This article first appeared in Where What When magazine January 29. 2014
A boy is not suited to any of the yeshiva high schools in Baltimore, and is sitting at home, bored and miserable. The desperate parents have heard about Mordechai Bamberger. “Can you help,” they ask.
A single yeshiva graduate is working and has lost touch with the learning community. After a discreet call from the young man’s friend, Mordechai Bamberger invites him to join a shiur with his peers at the Community Kollel.
A young man is having trouble with shidduchim. Mordechai Bamberger networks on his behalf, and he is soon a chassan.
A Chesed Activist
Mordechai Bamberger credits his parents, Osher and Rochel Bamberger, as well as Rabbi Herman Neuberger, zt”l, and various roshei yeshiva at Ner Yisrael, for inspiring him to lead a life of chesed. “They demonstrated what can be done,” says Mr. Bamberger, a native Baltimore baal habayis. Although he has his hand in many chesed projects, he is best known for founding and directing the Community Kollel Tiferes Moshe Aryeh.
A beis hamedrash in Park Heights, the Community Kollel is beginning its eighth year. Mr. Bamberger started it when few others thought such a project could succeed. He saw a need to provide a “full service” place of learning for men in the community who did not find their place at the mainstream yeshivas in town. “Anyone, at any age or level, who wants to grow spiritually is accepted,” says the enterprising but humble Mr. Bamberger. With the ultimate goal to influence as many people as possible by Torah, the Kollel provides study partners, classes, and mentoring to help them succeed. “Some, notably children and young adults, have had limited access to Torah or found it unattractive. We hope to make them successful within Torah, feeling good about learning and being in a frum environment, so they don’t look for success elsewhere.” Under the guidance of its Rosh Kollel, Rabbi Nesanel Kostelitz, the Community Kollel is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. or later, daily, offering chaburos and chavrusos for all ages, and covering all areas of Torah.
Mr. Bamberger doesn’t rest there, however. The Kollel is involved in counseling and mentoring, especially on educational and shidduch issues. They also help young men find shidduchim, develop resumes, and get invited out for Shabbos, according to their needs. As the director (admittedly self-appointed) of the Community Kollel, Mr. Bamberger says, “There are no boundaries for what we may get involved in. The one thing we stay away from is politics. Any time we have an opinion on something going on in town, it is based on spiritual concerns.”
Learning and Chesed Together
Mr. Bamberger has been involved in chesed at least from the time he was a teenager. He was a Pirchei leader and started its mishmor when he learned in the Philadelphia yeshiva. He was involved in arranging for out-of-town groups to visit Ner Yisrael. He helped bachurim from the Persian community to find summer jobs in well-paying chasidishe camps, and taught gemara to them for about a half year. He went to Atlanta on a SEED program, and initiated his own program in Charleston for Succos, 5743. He was a tutor in Moodus for a summer, and a learning rebbe/day camp director in Staten Island Yeshiva camp.
After Mr. Bamberger married Rochel Miriam, the young couple spread Torah in Louisville, Kentucky for a summer. He also had a Shabbos morning minyan in Stevenson, in 1989, for about six months, and was involved in Rabbi Vitsick’s shul for a number of years before Rabbi Lurie came.
Mr. Bamberger and Rabbi Raphael Waldman started the minyan, Avodas Yisroel, with Rabbi Yitzchok Lemberger in 1995. It originally met at the Etz Chaim building but is now located in Machzikei Torah, with Rav Tesser as its Rav. The Community Kollel was an offshoot of that minyan. For two years, Mr. Bamberger ran a special program for middle schoolers who were not in school, as well as a Kollel Boker and evening program in Rabbi Goldfeiz’s shul. The Kollel Boker at Machzikei Torah was expanded to be the Community Kollel.
A Juggling Act
On a typical day, tackling a busy schedule of work and chesed, Mr. Bamberger also makes time for his family, after Shacharis in the morning and at supper time. He also spends some evenings at home. His own daily learning schedule is something he is always striving to improve. “Lately, I try to learn for some time in the morning, before and after davening,” says Mr. Bamberger. “I have some people I learn with in Rabbi Yosef Romanoff’s new Stevenson Bais Medrash (Jewish Learning Experience) on Monday and Wednesday evenings.* I also learn with two boys on Thursday evenings at the Kollel. On Shabbos, I try to learn the parsha with Rashi, and Pirkei Avos in the summer, with my children. The Agudah Siyum Hatorah has also helped me make goals in personal learning.” Even with his hectic schedule, Mr. Bamberger finds the time to raise the necessary funds to support the Kollel’s many programs.
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
“It’s hard to describe Mordechai,” says Mr. Shrage Friedman. “He identifies with people’s pain and really feels for them. He has a certain boldness, and the certainty and confidence to humble himself to ask people for money and help for others. He does not let up until he gets what they need; it bothers him too much to see Yidden in pain. He simply has to help them. I really believe his whole life is about what-can-I-do-to-help-another-Yid, Period.”
“Mordechai is constantly on the phone or at your door; he is everywhere,” says Gavriel Kelemer, who has worked with Mr. Bamberger on several chesed projects. Mr. Kelemer feels that this propensity to help those in need can best be summed up in a one-liner, used by a rosh hayeshiva from Eretz Yisrael who visited and addressed the Community Kollel. The rosh hayeshiva said, “Mordechai Bamberger is a meshugane; he is a meshugane for Torah. He will do whatever it takes to complete a chesed project.”
Rabbi Kostelitz traces Mr. Bamberger’s roots in chesed to his grandfather, Mr. Martin (Mordechai) Bamberger, who was an ish chesed. “He would go collecting in town, every Rosh Chodesh, to raise Rav Sternhell’s salary,” relates Rabbi Kostelitz. “In fact, Rav Sternhell wrote in his sefer that, if not for Reb Mordechai, he could not have lived in town. Reb Osher, Reb Mordechai’s son, is also an ish chesed, and now the grandson Reb Mordechai is continuing in their ways. Reb Mordechai never says that a problem does not belong to him. If a problem exists – whether it involves education, a shidduch, a shalom bayis issue, raising money, Shabbos meals, bikur cholim, whatever problem you throw at him – he never says, `Go to somebody else, leave me alone.’”
Chesed Is for Everyone
Sometimes it seems that young men in yeshiva have little time for chesed, but Mr. Bamberger advises, “Boys should do chesed within the walls of the yeshiva. Learning with weaker or younger bachurim and developing their skills is the highest form of chesed. I do not advocate taking pay for this, if at all possible. Also, bachurim often start gemachs and other chesed programs in the yeshiva. A mishmor for outside youth is also wonderful. I believe both Ner Yisrael and Rav Slanger have started their own programs. We did it in Philadelphia once a week, and I once met a bachur who told me that he only became a ben Torah through that mishmor.”
* Rabbi Yosef Romanoff’s new Stevenson Bais Medrash (Jewish Learning Experience), an affiliate of the Community Kollel, is located at 7909 Stevenson Road, on the Terrapin side entrance. For more information, Rabbi Romanoff can be contacted at 410-963-4005.