Imagine a Yeshiva where you can walk in the door knowing how to read Hebrew but, perhaps, little else - and two years later you’re ready for the smicha program at Yeshiva University or to study in the high level shiurim at Yeshivot like Har Etzion or the Mir. Imagine a Yeshiva where a graduate of a Jewish high-school who never really “learned how to learn” can come and finally “get it.” Imagine a Yeshiva where you walk in the door with only a month or two to learn, and you leave amazed with the Gemara skills you acquired to bring back with you to graduate school or work. Imagine a Yeshiva that treats its adult students as, well, adults - without attempting to convince them that there’s only one way to live as a Torah observant Jew.
This yeshiva doesn’t just exist in the imagination. It exists in reality, and has been around for 42 years and counting. It is Shapell’s/Yeshiva Darche Noam in Jerusalem and it has justly acquired its reputation as THE place for students in their 20’s and 30’s to “learn how to learn” in a mature setting.
Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, the Rosh Yeshiva/Dean and co-founder once commented how he was profoundly impacted by a teaching of Piaget that he learned in graduate school: If you teach a student something they could have figured out for themselves, you have deprived them of the chance to understand it fully. At Shapell’s, students learn that there are no shortcuts to making Torah their own. It takes effort and hard work, and it's the Yeshiva’s job to challenge and encourage them to do that.
However, students at Shapell’s aren’t simply thrust into a Beit Midrash and told to “sink or swim.” Rather, through small classes and a methodical step-by-step approach that progresses level-by-level, they are taught the skills and concepts they need to begin achieving the textual independence they must have to truly make Torah “their own.”
Daniel Gerszt, originally from England, came to Shapell’s after serving as a lone soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces. After just over two years at Shapell’s, he was ready to advance to the Mir Yeshiva at the beginning of the current zman. He shared, “Whilst there is still much for me to learn, I also feel comfortable and that I have something to offer those around me. That is a remarkable credit to Shapell's, especially when considering that almost everyone at the Mir has been learning for many more years than me. And Shapell’s is not just about the learning, but also an authentic, balanced and inspired outlook to avodat Hashem.”
The skills gained at Shapell’s don’t just impact the students. The Torah they learned impacts their future families and communities. Rabbi Matt LeVee (Teacher and Administrator at Yeshiva University and Rabbi of the Shenk YU Community Shul) came to Shapell’s after graduating from an Orthodox high-school and being a leader in his campus Jewish community. He recalls, “As I started taking my Judaism more seriously, I realized I had to take my learning more seriously. I decided to go to a yeshiva. But where? When speaking with many different rabbis, the common denominator was Shapell’s/ Yeshiva Darche Noam. At Shapell's I was exposed to a methodology that broke down a sugyah of Gemara into parts I could understand and investigate. All the while I was developing my skills and reading until I became proficient enough to learn on my own. Ultimately, Shapell's enabled me to become a rabbi. I received my smicha from RIETS and I now teach Torah and give guidance to a community. This would not be possible without all Shapell's gave me. When I look back at the years I spent at Shapell's, I associate them with growth and learning. I would not be the Jew I am today without Shapell's.”
Students come to Shapell’s from a variety of Judaic studies backgrounds. Some only know how to decode the siddur while others may have already spent a year or two learning in a post high-school yeshiva. Shapell’s developmental methodology allows students progress through the levels of shiurim at different rates. In addition, students come for varied durations (from a month to up to three years). Yet everyone who studies at Shapell’s is amazed at how much they are able to accomplish in their time at the yeshiva.
Rabbi Dovid Schoonmaker, in his third year as Rosh Yeshiva, has spearheaded many new initiatives that have enhanced the academic, spiritual and emotional aspects of the yeshiva. He is proud that he is building upon the yeshiva’s already established excellence. He shared, “A true statement of the yeshiva’s amazing ability in teaching students is its world renowned reputation. I see in the applications how students have been referred to us by all types of people; people involved in Jewish outreach, lay leaders, former students, people from other institutions, family members. Everyone seems to know that Shapell’s is the place to develop your skills.”
Of course, students also enjoy living in Jerusalem, just steps away from the light rail. It is easy for them to explore Israel, whether as individuals or part of a group. As a yeshiva, they participate in educational and enjoyable trips throughout Israel - ranging from the Old Cities of Jerusalem and Hebron to an overnight trip to Northern Israel including hikes and sleeping on the beach of the Kinneret.
Everything together results in a yeshiva experience that exceeds even the most vivid imagination and high expectations.