Finding brotherhood at PTI

Finding brotherhood at PTI

Passaic Torah Institute draws more students since October 7

This is what community learning looks like at PTI. (Photos by Alex Levy)
This is what community learning looks like at PTI. (Photos by Alex Levy)

A recent Jerusalem Post survey found that 33% of Israelis reported a strengthened faith in God since the October 7 massacre by Hamas and the subsequent war in Gaza.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to Israel. A survey of 211 Chabad rabbis found 86% reported increased synagogue and program attendance since the Hamas attack, and 98.6% reported seeing an increase “in personal practice related to Jewish traditions and observances among community members.”

The administrators of Yeshiva Ner Baruch Passaic Torah Institute (PTI) can attest that religious awakening and religious seeking are happening locally as well.

Since October 7, the Orthodox community yeshiva has seen an influx of new 20- and 30-somethings, necessitating plans for a larger building.

PTI offers four weekly classes for women.

PTI was founded by Rabbi Shlomo Singer about 40 years ago, in his dining room, with the belief that “every Jew belongs in a yeshiva.”

“We pitch Torah at a very high level, but make it accessible no matter what your background,” Rabbi Singer said. “There are dozens of programs for men and women and multiple levels of day and night classes, from beginner to advanced.”

When the number of students outgrew his home, he moved PTI to its current location in a renovated house at 441 Passaic Avenue.

Over the course of a typical week, the gender-separate classes attract participants ranging in age from their 20s to 80s, from Passaic, Bergen, and Essex counties, according to Rabbi Singer’s son-in-law, associate rosh yeshiva Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim.

Dovid Brunov, right, and Dr. Mark Guelfgu, left, learn halacha with Rabbi Elimelech Rosenberg, whose back is to the camera.

“We offer a place where someone can grow in their learning, whatever level they are at,” Rabbi Bodenheim said.

“A lot of people who come to us started learning later in life and want to engage in quality, in-depth study, not just listening to a lecture but being an active participant. We give them that framework in a welcoming, warm environment where people feel accepted, and no one is judged. This is unique in our area.”

One of the newcomers driving this influx is Ben Rand, 32, who returned to New Jersey in August after a year and a half of study at the Orthodox outreach yeshiva Aish Hatorah in Jerusalem. He says his studies there were inspired by his family’s longtime rabbi, Benjamin Yudin, in Fair Lawn.

“When I came back from Aish HaTorah, I was looking for a place to continue studying, and my rabbi from Aish suggested this place in Passaic,” Mr. Rand said.

Shimon Vinnick, left, and Gabe Adams, right, learn with Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim at the Thursday night young professional initiative.

“So I come to PTI, and Rabbi Bodenheim said he knew my Uncle Alon and my father, Marnin Rand. My uncle learned with Rabbi Singer for more than 10 years before returning to Israel. My family has been developing real estate in Newark for 30 years, and Rabbi Bodenheim told me that my uncle and father did serious construction on PTI’s current building. It made me feel comfortable knowing they had been there.”

His arrival at PTI, he said, was “a match made in heaven, because Rabbi Bodenheim was getting ready to grow the yeshiva, and I had a large network of secular Jews I was in touch with. I suggested a Young Professionals initiative. We were waiting for the right time to launch it. It was the October 7 attack in Israel that pushed everything forward.”

The Young Professionals program kicked off on November 3 and meets every Thursday night from 8:15 to 9:45 for a hot buffet, conversation, one-on-one and guided group learning, and a musical kumsitz — all at no charge. Mr. Rand has a pool of about 35 men signed up, with more than 15 attending each week.

There’s also a Sunday morning Young Professionals breakfast at 9, followed by a one-hour Talmud class, and the program recently sponsored two Shabbatons.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva.

Mr. Rand is working actively to form a parallel group for women. Meanwhile, on February 4, a lecture at PTI by Aish HaTorah educator Rabbi Dov Ber Cohen drew 130 men and women.

“I personally was looking for a place to study Torah and find brotherhood, and I found it at PTI,” Mr. Rand said. “And since October 7, everyone is looking for a sense of unity and brotherhood because it feels like you’re getting attacked. Clearly there is a need, and PTI was able to answer it. It seems like Torah is the answer.”

Rabbi Bodenheim agrees. “It’s an upside-down world where bad is seen as good, and good is seen as bad,” he said. “Yeshivas are a haven of sanity, and the Torah is the one place of truth.”

The yeshiva’s faculty offers classes seven days a week, morning and evening, in addition to Zoom classes for distance learners and Sabbath events headlined by scholars in residence; the most recent was Rabbi Nachman Seltzer, the author of 48 books including “Angels in Orange” and “90 Seconds.”

Every Thursday night, PTI’s Young Professionals program ends with a musical kumsitz.

Currently, four weekly classes are offered in the women’s division, Ateres Bracha Neve-PTI, mostly taught by women.

“Come in and we’ll find a shiur that fits your background, interest, and schedule,” Rabbi Bodenheim said. The full schedule for both genders is online at

The only class on PTI’s roster that is not free is the Continuing Jewish Education course taught by Goldie Cohen, which costs $20 per class. Scholarships are available for anyone who cannot afford that fee.

“The yeshiva is supported by donations and sponsorships by those who benefit from it, in addition to those in the community and in the North Jersey region who recognize the tremendous value and opportunities we offer,” Rabbi Bodenheim said.

In response to the increase in enrollment, PTI is fundraising to construct an approximately 20,000-square-foot building.

For more information, email Rabbi Bodenheim at or call him at (862) 371-3186.

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