2017-12-06 / Home

Torah Links celebrates 13 years; embarks on major expansion


An artist’s rendering of Torah Links’ proposed expansion. An artist’s rendering of Torah Links’ proposed expansion. Thirteen years ago, 10 men met in the den of Rabbi Yisroel Serebrowski’s newly purchased home in Cherry Hill for the Shabbat Torah reading.

It was just one week after Sukkot and the parshah was Noach for the first minyan formed through a grass-roots movement known as Torah Links of South Jersey, a name that aptly describes the organization’s mission to connect Jews to the traditional study and celebration of the sacred texts.

“It was a great moment for me,” noted Serebrowski, who was still living at the time in Lakewood with his young family and commuting to Cherry Hill several times a week to teach classes to a growing audience eager to take their learning to new heights. “I traveled to Cherry Hill eight times that week, bringing mattresses and everything we would need for Shabbat.”

There was no going back after that. Following that first Torah service, Serebrowski would start making rounds of calls by the following Tuesday, garnering commitments from men willing to participate in minyans throughout the week and Shabbat. The group hit a milestone about a year later; it was the first time 20 men showed up for the Torah reading. Meanwhile, larger and larger crowds were taking part in classes as well as holiday celebrations organized by Torah Links. Many of the newcomers were returning to Judaism after a lapse of some years; still others were newly tapping into the ancient traditions.

“During the first Simchat Torah, if I stopped singing and dancing for a moment, it was quiet; no one knew the words,” he recalled. “Nobody knew Hebrew or how to sing. With time, people learned and they grew.”

Then, one day three years later, Serebrowski no longer needed to make calls to ensure a minyan would form. So many people were engaged in Jewish learning through Torah Links by that time that the organization was ready to start looking for a permanent home.

Serebrowski shared memories of the pioneer days during a special Shabbaton weekend Oct. 27-28 marking the 13th anniversary since the first minyan. The young organization has celebrated several milestones while expanding its reach to some 250 families and 1,000 people annually. Among highlights, May 25, 2012 was the day a procession of jubilant participants moved Torah scrolls from Serebrowski’s house to a new brick building on Springdale Road, marking the move from his house to Torah Link’s permanent home. A similar celebration took place three years later when a Sefer Torah, commissioned in the memory of Iris Frankel by her family, was completed and brought to the building. And more is to come: Torah Links has recently launched a campaign to raise funds for a major expansion of the building.

For Steve Frankel, the dedication ceremony was a bittersweet moment. Iris, his beloved wife, was a driving force behind both the founding of Torah Links and the quest to build a permanent home. The Frankels, who gradually became more observant through their learning, hosted numerous classes and events in their own home in those early days.

“My wife, when she got into something, there was no stopping her,” he said. “She wanted more and more classes. She would do anything she could to help.”

Sadly, Iris passed away on March 12, 2011. The Torah was started on her yahrzeit the next year and timed for completion during the week of the observance a year later.

“She always wanted to have a Torah written but we couldn’t quite do it,” said Frankel. “After she died, I decided we had to do it.”

As Serebrowski describes it, Torah Links is not a synagogue, although it operates similarly to area shuls by providing services, Torah study, holiday celebrations and special programming as well as a religious school for children.

“It’s called Torah Links because the heart and soul of the whole organization is Torah,” he explained. “I didn’t want that affiliations should be a barrier. People come here from all walks of life to study and learn about Judaism and then take it back wherever they go. I happen to be Orthodox but people who come here are all types. We have no expectations and purposely so. We’re not looking to make people into anything. The idea is we give you the tools; we give you Judaism. Now you do whatever you want with it.”

Yuri and Cindy Volpin also started to study with Torah Links in the early days, and gradually became more religious as they delved further into study. For Yuri, a Russian émigré who knew next to nothing about his heritage, it started seeming important with the birth of their son Marc, now 17.

“It turned our life around,” said Yuri, noting that the family would walk 4.7 miles from their home in Voorhees for Shabbat services before they moved to Cherry Hill to be closer. “Observing the Shabbas became for us an essential part of our lives. At first, we would have Shabbas dinner, light the candles and go back to doing something like watching TV or everyday activities. But with what we were learning, we would bring something new to Shabbat every week or month. It was a gradual process.”

Like their own spiritual journey, it has been rewarding to see Torah Links grow.

“The most important thing about Torah Links for people like us is that it gives us the truth and the place (to study,)” he said.

When the building was constructed, Serebrowski noted, it was made with expansion in mind. And now is the time as it has become too small, which is a good problem.

“Every single Friday night, I look around the corner as I am leaving the property and say, ‘thank you Hashem for giving us this beautiful building,” he said. “Now we are starting the process of expansion but it’s going to be a long-term project. I’m not feeling the pressure like I felt to get Torah Links out of my house and over to here.”

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