It is not only the enchanting South African accent that immediately catches your attention. It’s the indomitable spirit and overwhelming enthusiasm of Mrs. Rivka Kolko and Mrs. Yocheved Boyer that is electrifying. South Africa is an unusual place in that spiritually the people there are incredibly thirsty for inspiration. World-wide Jewry saw this recently first-hand with the Shabbos Project and I saw it now for myself when talking to Mrs. Kolko about the LVN Johannesburg branch, appropriately named Kesher. Kesher, because that is what her program is trying to do – create a kesher for the minds and hearts of the girls in Johannesburg.
Besides for the universal challenges facing all the seminary girls returning from an oasis of spirituality to the jungles of galus, South African girls have an additional dilemma due to their geographical location. Their school year ends during the balmy month of December, which is when the 12th grade graduates. The problem is that seminary in Eretz Yisrael does not begin until the following September! So how are these girls going to nourish their neshamos in the interim period? Johannesburg saw a dire need and was determined to fill it.
Mechanchim contacted educational professionals world-wide, special people involved in the field of chinuch habanos, to glean a solution. And they were especially inspired by Mrs. Hoffman, the energetic director of our LVN Baltimore branch, who advised them to create a program that would be “by the girls, for the girls.” And so LVN Johannesburg set out to do just that.
The Kesher team pondered how to create solutions to issues that were uniquely South African. Of primary concern, of course, was that nine-month gap while the girls waited for seminary to start, when their neshamos were desperate for nurturing and chizuk. But there were other issues. There was the fact that the Hebrew skills for the girls heading to seminary in Eretz Yisrael desperately needed strengthening. And then there was the issue that the girls, during the nine-month waiting period and after they returned from seminary too, wanted to begin accumulating credits for their secular degrees. The problem there was that there was no appropriate venue for them to do that without risking everything in their ruchniyus.
Mrs. Kolko and Mrs. Boyer launched Kesher with a Shabbaton, replete with both aesthetics and spirituality, designed to attract the girls to hear what she had to offer. The girls were asked to complete questionnaires, regarding what topics they were curious about and which speakers captured their attention. And a program was formulated that would answer the call for action. Each week for two hours the girl would gather in the central shul. The first hour would be dedicated to an inspirational and timely shiur on Tehillim. The second hour of the program would focus on a social activity such as fruit sculpting, mosaic art and the like. The Kesher staff discovered quickly that, though the girls enjoyed the social interaction, what really drew them in at the core was the shiurim– and they were not surprised at all!
To deal with insulating the girls from negative influence pervasive in the secular colleges, Kesher arranged for the girls to earn credits through courses led by frum teachers. The course topics vary, but the goal for all of them is the same. To educate the girls in all areas while ensuring that their purity would not be tarnished in the process. Kesher also arranges for the girls to have the opportunity to meet one on one with mentors who can guide them with their own personal concerns and life situations.
Thus, although South Africa may have a different climate calendar and somewhat different educational needs than some of our other LVN branches, at the heart the goal is the same. To help our girls to flourish in their own settings, to help them develop into future mothers of Klal Yisrael that Hashem can be proud of. Which is why Kesher, our South African Lechu V’Nelcha branch, is another gem in the Lechu V’Nelcha chain that we are very proud of too!