(Courtesy of Camp HASC) Camp HASC’s Toras Chesed kollel differs from other kollels in a significant and uniquely beautiful way: It is integrated in a manner that is not typical elsewhere and which represents inclusion at its very best.
Each morning, members of the kollel make their way to the camp’s shul and beit midrash where, with the outstanding guidance of Mara d’Asrah and Rosh Kollel Rav Yehuda Willig, Toras Chesed achieves a model of collaboration among able campers and Kollel members—all of whom were formerly counselors—sharing the authentic joy of discussing limitless topics in Torah on a daily basis in ways that strengthen and enrich each participant. The men that return to participate in the kollel exhibit serious commitment and devotion to limud haTorah just by the fact that they could be anywhere else during the summer. With the generous amount of free time they are given after school, these men return to their home away from home to develop even further. Members learn in chavruta from around 9:00 am until noon, followed by an hour-long shiur by R’ Willig in hilchos mezuzah.
From the campers’ perspective, this kollel can fulfill some of their greatest dreams. According to Zack Pollack, a 24 year old part-time camper, university student and inspirational speaker who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, Toras Chesed allows him to feel that he is being treated as a typical person his age would be. It allows him to develop relationships with fellow kollel members and take on new levels of Talmud Torah. Zack also appreciates what Toras Chesed does for the rest of Camp HASC, namely spreading Torah throughout camp in ways that make it accessible because all of the kollel members understand the nature of the camp and the different abilities of the campers. Everyone involved is engaging with Torah in ways that are available and meaningful to them, and that is what makes HASC’s integrated kollel completely distinct. Zack has reached extraordinary heights in Toras Chesed, both through chavruta learning and shiur, and he is proud to be a part of something unique. Toras Chesed offers proof that there is a welcoming place of boundless Torah learning for all who desire it, including those with severe disabilities and challenges.
From a former counselor’s perspective, an integrated kollel provides incredible opportunities for growth in yiddishkeit not only through limud haTorah but also by way of continued involvement with campers. The job of a kollel member extends beyond the walls of the beit midrash each afternoon with participation in camp activities and events, and in learning sessions on parsha topics through interactive games and songs to make the parsha exciting and enable campers to learn and grow in Torah, on their level, throughout the entire summer. This access to Torah has a wonderful effect on campers, who come from diverse religious backgrounds and who may not have inviting inclusive opportunities during the year. These experienced former counselors also alleviate some of the pressure on full-time staff by providing them with much needed, occasional breaks in the afternoon. In this way, they can fulfill their aspiration to be part of a kollel and increase their Torah learning, while simultaneously further deepening their personal connection to Camp HASC and its campers – thereby creating a perfectly balanced day of receiving and giving back.
There are many other wonderful kollels to become a part of, but only HASC’s can offer an atmosphere, and an opportunity, this special. Just as Camp HASC is a camp like no other, Toras Chesed is a kollel like no other—and both defy description without seeing them in action for oneself.