A local organization focused on Torah studies is on a mission to expand its reach.
Rabbi Michel Twerski, of Congregation Beth Jehudah, founded the Milwaukee Kollel in 1989. Based in the city’s Sherman Park neighborhood, the organization provides a place where young rabbinical students can continue their studies of the Torah after marriage. Under executive director Rabbi Hillel Brody, the Milwaukee Kollel is looking to grow its student population and its local impact.
Brody took over as the head of the organization in 2022 after working as the director of community outreach for Yeshiva Elementary School in Milwaukee.
At the time he joined the Milwaukee Kollel, Brody said, the learning center was in a period of transition. Longtime dean Mendel Senderovic moved and is not at the Milwaukee Kollel as frequently. Around the same time Brody started in his role, a new associate dean, Rabbi Mendy Stern, started with the organization.
With these new leaders in place, Brody said the Milwaukee Kollel has been working to recruit more and younger students to the learning center. Similar to other midwestern community Kollels, Brody said, the Milwaukee Kollel has faced difficulties attracting students who might move away from larger, East Coast cities.
For this academic year, the Milwaukee Kollel has 10 students, each of whom are paid a stipend to cover living expenses. Brody said the organization is actively recruiting with the hope of enrolling another four families to start next fall. Students are paid a stipend to cover living expenses and are chosen based on their cultural fit.
“Are they going to work with the people in the community? Are they going to work with the other members of the Kollel?” Brody said. “There’s a great deal of interactive study. It’s really all about the study between the young rabbinical students studying together one on one themselves, developing themselves and their ability and knowledge in Torah.”
The focus, Brody said, is for the Milwaukee Kollel to be a community resource and to serve people who are not members.
For example, a rabbi affiliated with the Milwaukee Kollel now is teaching regularly at Milwaukee Jewish Day School to offer text-based study. In its first course, seven upper-school students are participating, together translating a line of the text, reading commentary and considering the question being asked, said Mara Kleiman, the school’s director of Jewish life and learning.
“There’s Jewish families in Milwaukee that want their children to be able to access this timeless skill of Jewish text learning,” Kleiman said. “That is something we can proudly say that we not only offer, but our students thrive in that.”
That outreach fits with Brody’s goals, too.
“We see being an educational resource to the entire community as an important part of our mission,” Brody said.
In addition, he said the Milwaukee Kollel recently expanded its offerings to include a women’s division, providing a formal opportunity for their study of Torah.
Broadly, Brody said, the Milwaukee Kollel aims to meet the needs of individuals interested in learning.
“We want to make sure that we are welcoming and accessible to anyone who wants to be able to study,” he said.
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What’s a kollel?
A kollel is typically a full-time institute for Orthodox learning – including study of the Talmud and rabbinic thought – with mostly married male students who are paid a stipend so that they can study. Scholars say that intensive Torah study will benefit an entire community.