Looking for some unusual entertainment at your upcoming wedding or bar mitzvah? We suggest you call up the folks at Mesivta Shaarei Arazim in Spring Valley, New York and ask them to send over the boys school’s marching band, or maybe its Chinese acrobatics troupe.
Yes, you read correctly.
MSA is not your typical yeshiva. Although the school is serious about teaching Gemara to its bochers, it’s not afraid to let them blow their own horn or flip out on a regular basis. In fact, each student gets between two to five hours per week outside the beit midrash to pursue his non-Talmudic passion, be it music, acrobatics, cooking, horseback riding, pottery, carpentry, or one of many other electives offered.
“These electives are a way to bring out people’s talents, to make them shine,” said MSA dean Rabbi Zev Freundlich in a phone interview with The Times of Israel. “We need to build using people’s greatness. That is real education.”
The school, dubbed “the yeshiva that motivates,” has been open 15 years and has around 100 students. Since its founding, it has adhered to this unusual (at least in black hat circles) educational philosophy. Freundlich admits it has quite a bit to do with the fact that he opened the first Outward Bound outdoor and experiential educational program for Orthodox youth 20 years ago, before helping establish MSA.
“Electives are the vehicle to show them that they can achieve greatness in the areas that they are good at,” the rabbi says in a promotional video for the school. The can-do attitude gained from the electives spills over to the boys’ Jewish learning and other aspects of their education and life.
Some of the boys may become quite proficient at some of these sports, arts and crafts, but the aim is not to teach them a trade. It’s unlikely any of them will become professional trumpeters or saxophonists, or will join a traveling circus.
“Some boys continue with these as a means of parnasa (earning income), but the goal is to build personal strengths. Success breeds success,” explained Freundlich.
The teenagers appreciate the character-building benefits of the various activities, but they also just think they are a lot of fun.
“It’s a nice, kosher, healthy outlet,” said one boy in the video, who managed to keep his kippah on while doing a back flip.