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Early Riser

Binyamin Rose, Miami Beach

No matter how busy he is, no matter how many directions he’s being pulled in or how many people are clamoring for his attention, when Rav Yochanan Zweig speaks with you, you have his undivided interest. As the human connection to Torah for so many types of Jews in Miami Beach, the Rosh Yeshivah says he has a sacred obligation to each one — to help all of them become the best Jews they can be.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The five-minute drive from mainland Miami to Miami Beach across the Julia Tuttle Causeway is always breathtaking. The waters of Biscayne Bay dance on both sides of the causeway in sparkling hues of blue and green depending on the sky’s mix of sun and clouds. Year-round sunlight refracts off the pastel-colored art deco buildings dotting the skyline. It’s a view that I enjoyed when commuting to work before leaving Miami Beach to make aliyah 21 years ago. There was one noticeable change, however, when I returned on assignment last month. The name that graces the first building upon arriving in Miami Beach is the Talmudic University on the Rohr Campus. I can’t think of any other city whose welcome sign, so to speak, is the name of a yeshivah. The lettering I always remembered on this midrise building said Howard Johnson, a budget hotel and restaurant chain famed for serving 28 flavors of ice cream long before Häagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s overtook them. Today, the Talmudic University serves up daily portions of the 70 facets of Torah to its hungry students. It’s the Torah of its rosh yeshivah, Rav Yochanan Zweig, a synthesis of what he learned as a boy, waking up well before dawn to learn with his father, and the Torah of his famed Ner Israel mentors, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman ztz”l and Rav Yaakov Weinberg ztz”l. It’s the Torah that he honed in Bais Hatalmud in Yerushalayim, and after that with decades of experience training talmidim — always punctuated and delivered in a style that combines warmth with real-life guidance. Listening to him again after a generation’s absence brought back the feeling I always had with Rav Zweig: that no matter how busy he is, or how many people are hovering in his vicinity clamoring for attention, when he speaks with you, he is giving you his undivided attention. “When people come to me, they are looking to be connected to the truth. I’m their connection to the Torah,” saysRavZweig. “I have a sacred obligation to let them know that I care about them, that I’m involved, and want to help them become who they are capable of becoming.”

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