Following their graduation from high school, most YU students spend a year in Israel studying at a yeshiva or seminary to immerse themselves in Jewish learning and Israeli culture. It is a year filled with introspection and growth, one where close friendships are formed and a sense of independence is instilled.
But for many students, this seminal experience is not possible because the tuition can average $25,000, making the cost prohibitive.
In May 2008, Marc Merrill ’05YUHS, ’10YC, originally from Jamaica Estates, NY, was a second-year student at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Israel when his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Boaz Mori, approached him and asked for his assistance in raising funds for a student whose parents could not meet the full cost of shana bet. Merrill was so successful – raising about $25,000 from reaching out to family and friends – that he decided to found a non-profit organization, Torah Letzion (TLZ), to help others in similar need.
TLZ is run out of Merrill’s house in Queens. Merrill recruited several friends to help, such as Daniel Sherman’06YUHS, ’11YC, his co-director, and Corey Fuchs, whose study partner during his second year at Yeshivat Sha’alvim benefitted from TLZ. 15-20 volunteers pitch in regularly with the work. Since May 2008, TLZ has raised over $300,000 in scholarship assistance for over 100 students wishing to attend yeshivas and seminaries in Israel. A scholarship ranges from $2,000-$4,500.
Dana, who was able to attend Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim thanks to TLZ, said, “I am so thankful to the sponsors of Torah LeTzion for the financial aid they have provided me with that has allowed this year to become a reality.”
And Josh, who went on to attend Lev HaTorah, said, “When I first received acceptance letters from yeshivot, I didn’t know if my goal to study in Israel would stay a dream or become a reality. With help from both Torah Letzion and Hashem, the dream came true.”
Merrill, who majored in History at YC and is currently a rabbinical student at RIETS, said, “Our typical workday features interviewing students, reviewing applications, and getting in touch with the high schools and Israel schools to learn more about each applicant’s financial status, as well as more about him or her on an individual basis. At the same time, we are also holding fundraising events and brainstorming ways to improve TLZ and reach out to more people.”
TLZ touches base with the recipients of the scholarships throughout the year to monitor their progress and asks them to keep a journal to chart their personal growth. “My time spent studying in Israel changed my life, and I want every person to have the same opportunity that I had,” said Merrill.
Some of the fundraisers they’ve sponsored so far include basketball tournaments, learning marathons, and the main event, an annual raffle run in conjunction with the YU Seforim Sale. This past year, that raffle alone raised close to $45,000.
To learn more, visit www.torahletzion.org.