Andrew Israeli ’13YC ’15A ’17R and Michael Hoenig ’14R ’15A Bring Passion for Torah to Local High Schools
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and the Yeshiva University community will celebrate the ordination of more than 130 musmachim [ordained rabbis] at its Chag HaSemikhah Convocation on March 19, 2017. While most will remain engaged in either full-time post-semicha Torah study or religious work—Jewish education, the pulpit, outreach or non-profit work—many will pursue careers in other professions, including medicine and law.
In the weeks leading up to the celebration, YU News will introduce you to several of these remarkable musmachim.
It’s no accident that Andrew Israeli and Michael Hoenig, two new rabbis who will be celebrating their semicha [ordination] at the March 19 Chag HaSemikhah of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), find themselves back in the classroom; from a young age, both were driven to teach Torah and inspire others.
“I want to spread a love of Torah, a love of ruchniut [spirituality], a love of Hashem and mitzvot our beautiful tradition and heritage, and to help my students in their everyday lives by empowering them to feel good about themselves as people and being a good role model for them,” said Hoenig, who is a rebbe and chessed coordinator at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Israeli, a rebbe at Yeshivat Frisch in Paramus, New Jersey, felt richly impacted by the Judaic studies teachers in his own life and wanted to pay it forward. “I have had exposure to many rabbeim over the course of my life and have really been influenced by them and want nothing more than to have that same influence on my students,” he said.
To accomplish that, Israeli knew he had to immerse himself in intensive, full-time Torah study. RIETS was the perfect place to do it. “As an undergraduate in Yeshiva College, I had met many of the rabbeim and continued those relationships into semicha and beyond,” said Israeli. “I also knew that I wanted to learn in Eretz Yisrael, and the Gruss Kollel on the YU Israel campus was a perfect place for me to continue my learning while spending time in Yerushalayim. The friends that I made in the beit midrash over the years were also unparalleled. To spend time with guys who were extremely motivated and motivating was such a crucial factor in my time at RIETS, which really pushed me to take advantage of everything it had to offer.”
What RIETS offered was more than just high-level textual Judaic studies and close mentorship from roshei yeshiva—it was preparation for every aspect of Jewish communal leadership. “I chose to study at RIETS because it was the most well-rounded program, with incredible rebbeim and world-class talmedei chachamim [Torah scholars] who have tremendous love for Torah and an outlook on life that teaches you how to be a kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name] in the world,” said Hoenig. “YU semicha is the whole picture, not only in terms of the learning but also in terms of fully preparing you for all the responsibilities you face as an educator or rabbi. If you take advantage of this program, you’re ready to go, energized, inspired.”
For Hoenig and Israeli, the close relationships they were able to build with rabbeim at RIETS has been especially important to their careers as mechanchim [educators]. “There are rebbeim I speak to all the time for my own family and students,” said Hoenig. “Rabbi Koenigsburg, Rav Simon, Rav Sobolofsky—they’re lifelines in every sense of the word. The advice they give me, I pass on to my students. They taught me how to live, give advice, be a thinking person, a calculated person. Life is tough, and that’s why I think the rebbeim at RIETS are an incredible compass and pulse on how to behave.”
“As an undergrad I spent six semesters learning with Rav Koeningsberg,” said Israeli. “As I continued into semicha, I went to learn in the Gruss Kollel where I spent two full years learning with Rabbi Dovid Miller and Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh. I also had the zechut [merit] to develop very close relationships with Rabbi Schachter, Rabbi Twersky and Rabbi Sobolofsky throughout my six summers in the NCSY Kollel.”
The two also benefited from the diversity of their fellow musmachim. “There’s such a range of hashkafot [philosophies] and personalities in the program, and that’s also a beautiful thing,” said Hoenig. “It’s incredible how RIETS accommodates a wide range of philosophies and everyone walks out equipped to serve their own communities. I don’t think you could find that anywhere else in the world.”
In addition to their rabbinic training, Hoenig and Israeli sought out the most advanced teaching techniques and knowledge in Jewish education as they earned their masters degrees at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. “Dr. Pelcovitz in particular was unbelievable—his advice, wisdom and the Jewish values he brought to his course were incredible, and the teaching modeled by Dr. Ilana Turetsky was very eye-opening and informative,” said Hoenig.
Armed with that holistic preparation, mentorship and deep familiarity with Torah studies, Hoenig and Israeli have both quickly become beloved at their schools—and the feeling is mutual.
“Being in chinuch, I find my days to be overflowing with meaning,” said Israeli. “I have the ability to sit one-on-one with students and engage and analyze texts that I remember sitting one-on-one with my rabbeim and learning. We have the ability to pass on the mesorah [tradition] in an authentic and genuine way. When I look at my rabbeim and what they have been able to accomplish with their talmidim [students], I am immediately impacted and feel a responsibility to push myself to be the best rebbe I could be.”
Hoenig and Israeli are joined by many other accomplished RIETS musmachim making an impact at yeshiva day schools and high schools around the world, including YU’s own Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy/Yeshiva University High School for Boys. To watch the Chag HaSemikhah live, visit yu.edu/chag/.