at the time.
say things I was told in my first year of
DEC and that I wish I had heard years
That was the story of my first year in
before that: that he should only accept his
Yeshiva: the clearing away of old, rocky
soil before planting can even begin. By my own standard of greatness; not to expect
less of himself simply on account of the
second year, the first seeds could be
level of those around him; that all real
planted, still with careful attention and
accomplishments are designed to push
constant watchful observation by those
one toward the next, greater one. He
around me and, increasingly, by myself.
took the message to heart, voluntarily
Clarity could begin to replace
clairvoyance; the arrogant self-assurance adding to his learning regimen and
choosing a tough summer Kollel
of the young man who had first entered
across the country, one in which
Yeshiva began to give way to a careful
self-confidence and measured pride in the he knew he would be a guppy
occasional true accomplishment - a good and not the king fish. That
conversation took place
day of learning, a sharp insight, a Siyum.
as much between myself
Now there was the realization that all
and that student as it did
accomplishments are only worthwhile if
they remind one that he could have done between me at age twenty-nine
and me at age eighteen. He felt the
so much more by now if he had only
worked harder - and that now is the best hurt that I sometimes felt during my
first year in DEC, not ready to hear what
time to do just that.
I was being told about accepting only true
accomplishments, about measuring
Today I have the enormous privilege of
teaching middle and high school students myself only against myself, about
shredding high school "requirements" in
of my own in Denver. It is a job I thank
lieu of charting a true and honest growth
Hashem for every day, and one I would
trajectory irrespective of what anyone
not trade for anything. I try to tend my
else might say.
students with the same care that I was
shown when I first began to learn in
Derech Etz Chaim, and I try to steer my DEC started me on a Derech in learning
charges toward a more mature notion of and in many of the most important life
what real accomplishment is, so that they decisions I would make over the next
several years. More importantly, those
do not fall into the trap of accepting a
decisions were not a result of being
least-common-denominator measure of
dictated to by my Rebbeim, but rather of
the empowerment of those Rebbeim to
make healthy, clear decisions using a
template for self-betterment that only I
could create. Rabbi Katz often told us
that the true success of one's time in
Yeshiva is what one does afterwards.
Leaving Yeshiva to subsist on one's own is
always hard, and leaving DEC was no
exception - but I learned to trust the
decision-making mechanism placed in me
during my time in DEC. I chose Yeshiva
University - not my Rebbeim's choice
for me - and stuck it out through
Semichah, also earning a Master's
in Jewish Education.
Ironically, despite my
Rabbeim's lack of enthusiasm
for my choice to attend YU, it
was their faith in my ability to trust
myself that allowed me to make it
through my YU years, including two
more years in Israel at YU's Gruss Kollel,
before landing in Denver with my wife
and, ka”h, two beautiful children. When I
look into their sweet little eyes, I want so
much for them - spiritual success,
material contentment, health, happiness.
But perhaps most profoundly, it is the gift
of clarity that I hope most to give them,
an inheritance from my time at DEC.
Leib Zalesch
Years 3-4
Though guys had been playing football together (without great
results) for a few years, in Year 6 the Yeshiva decided to sponsor
the team, resting our name and reputation on our AFI
(American Football in Israel) football team. It created
tremendous Yeshiva pride and brought us to the playoffs in Year
7. Mayer Weisel (Years 6-8) took our involvement to a whole
new level by filming the games and posting them to the DEC
football blog. In 2008 the Yeshiva attracted (read: recruited)
some serious athletes and returned to the upper tier playoffs
culminating in winning the 2009 Holyland Bowl league
It had surprised the league and the Yeshiva world that our small
Yeshiva could pull off such a big win. Over the last three years
DEC has been a dominating force in the league returning to the
Championship last year (you have to follow the blog to see what
happened) and has developed a reputation as the “football
yeshiva” (though we still learn Bekius in the afternoon - we
don’t practice, as many suspect!). We have high hopes again
this season with most of the team returning. You can follow all
the action at www.decfootball.com
I want to write this article partially about
myself and what I’ve been up to and
partially about the experience of living in
Israel. (Obviously the reasons people in
general, and even DEC alumni, choose to
live in Israel are extremely varied, but I’d
like to mention some ideas I’ve come
across along the way.)
learning b’Chavrusa with
Rabbi Katz every morning, I
decided it was time to move
on. Shani and I are now
living in Bet Shemesh where
I work in the wholesale
department of Green Smoke
Inc., an electronic cigarette manufacturer
(just Google it).
If you live in Israel
but believe it’s
reasonable to live
in America, you’ll
eventually find
yourself back in
America. But if you take life here for
what it is and not what your projections
After completing two official years in
DEC (Years 3-4) I enrolled in Yeshiva
Over the years I’ve often wondered why make it, you’ll find a connection that runs
University and completed one year there. I was so unhappy living in America, why I deeper than you ever thought possible.
Life lived here is meaningful in and of
I was extremely unhappy about leaving
feel that Israel is the right place for me,
itself. It can't be compromised on. The
Israel and attending college in the States, and what it takes to build a life here. I
smallest actions take on a meaning that
so the following
believe that what I’m about to
they never had outside. Something as
year I enrolled
describe is felt at some level by
simple as getting on to a bus is not a
in the
all who choose to live in Israel
even if, on a daily basis, they can’t convenience, it's a fundamental choice.
Am I here in the face of hardship,
program at
express it this way. It’s
terrorism, peer and parental pressure?
Machon Lev, a
impossible to live in Israel for
Am I committed to Eretz Yisrael without
quantitative reasons. Ideas like
any need to make excuses for it? Then I
college in
the job market is better, the
begin to scratch the surface of a true
Jerusalem. In
schools are better or cheaper,
connection to the land and to life itself.
2005 I married
there are more Jews here or
Every choice we make here is a
Shani Richter
better communities, etc. will not
after an amazing Purim Meshulash with
hold up over time. Any connection to the commitment to Chaim, every breath we
take is in the context of the Eretz
the entire Yeshiva celebrating at the
land which is dependent on transient
wedding. In 2008 my son Yoni was born
factors is not a real connection. Life here ha’Chaim, and every step we take is on
the Derech Etz ha'Chaim.
and B”H we’re now expecting our
must be and is meant to be as different
second. After 6 years of living just down
from Chutz la'Aretz as one can possibly
BJ Mermelstein
the road from Yeshiva, and 4 years
Years 3-4
Remember the days when you were
asked your occupation and you got to
check off ‘student’? When you got a $2
discount at the movies and you had to
stay up all night drinking Mountain Dew
because you procrastinated writing that
paper? I miss those days.
We’re all very familiar with life as a
student. As each year passes, we are led
to believe that our grades matter more
and more. We are told that with each
passing semester, our education is more
essential and the curriculum more
important. And that as we
reach closer to
adulthood, the people
we will become, our
very essence, hangs
on every test and popquiz we are given.
back from lunch at Burger King (not even
the Rabbanut one)?
I am constantly faced with the challenge
of having to be better than I am. I have to
be the type of person who can model a
lifestyle of Torah and Mitzvos, yet
somehow ‘keep it real’ with immature
high school boys. This is where my days
as a student pay dividends. It turns out I
had a lot of guidance in school. Much of it
came from my parents, and I had a lot
from my Rebbeim in high school too. But
there is something about the Rebbeim in
For me, all of these
things have become
true ever since I
stopped checking off
‘student’ and started
checking off ‘teacher’.
Since receiving my
Masters in Jewish
Education from Azrieli
Graduate School, I
have been caught in a
whirlwind unlike
anything I’ve ever
known. All of a
sudden, everything I
do matters.
After getting married
in ‘07, I found my way
back to Houston,
Texas, where I grew up,
and my old alma mater was nice enough
to offer me my first full-time teaching job.
There is nothing like teaching; everyone
should try it just so they can empathize
with their kids’ teachers. Every year the
community’s expectations of me grow
exponentially. With each new semester,
the Chumash I teach to my 6th graders
has to grab them in a new way, and the
Gemara in Bava Metzia has to jump off
the daf and into my 8th graders’ lives.
How do you make Hilchos Shabbos
appealing to 11th graders who just came
Derech Etz Chaim that
particularly found its way
into how I try to educate
my students. It is an
authentic mixture of
excitement, love, and
importance placed on what we’re doing.
It is no coincidence that before Yom
Kippur last year, I gave my own version of
Rav Sheftel’s “Submarine Shiur” to my
students, and before Purim I related to
my 6th graders a discussion I had with Reb
Mendel about why the Mitzvah of
Zechiras Amalek is fulfilled by reading
Parshas Zachor. I teach Chumash based
on advice from Rabbi Katz and Gemara
the way I learned it in his Shiur for two
But aside from content, what I try most
to give over to my students is what I was
given as a student: the excitement of
learning and how important it is in life. I
often think back to Rav Gittleman’s
Hasmada and Betzalel Gersten’s broad
range of Halachic knowledge. How did
these great people become who they
are? As a teacher, I always need to
consider what
makes people
great and how
to put students
on that path.
Last year I
became a
father and it
became clear
that I needed
to answer all
the questions I
ask myself as a
because pretty
soon I’m going
to need to put
my own kids on
that path
What’s the
best way to
teach good
Midos? How
should I
model the
life of a Ben
Torah to my
son? What
kind of
Chesed can I
do for my
wife? My parents? My friends?
As I get older and deeper into life’s path, I
find more answers from experiences with
the great people I came across as a
Ari Kellerman
Years 4 and 8
Editor’s Note:
My name is Yanky Statman and I attended
DEC from 1999-2001 (Years 2 and 3). Typing
that sentence made me feel really old. It feels
like just yesterday that I was boarding a plane
to Israel for the first time, simultaneously
excited and anxious about what my one year (I
thought at the time) would bring.
After my second year in DEC, I attended Yeshiva in Silver Spring, Maryland. I
met my wife there and today we have two very above-average sons. After
Yeshiva in Silver Spring, I moved back to Baltimore and attended law school.
Today, I live in Baltimore and have been practicing labor and employment
litigation for almost six years.
My years in DEC were truly life altering - - in a good way. It is there that I met
many of the people whom I consider to be my best friends. Though I left Israel
more than ten years ago, I remain in constant touch with many of these people.
(read: not only through Facebook). One of the less than pleasant aspects of
my job is that I frequently travel. I have managed to turn this negative part of
the job into a positive, however, in that I have been able to visit friends that I
might not otherwise see in cities like Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City, NY/NJ, etc.
I feel truly grateful to have been a Talmid in DEC. Other than the death-march
Tiyul of 2000, I have nothing but warm memories of my time spent there. The
Nigunim I learned are sung at my Shabbos and Yom Tov table with regularity
and I try to implement the Hashkafic and Halachic life lessons I was taught by
my Rebbeim on a daily basis. I can say with certainty that attending DEC truly
shaped who I am today. This newsletter, the first in a series, was
made possible with the help of several
alumni who gave of their time to put their
thoughts down on paper. I sincerely thank
them and look forward to seeing even more
participation in future editions (albeit with
slightly less nudging needed on my part).
For the upcoming issue we’d still like to
keep the focus on Years 1-5 so please let
me know if you’re interested in sharing your
experiences with your fellow alumni. You
can contact me directly at
[email protected] To continue to
follow the growth and achievements of our
Yeshiva, visit at http://www.facebook.com/
DerechEtzChaim . I enjoyed being able to
reconnect with so many of you and look
forward to putting together our next issue.
BJ Mermelstein 8/11/11
Yanky Statman
Derech Etz Chaim
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