Rabbi Yona Yaakov Lapidus

BJH: Rabbi Lapidus, you are young to be such a successful Menahel of a new, vibrant, growing Mesivta. I have been told that you possess the unique qualities of exuding stern authority, and yet, at the same time, you are exceptionally warm and approachable. A Shaarei Chaim parent said that the students revere, yet adore you. 

YYL: The truth is that the tremendous hatzlacha we have seen in our 2 ½ year old mosad comes, first and foremost, from incredible Siyata D’Shmaya. The next factor to which we attribute our success is our all-star team of mechanchim. The Rosh Mesivta, HaRav Daniel Wilhelm, was a talmid muvhak of HaRav Meir Soloveitchik, zt”l, the youngest son of the Brisker Rav, for 17 years. The depth and breadth of his knowledge in both Torah and chinuch inspires both the Rebbeim and talmidim. In addition, HaRav Wilhelm has the unique ability to meet a young talmid, quickly gauge his level of learning and capabilities, and immediately know what that talmid needs to maximize his kochos

BJH: What about your Rabbeim?

YYL: I can honestly say each one is a rare gem. HaRav Yisrael Meir Lebovits is already renown in the city for his trademark warmth and remarkable “koach hasbara”. His perceptive insights into the chinuch process adds to his exceptional ability to foster growth in every talmid. HaRav Avraham Yeshaya Rayman’s combination of chachma, exuberance and dedication makes him a role model not only for his shiur, but for all talmidim of the Mesivta. HaRav Aharon Jager teaches bekiyus, and masterfully combines erudition, geshmak and clarity to make him a beloved Rebbi.

BJH: What about your secular studies department? 

YYL: The general studies faculty at Shaarei Chaim, led by our extremely dedicated and capable principal, Rabbi Gershon Riselsheimer, has very high standards. Our faculty is comprised of Bnei Torah who are knowledgeable and competent so that they can be effective instructors and, at the same time, role models of “middos tovos” and “hashkafos yesharos”. We teach our talmidim that whatever they undertake, they have to do with dedication and a striving for excellence, and general studies is no exception. In terms of our curriculum, we follow the guidelines of the Maryland Department of Education.

BJH: This all sounds great, but when speaking about Shaarei Chaim, I’ve heard the adjectives, “warm, geshmak, enthusiastic, caring.” How do you fit these into a very full schedule of learning?

YYL: There is no contradiction here. Learning itself is geshmak; and a warm, geshmak environment creates fertile ground to facilitate satisfaction and learning well. There is a school-wide emphasis on positivity; our entire setting is non-pressured and wholesome – even while we strive for high standards. In addition, we have “chazara” programs with exciting incentives; a weekly, highly inspiring “shmooz”; and prominent guest speakers before Yomim Tovim. We also try to incorporate aspects which show our caring into the programming of the Mesivta. We pride ourselves on our large food budget to ensure delicious, yet high quality nourishment; we serve hot, homemade Friday afternoon potato kugel; as in the last 2 years, we just returned from a phenomenal Shabbos retreat with our staff and their families; last year, we had a spectacular summer getaway to create additional opportunities for the talmidim to further connect with Rabbeim and peers.

BJH: If you had to sum up the “mission statement” of Shaarei Chaim in just a sentence or two, what would it be? 

YYL: We want each of our talmidim to internalize the idea that becoming a true Ben Torah who can skillfully and enjoyably learn is a realistic goal for every bachur. We want them to understand that the true measure of someone’s greatness in learning is his clarity, knowing how to ask and answer properly. Can I add one more sentence?

BJH: Of course.

YLL: We want our talmidim to know that once we help them develop this clarity, they will not only have tremendous simcha in their learning, but in life itself. It will foster growth in all areas of their self-confidence and menshlichkeit.

BJH: You are having a Purim campaign March 5-6 to raise much needed funds for the Mesivta. What would you like our readers to know about it?

YLL: Someone once went to the Chazon Ish to ask about raising money to perpetuate the legacy of his recently departed parent. The Chazon Ish told him, “Take a fine, solid bachur and give him the skills and the desire to develop into a real Ben Torah. You will have doros to show for your investment.”  We would like our donors to know that our talmidim are already developing into fine Bnei Torah. On March 5-6, Mesivta Shaarei Chaim is having a campaign where we are offering unparallel opportunities for investments which will multiply exponentially. Please join us!

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