The start of the 2021/5782 school year saw the inauguration of the first two classes at The Queens Cheder in Forest Hills. What began as a mere dream for a Sephardic community desperately seeking a higher Judaic educational standard for their youngsters quickly turned to reality over a few short weeks. The unique institution will follow the strictest of Sephardic standards and radiate as a beacon of Torah education in New York while living in the eye of the Sephardic sages of yesteryear and being a pride for Queens Jewry.
The Cheder Moshe Raya Mehamina, housed in the upper tier of the Queens Jewish Center, was founded to raise the bar and bring a robust and professional approach to chinuch to Queens. Under the leadership of its menahel, Rabbi Meir Chaim Gutfreund, the yeshivah, now in its infancy with only one preschool and one kindergarten class, has a bright outlook. In 1993, Rabbi Gutfreund established the widely popular Brooklyn affiliate and opened its doors with only 50 children. Today, that Cheder boasts well over 800 young men spanning elementary school to beis midrash. There is also an extremely popular branch in Lakewood, New Jersey. Rabbi Gutfreund follows the teachings of HaGaon HaRav Eliezer Menachem Schach zt”l, the longtime Rosh HaYeshivah of the Ponevezh yeshivah in Bnei Brak and will continue his hands-on approach here in Queens.
“I do not see 25 talmidim here,” said Rabbi Gutfreund at the yeshivah’s orientation. “I see in front of my eyes a thousand talmidim. The yeshivah is expected to grow. This will be something beautiful in the years to come.”
The Queens Cheder has been widely endorsed by the rabbinic leadership of Queens and by g’dolei Yisrael, including HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky. In a video statement, Rav Kamenetsky noted that the neighborhood will see wonderful change. “The yeshivah will raise the entire area and b’nei Torah will come.” The rav then penned a letter of commendation for the success of the yeshivah. The Kaliver Rebbe echoed these words with his own letter testifying to the future achievements of the school.
The Queens Cheder will continue its tactic of taking great pride in guiding each enrolled student with uncanny individualized attention that ensures that no child is ever left behind. Working alongside the educators, Morah Sarah Finkel in pre-K and Morah Bas Sheva in kindergarten, the students will find this specialized attention aglow.
“As parents, we spend time working and educating our children and keeping them away from the dangers of society,” said Rabbi Raphael Zavalunov, a parent and rav of Congregation Ohr HaTorah of Queens, at the orientation. “As parents, we must give our children a proper Jewish education that is free from non-kosher influences.” The rav explained that often we desire to give back to Hashem; we must remember that Hashem gave us our children.”
“You see the Sh’chinah on these kids,” remarked Reb Moshe Grunhut, a modest Williamsburg askan and businessman who has taken on the plight of the Bukharian community personally. Reb Grunhut, a board member of the yeshivah, was involved in every step of The Queens Cheder’s founding. “Hashem wanted this yeshivah to transpire,” concluded his message to the parents.
At an event held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Nati Elishayev a few weeks prior, potential parents gathered for words of encouragement by Rabbi Yitzchok Bistritzky, founder of Mikvah USA, Reb Grunhut, Rabbi Gutfreund, Rabbi Rephael Zavulunov, Rabbi Shalom Katz, a decorated executive of Rabbi Gutfreund’s, and Mr. Reuvan Yusupov.
Mr. Yusupov, together with the devotion of his brother Nissan, undertook much of the financial burden of the yeshivah and received its naming rights in memory of their beloved parents Moshe and Raya Yusupov. At the reception, Mr. Yusupov related, “Hodu LaShem Ki Tov, that Hashem opened up the doors to Queens to have this hatzlachah that from Queens children will come teenagers, fathers, and grandfathers who are b’nei Torah and able to raise their children with yir’at Shamayim.” Overcome by the gravity of the establishment of the yeshivah, Mr. Yusupov added, “We do not understand what is happening in Queens right now.” He went on to explain that we are creating much more than any other Torah institution. “Look at it that we are building generations and generations of scholars.”
The Cheder follows a top-rated path of blending timeless chinuch techniques with approaches that reach deep into today’s youth and keep their parents fully engaged in their child’s upbringing and educational process, including the use of Machane Kadosh filters on wireless devices in the child’s home.
Nerya Yakubov, a Bukharian talmid who joined The Cheder 20 years ago, said at the reception, “I am filled with hakaras ha’tov when I think back on my elementary school years and reflect on such good years with great, happy ruach. I was given the tools and strength to become a successful person today.” Regarding the mentors of The Cheder, Yakubov mentioned that his rebbeim were able to ascertain the strengths of each boy highlighting his uniqueness. “Nobody was just another one in the crowd.”
The notion for the yeshivah was orchestrated in a few short weeks due to the unity, excitement, and achdus of the community rabbanim. A board of directors of Brooklyn-based philanthropists was formulated under the guidance and direction of Rabbi Naftali Rosenbaum, a dedicated askan, grandson of the saintly Kaliver Rebbe shlita, and son of the revered Mosholu Rebbe shlita. Rabbi Rosenbaum worked tirelessly to ensure that each student can excel in a smooth, enjoyable environment that fosters success. He was assisted by Rabbi Azarya Pinkhasov, another parent and local rabbi, who ensured an easy opening day. The board consists of Reb Simcha Alishayev, Reb Moshe Grunhut, Rabbi Lazer Kestenbaum, Reb Menachem Gershon Liebowitz, Reb Shimon Yisrael Perlmutter, Reb Shaul Shmiel Srulovitz, Reb Reuven Wolf, and Reb Reuven Yusupov.
By Shabsie Saphirstein