It started around 1′ years ago as a small gathering of only a few people in the dining room of Rabbi Shlomo Singer’s Passaic home. About six years ago, it outgrew his dining room, living room, basement, and garage, respectively. Since then, the Yeshiva Passaic Torah Institute has called 441 Passaic Ave. its home.
Rabbi Shlomo Singer raises the Yeshiva Passaic Torah Institute’s new Torah at a gathering celebrating its acquisition. photo courtesy of YPTI
"I told my wife, who’s a real estate agent, and then we got this beautiful building," said Singer, the current head of the yeshiva. Barry Stein, the institute’s executive director, estimates that approximately ’00 local residents view it as a home themselves and come to learn when their schedules permit.
The organization functions both as a synagogue and a yeshiva and caters to everyone’s schedule; no matter what hours a person’s job requires, there is always a compatible time to learn in the Institute.
"We have classes morning, noon, and night," said Singer.
"It’s an anomaly in a way. There’s really nothing quite like it. It’s for working people," said Stein. "Although it’s a shul, people come at different times to learn there. I don’t know of any other program that’s open like that."
The organization is meant for families and has learning programs for men, women, and children. "Women, children, teenagers, collegiates we’ve got to cater to every possible need that will make a Jewish family happy. You can’t ignore anybody," Singer firmly believes. The organization has several classes for women who want to learn at all levels.
"We have a special women’s learning group. That’s just as important as the men. We do have classes for women and we’re going to build more. My dream is to have one of the real good places for women here like they have in Israel. It’s still not as good as the ones in Israel, but that’s my dream," said Singer.
And women take an active role; the yeshiva recently flew in Sima Spetner, an authority on chinuch habonim, the education of children, from Israel to give shiurs which, said Singer, are so packed that an application process is necessary.
While it also functions as a synagogue, it isn’t one in the traditional sense, Singer stresses.
"The distinction between a yeshiva and a synagogue is this: A yeshiva is focused on the in-depth study of God’s oral law. The yeshiva has services with it, it has the same as a synagogue, but it’s basically based on the learning," he said. "What we do is have young men, lawyers, doctors, CPAs, and they just became involved and didn’t know about bagels and lox or anything, and lo and behold they got involved and came to love it. It’s open to every Jew, it’s the atmosphere that really makes it go."
Another part of the program that both Stein and Singer enjoy is the variety of people who come to learn.
"When you go to certain organizations, you always see birds of the same feather. Here, you don’t. There are so many people from so many different walks of life. There are so many different people and yet everyone gets along," said Stein.
Upon leaving his yeshiva after studying under Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rav Aharon Kutler, Singer had no intention of becoming a rabbi and instead wanted to be a cantor.
"When I entered the real world, I saw the difficulties our brothers and sisters had relating to the Torah," he said. "I noticed that many of our wonderful Jewish brothers and sisters were left alone without any exposure to what Torah is really about. There’s a lot of assimilation and intermarriage. They didn’t have a connection to Torah."
And that connection that the Institute has tried to create has inspired some students to give back to the organization.
Recently, Bill Herman donated a brand-new sefer Torah from Israel to the institute in honor of his father, George Herman.
"George is 86, and Bill was sad because he thought he missed his second bar mitzvah," which some men choose to have when they are 83, "but I said, ‘There’s no such thing, he can still have a bar mitzvah.’ But he was bedridden and didn’t want to hear about it, so we said, ‘Let’s get him a sefer Torah.’ And Bill gave the money right out for the Torah. He didn’t blink an eye. He wrote the check and said, ‘Take it and go.’ When we got the Torah, I printed out a beautiful brochure about it, and when George saw that brochure, his eyes lit up and said, ‘I want a wheelchair, I want to be there.’ It was worth it alone to get him out of that depression," said Singer.
This is the first new Torah the institute has ever had. Because brand-new sefer Torahs, especially from Israel, are so expensive, the organization had been able to buy only second-hand Torahs.
Such a special occasion as getting a new sefer Torah deserves a celebration. And what a celebration it was, according to Singer.
It was held on May ‘8, Memorial Day. "We had live music, the police came and blocked the streets for us, and we had a big float with a crown. It was an amazing thing. We had the top great leaders of Israel there. We had the mayor and the New Jersey assemblymen there, too," he said. "It was one of the most amazing events in the history of Passaic and this area."
Stein and Singer hope that celebrating the new Torah is just one of many simchas and new beginnings for the institute.
"It’s a fantastic organization. That’s the way Judaism should be, no matter what flavor you are," he said.