The Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study is not just a school, it’s a laser-like focus on preparing boys for an Orthodox Jewish life in a secular world.
Imagine more than a dozen young men leaning forward in a classroom, with fire in the eyes, making a Talmudic point to their teacher, Rabbi Avrohom Boruch Rauch – loudly. Meanwhile, down a corridor, in a study hall, a pair of teenage boys are having a different discussion with another rabbi – straining to keep their voices hushed as others study quietly.
Here, the passionate study of Torah is a constant. But this is not New York. This is not Europe. This is an Orthodox yeshiva on Lake Drive.
“They could be right. I could be right. It’s searching for the truth,” Rauch later explained. Through the excitement of the process, students acquire a love of studying Jewish texts, he said.
“This is the Talmud that was handed down over several thousand years,” said Rauch, who serves as a co-head of school, a Rosh Yeshiva. “It does connect us to our heritage, to our tradition, to the Torah which was given at Mount Sinai.”
WITS, as it’s typically called, was founded in the early 1980s by three rabbis – Raphael Wachsman, Moshe Dov Harris and Yehuda Cheplowitz. Wachsman lives in both Israel and Milwaukee now but remains very involved with the school, while Cheplowitz teaches and is co-head of school.
In 1984, WITS purchased a 1913 home – one that had been previously used as a convent – at 3288 N. Lake Drive. Today, the school has grown at that location from its initial enrollment of 11 boys, with 65 students in its high school program and 37 pursuing a 3-year bachelor’s of Talmudic learning.
Credits from the post-high school program have been accepted at other schools, like Marquette University and Columbia University in New York, according to Rabbi Dovid Brafman, director of development. Students have gone on to work as rabbis or in secular professions, he said.
Mayer Minkwich, 20, of Manalapan, New Jersey, thinks he would enjoy becoming a rabbi and teaching. He’s a post-high school student in his second year and he says he loves WITS.
“There’s a very warm atmosphere here,” he said. If you’re struggling with a text, “there will always be people who are willing to help.”
WITS is a boarding school, with about 25 percent of students coming from nearby families and the balance coming from throughout the Midwest and beyond, Brafman said.
The WITS complex has been improved over the years, including a 1948 dormitory and a 1999 educational building. Brafman dreams of adding a gym and dining room. “We need that place where the boys can go and play basketball,” he said. “It’s very important.”
Currently, trips to the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay serve that purpose, but it’s not the same as having something on campus.
Why come to this school, as some students do, from someplace like New York, which has more options?
“We have a very good secular program,” said Caron Rice, director of operations. “Many of our classes have AP capabilities.”
Brafman offers this explanation: “Reputation, reputation, reputation.”
The revered rabbis here cannot be separated from the school. When students leave here, they call them for advice or to report how things are going, Brafman said.
He says becoming a better person is central to the education at WITS.
“It’s the most important thing,” said Brofman, a graduate of the school who returned to work here last year. “Are you a more caring person? Are you more sensitive?”