BJH: I’m here today with Rabbi Raphael Schochet of Torah Institute of Baltimore, or “TI” as we all know it. Rabbi Shochet, welcome to the interview!
R’ Shochet: Great to be here!
BJH: OK, let’s get right to it. I understand you moved to Baltimore recently, is that correct?
R’ Shochet: Yes, I had the privilege to join the staff of TI at the beginning of this year. I had learned in Baltimore for almost 20 years before moving to Providence, Rhode Island. My family has been in Baltimore for over 100 years and my grandfather’s grandfather, Harav Avraham Nachman Schwartz, was the chief rabbi of Baltimore and founder of TA, the first day school outside of New York.
BJH: What’s your role in TI?
R’ Shochet: The title they have given me is CEO. What that means is that all matters outside of the classroom are my responsibility – from building management to parent relations, fundraising to snow removal, and strategic planning to office management; it all falls under my purview. It also means I spend time worrying about the great problem of where we will put all of the students in the coming year.
BJH: And did you have any connection with TI before this?
R. Shochet: I was a parent here many years ago. In addition to that, my grandmother recently told me an interesting anecdote. Rav Sternhell, TI’s founder, first arrived in Baltimore in 1951, and a delegation of baal habatim soon came to see him. They promptly presented him with a check for $350 and said “Please go back where you came from. There’s no room for your type here!” When my grandfather zt”l, a local Rav then, and Rav Dinovitz, another rav in town, heard this, they rushed to see Rav Sternhell and assured him he would have everything he needed in Baltimore.
BJH: And is that how TI got its start?
R’ Shochet: I believe so. Rav Sternhell was dedicated to rebuilding what was lost during the holocaust. When he saw there was no cheder with the intense Torah study and Yiddish teaching of the alter heim, he was determined to bring that flavor back. He had just 10 talmidim, and he called the cheder “Shearis Hapleitah,” a truly fitting title. From that point on, the cheder grew. As American-born parents became the norm, the need grew for more English-spoken classes and a robust secular education. TI moved into their current building in 2001. The name had become Torah Institute – also known as Yeshivas Kochav Yitzchak, after Rav Sternhell. We continue to carry on his legacy.
BJH: And how does TI do that?
R’ Shochet: We have over 800 talmidim today, each with his own strengths and personality. We show each talmid what he can accomplish in learning, and show him he can be a talmid chacham. Of course, we personalize things; every child is different. Aside from the standard learning, we have specialized tutors, special education classes, a drop-in helping center, and guidance counselors. The whole staff is amazing; I’m truly blessed to work alongside them.
BJH: We must mention the recent passing of Rabbi Juravel, zt’l. We all know his wonderful reputation, but can you tell us something specific about him as a rebbi?
R’ Shochet: Rabbi Juravel had a special way of connecting with each of his talmidim. He sent home an amazing parsha packet each week – each boy felt his entire Shabbos table could be about what interested him. Rabbi Juravel would include not only a quick vort, but also riddles for those that like riddles, stories, gematrias and facts for boys who enjoy those. He brought hands-on experiences to the classroom such planting as esrog trees with the boys or helping them do melicha on meat. Each year, he viewed his class as the best group of boys he’d ever taught.
BJH: I understand TI is launching a major fundraising campaign, is that right?
R’ Shochet: Yes, that’s right. We don’t turn away anyone who is interested in our flavor of chinuch.. We provide whatever our talmidim need,from financial aid to educational enrichment.This means that aside from general costs, we have many other extra needs as I mentioned earlier. Altogether, our annual budget is over $8 million.
BJH: Oh wow! I had no idea! But I guess when I think about it for a second, that makes a lot of sense, given the size of TI.
R’ Shochet: Right – and we are continuously expanding and improving so there is always some new innovation that we are adding in order to enhance our school.. It is a really big z’chus to be a part of TI.
BJH: 100%! Bli neder, I’m in. How much are you trying to raise with this campaign, and when will it take place?
R’ Shochet: We’re aiming to raise $500,000 on May 21st – 22nd, Rosh Chodesh Sivan.
BJH: Amazing! Thank you so much for speaking with us today. We wish you tremendous hatzlacha with TI in general and on this campaign specifically.
R’ Shochet: Amen!