When enrollment at Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad reached the 150 mark several years ago, the administration had no choice but to turn away an average of 50 out-of-town applicants each year. “The dorms were at full capacity,” explains school administrator Rabbi Mendel Spalter, and “there wasn’t space for one extra bed.”
With a five million dollar renovation underway at the Yeshiva’s central Los Angeles location, the facilities will contain 250 beds in a three-story, fully furnished dormitory building, accommodating high school and rabbinical students who travel to Los Angeles to study at the yeshiva.
Founded fifty years ago by Rabbi Simcha Wasserman, the Yeshiva was named for Wasserman’s father, a Torah giant in pre-War Europe, who was murdered in the Holocaust. For nearly three decades Rabbi Wasserman struggled to keep the yeshiva afloat.
Then, in 1977, he called Chabad of California, with a request: would they take over the yeshiva but keep its building? Rabbi Shlomo B. Cunin, director of Chabad activities on the West Coast seized the opportunity and immediately set to work pulling the floundering yeshiva up by the bootstraps.
Rabbi Ezra B. Schochet, a dynamic Chabad Torah scholar, was appointed Rosh Yeshiva, and the facility was moved, building and all, to a more central location in the heart of Jewish Los Angeles. Gradually the yeshiva began to expand, and in 1981 a neighboring building was purchased to serve as a dorm facility for the growing number of students flocking here from the Los Angeles area, across California, and beyond.
The only Chabad boys yeshiva west of Chicago, Ohr Elchanan soon became the yeshiva of choice for Chabad emissaries serving in cities and towns that had no traditional yeshiva for their children. Combining a first-rate Jewish education with a WASC accredited secular studies curriculum for its high school, and a superior higher education rabbinical studies program, fully accredited by the state and federal governments, the yeshiva’s reputation grew, drawing students internationally, from South Africa, Canada, South America, and Australia.
The need for an expanded campus was obvious for some time. With the generous funding by Dr. Zev and Varda Ravnoy, plans were drawn and construction began two months ago–the beginnings of a dream come true for faculty. “After decades of building up the yeshiva, it was growing on its own momentum,” says Spalter. Now, there’ll be no pressure to contain its growth. In fact, the renovation, which should be completed in time for the 2004 academic year, will include guest suites for visiting parents, laundry facilities, and a mikveh. An additional two-story building will include a main study hall, classrooms, and the dean’s office.
“When the Yeshiva was formed,” observes Rabbi Schochet, “the Rebbe charged each of its students with being a candle of light, toward illuminating the entire city with the light of Torah.”
“It is a mission we have been trying to fulfill, student by student, brick by brick.”