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Several years ago, this magazine featured a cover story on the trail-blazing Gemaralearning program for mesivta boys called Vhaarev Na. Founded and led by the indefatigable Rabbi Dovid Newman, it already then had spread around the country. By now, it has wrought a revolution.
Like some of the greatest innovators, Reb Dovid didn’t really discover anything new, but rediscovered the tried and true. An experienced mechanech, he realized that the approach of trying to get boys to learn through external incentives, whether positive or negative, doesn’t really work for many talmidim.
And so, he simply went back to the fundamentals of what can truly motivate a young man and enable him to taste the geshmak of Torah: success through mastery of whatever he learns. He decided to get rid of the distracting externals and stand back and allow the Torah itself to work its wonders, to have the incentive come from within the heart of the talmid rather than from without.
The program’s motto says it all: “Chazarah, chazara, chazarah. And then? Chazarah!” In essence, Reb Dovid decided to take Chazal at their word when they say in too many places to count that only ongoing review of, and the resulting clarity in, one’s learning brings success and enjoyment. He developed a system to excite rebbeim and talmidim alike with the concept, and with his trademark passion introduced it into countless mesivtos nationwide. Later on, he extended the idea to the world of balabatim, through a second successful program, called Kinyan Masechta.
But Reb Dovid has a problem: He doesn’t really know what it means to rest. Several years ago, at a bar mitzvah in Monsey, New York, the boy’s father (full disclosure: my brother-in-law) told the assembled guests about how much his son had gained when their neighbor Rabbi Newman motivated him to learn and review a masechta numerous times for his bar mitzvah. He suggested that they might want to speak to Reb Dovid about doing the same with their sons.
That Motzaei Shabbos, the phone didn’t stop ringing in the Newman home — and thus was born Bonai Chavivai, a program modeled along the lines of Vhaarev Na, but designed for bar mitzvah-age boys who do their chazarah outside the regular school hours. Recently, I got to see what has become of this program in these few short years, joining my son-in-law and grandson who traveled from Ohio to Monsey to participate with many hundreds of fathers and sons in a Bonai Chavivai grand siyum.
And I got to see all over again what one individual can accomplish through passion and siyata d’Shmaya.
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