HACHAM OVADIA YOSEF 5681-5774 / 1920-2013

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Yeshivat Shaare Torah High School is excited to announce the appointment of Rabbi David Sutton as the new Menahel of Shaare Torah Boys High School.  Rabbi Sutton has a world renowned reputation for Torah Scholarship and Rabbinic leadership in our community.  As Rabbi of the Yad Yosef Torah Center of Avenue J together with Rabbi David Ozeri, he has developed Torah learning programs for community members and college aged youth while also serving as the spiritual leader of his thriving congregation.

Rabbi, can you please explain to our readers why they should consider sending their children to Yeshivat Shaare Torah
High School? 

Shaare Torah is a serious makom Torahwhere boys can grow in a pure environment, absorbing proper Torah hashkafah. We customize our program to suit the talents and needs of each student because we know that one size does NOT fit all. We guide each student individually and provide all of them with the necessary tools to navigate the modern world.

After spending three successful years as the enrichment coordinator of Shaare Boys Elementary, which facet of education do you feel is the most significant in the development of students?

 The underlying success, in my opinion, is expressed in Rabbi Moshe Kuessous’ A’H final message to his brother, Rabbi Amram. He stressed that above all else, one needs to be a proper role model in order to properly influence others. Our religion is not meant to be a “do-it-yourself” program. Rather, we believe that “gadol shimushah yoter milemudah”– watching and witnessing Torah is more instructive than learning Torah. At Shaare elementary, the students have the zechut(privilege) to learn from outstanding rabbis, each one a true example of yirat Shamayim(fear of Heaven), ahavat Hashem(love of Gd) and devotion to Torah.

 In the boys high school, where the students walk in the shadow of the esteemed Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Hillel Haber, the strength of this teaching is even more keenly felt. His greatness manifests itself in all parts of the school and is a powerful influence on the rabbis and students. Just watching Rabbi Haber pray is a priceless lesson, one that the boys benefit from every day. It is these experiences and interactions that will produce boys filled with love and awe of Hashem.

Shaare Boys Elementary has enjoyed a nearly 30 percent increase in enrollment since you joined the staff just three years ago. To what do you attribute this astounding growth?

 When I joined the staff, I approached Mrs. Shelia Feinstein, principal ofShaare Girls Elementary. I asked her what she felt was the key to the success of her division. Her answer? Working together as a team with the menahelet, Mrs. Yael Bussu, and their commitment to educating the whole child. 

I took that message and sought to build a strong partnership between myself and the menahel, Rabbi Amram Kuessous, and the general studies principal, Rabbi Shmuel Schwebel. What emerged was a true team, deeply committed to the success of each and every student.

In my new position as menahel of the boys’ high school, I feel honored to work under Rabbi Haber, who will be a tremendous guide for me. I also look forward to partnering with the consummate professional, Mr. Richard Altabe, who serves as headmaster. We share a similar educational approach and I’m excited to work together to bring the yeshivah to great heights.

Practically speaking, how do you plan to bring the successes of the primary and elementary grades to the more rigorous standards expected in high school?

 Before implementing any new programs at the elementary school,
I spent many hours speaking to leading Torah educators and researching the programs at the most successful yeshivot around. This analysis led me to highly acclaimed, skill-based curriculums for keriah, Humash and Mishnah. These were all introduced and met with astounding success in Shaare elementary.

I plan to do the same for Gemara studies in the boys’ high school, incorporating the extensive pedagogic materials created by the Rosh Yeshivah, as well as other skill-based techniques to enable the boys to become independent learners. As the saying goes, “If you give a man a fish, you give him a meal. If you teach him to fish, you feed him for life.”

How are your staff members able to implement so many unfamiliar programs?

 We believe strongly in staff development and invest time and money in training our staff members to successfully implement our curriculum. The rabbis took over 10 hours of training for the new keriahand Humash programs. Rabbi Schwebel also invests tremendous time and resources for literacy training. All this is above the standard staff development, and I must say from experience that it is invaluable. I remember years back when I was a rookie rebbe straight out of kollel, feeling so inexperienced and unprepared for the challenges of the classroom. At Shaare, we are careful to ensure that no staff member feels this way, by providing necessary support. This ongoing development can be compared to a doctor who constantly goes to new seminars to keep abreast of the latest research. We feel that our students deserve the very best and therefore keep our staff members at the cutting edge. 

At the boys high school, our rabbis have spent the past two years studying pedagogic techniques under the guidance of renowned educator Rabbi Hillel Mandel. Our secular studies teachers have been undergoing training in the use of technology in the classroom as part of our three-year NY State technology grant. The teachers are specifically learning how to integrate iPads into the regular classrooms, replacing the outdated notion that students need to learn computers as a separate subject.

 What is the yeshivah’s view on college attendance after graduation?

 Higher education can be the means to a positive end in that it serves the necessary purpose of learning the skills to earn a livelihood. Practically speaking, this means that we will encourage our college-bound graduates to focus on core curriculum and the most applicable elective courses. Additionally, experience has always proven to be the best teacher. In days of old, apprenticeship was the most valuable tool in acquiring a profession. Therefore, we will encourage and assist our graduates to intern in the fields of their choice when they begin their college careers.

 That being said, we will always first encourage our graduates to spend at least one year learning Torah in Israel before pursuing their college careers. The purest form of Torah living is found in Eretz Yisrael, and therefore the merit of studying there cannot be underestimated. It fosters tremendous personal growth and maturation. The exposure to the idealism of those that live in Israel makes an impression that lasts a lifetime and cannot be duplicated in America.

I personally gained so much from the years I lived in Israel, having forged precious connections with Torah giants such as Hacham Bension Abba Shaul zt”land ybl”hHacham Yehuda Ades, shelita. Coincidentally, the first year that I arrived in Israel was also Rabbi Hillel Haber’s last year before returning to America. I had the privilege of having a meal in his home at that time. How amazing it is that over 30 years later, we are together again working to build Torah in our community!

 What extracurricular programs are available to the high school boys?

Our students are actively involved in competitive sports and are known throughout the yeshivot in the metro area for their spirit and leadership. Last year, in cooperation with Mesivta Ateres Yakov in Long Island, we initiated the first ever Yeshiva Flag Football League. The league is growing rapidly, and the number of schools participating has doubled this year. The Shaare Stars Softball Team reached the Yeshiva League World Series the past two years and won its first ever championship in 2012 with a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 12th by Max Antar. We also feature a dynamic JV basketball team under the leadership of our coach, Moshe Soudry. 

Besides sports, Shaare Torah competes in the yeshivah-wide Torah Bowl league. Last year, our boys earned second place in our division. We also compete in several other yeshivah-wide activities, such as chess, Fed challenge, and debate.  

Shaare students excel in the area of hessed. Ourstudents volunteer at Masbia Soup Kitchen, local nursing homes and Eishel Shabbat, and since Hurricane Sandy brought Yeshiva Belle Harbor around the corner at East 13th St., we have organized a JHS basketball league once a week for their JHS boys. We havealso hosted students from Yachad, Ohel and Imagine Academy.

Any final words?

As with any endeavor, siyata d’shmaya (divine assistance) is needed to succeed. It says in Pirke Avot (chapter 2), “All those who work for the community should work for it for the sake of Heaven, for the merit and piety of their forefathers assists them.”
A prominent rabbi once told me that our community’s Torah growth is the result of zechut avot, the merits of our r forebears. Having done extensive research while compiling the book, Aleppo, City of Scholars, based on Rabbi David Laniado’s, L’ kedoshim Asher B’Aretz, I can attest that indeed, we are descendants of great Torah scholars and devout laymen. I am confident that the community will continue to grow and thrive, and that Shaare Torah will continue to be a driving force of that growth, in the merit of our great ancestors.