Thanksgiving is over, the turkey and leftovers have been eaten, and 24 men from Stamford, Connecticut, with accompanying guests from New York, New Jersey and California, will be leaving motzei Shabbat for their eagerly-awaited bi-annual MALT (Men’s Adult Learning Trip) excursion to Israel.
Organized for the first time in 1998 by Rabbi Tzvi Bernstein, dean of the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy of Connecticut, the trip was designed for community members to experience Torah learning in an Israeli yeshiva environment for a one week period, followed by an inspirational Shabbat experience. For many on the trip, this would be an opportunity to recapture the wonderful atmosphere of gap year learning in Israel. For others, it would be the opportunity to experience the excitement of learning in Eretz Yisrael for the first time.
Why the MALT acronym? The first MALT trip was designed to conclude with a two day trip to Glasgow to tour a few single malt scotch distilleries and sample the offerings. Due to flight logistics, the trip to Glasgow didn’t materialize, but the trip remained known as MALT—“A Learning Program—With Kiddush!”
Rabbi Daniel Cohen, senior rabbi of Congregation Agudath Sholom, is looking forward to joining MALT for his sixth trip to Israel. He calls the trip a “safari of Jewish learning,” where men choose to take a week off from their careers and businesses and immerse themselves in Torah learning. It’s “Torah in action,” added Rabbi Cohen. “With most participants of the trip belonging to Congregation Agudath Sholom, the trip provides the opportunity not only for learning together, but socializing and bonding with other members of the shul who may be new acquaintances.”
Rabbi Cohen commented on the tremendous kavod to be given to the people who join the trip. They are ready to “turn off” their everyday commitments to immerse themselves in the study of Torah. “If we can maintain our Jewish values and ideals and continue to grow and rejuvenate our Judaism in the best place (Yerushalayim) that this can happen, it becomes a rewarding experience for everyone who attends,” he explained.
Partnering with Ohr Torah Stone in Israel and working with David Katz, international director of the institute, each trip begins with a concept which is brought to reality by the capable and dedicated commitment Katz brings to the program. In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, the theme of this year’s learning trip will be devoted to exploring Rav Kook’s philosophy and his unique vision of reality which led him to embrace Zionism in the 20s and 30s, as well as his views on science, art and creativity, and his approach to secular Israelis. Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik as Modern Orthodox thinkers and leaders will also be addressed.
MALT 2018 will include studying at Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) Israel Henry Beren Campus in Efrat, with shiurim given by Torah scholars such as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, OTS founder, chancellor emeritus and rosh yeshiva; Rabbi Kenneth Brander, president and rosh yeshiva, OTS; Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair, MALT 2018 scholar-in-residence; Rav David Samson, founder and rosh yeshiva, Yerushalayim Torah Academy; and other inspiring luminaries. Walking tours will be led by Rabbi Benjie Levine, grandson of Reb Aryeh Levin, z’tl (“The Tzaddik of Jerusalem”), in addition to other guides. A private meeting with Rav Aryeh Stern, chief rabbi of Jerusalem, has been arranged as well as a meeting with Rav Yaakov Shapiro, rosh yeshiva, Merkaz HaRav.
A spirit-filled shabbaton will conclude the week of learning at the Beit Maimon Hotel in Zichron Yaakov. The group will tour the Aliya Museum in Zichron Yaakov and, of course, a tour of the winery is a must! Shabbat will be celebrated with delicious food and zemirot, and the Friday night tish will feature a classically robust MALT kiddush. The Stamford group is looking forward to reconnecting with Rabbi David Walk, who was the education director at Congregation Agudath Sholom for more than a dozen years before he returned to Israel last year.
This is the 11th MALT experience for Rabbi Bernstein, who explained that “there is a moment on each trip, often unplanned or unexpected, which is amazingly moving and inspirational. It could be a particular speaker who brings us all to tears, or a location where something unique occurs.” Rabbi Bernstein described his very first journey with MALT when “we ate dinner as a group in an apartment overlooking the Kotel. Late at night we looked down on the Kotel plaza and saw it was entirely empty except for one soldier praying at the wall. None of us had ever seen the Kotel plaza empty before. On an impulse, we threw open the apartment door, ran down to the plaza and began dancing while singing zemirot. For the next few minutes, while the Kotel belonged just to us, and when the soldier joined us to dance, we all cried tears of pure joy and ruchniut (spirituality).”
It will be interesting to follow up with these dedicated Torah travelers to find out the meaningful and poignant instances of this year’s MALT experience in Israel. Further, it may be that in the works is a WALTZ trip—a program for women to experience a similar learning experience in Israel. This is something the Stamford community is eagerly awaiting.
By Yvette Finkelstein