Posted in , on February 7, 2014

Founding the Future

Not everyone is as proficient in taking their youth experiences to heart as the likes of Jeffrey Saks. In less than twenty years, Saks has made aliyah, founded Atid: the Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions, started a family, and created, an online interface for intensive Jewish learning.   “I’m one of those NCSY havdalah stories,” Saks humbly explains. “I was a public school kid from the Linden, New Jersey chapter. I became shomer shabbat with the help of NCSY and Rabbi Steven Dworkin, of blessed memory. But I still went to public school until I graduated high school, acting on regional board at the same time. Then, I headed off to Yeshiva University, definitely because of NCSY’s influence.”   In YU, he decided he wanted to pursue a degree in education, but wanted to learn in Israel first. So he spent his sophomore year of college in Israel. Upon his graduation of YU, he decided to enrol in their smicha program, while acting as NJ NCSY Regional Director and teaching in YU’s all-girls high school in Queens, Central. In 1994, Saks completed his smicha and got offered a job teaching in Yeshivat HaMivtar, or Bravenders, which was then located in Efrat. That’s when he decided it was time for him to take the offer and make aliyah. That’s also where he met his wife, a native New Yorker who had also made aliyah alone.   But he continuously remembered the problems he had faced as a Jewish educator back in America. He figured he wasn’t the only one facing such problems and saw a lack of a network that would deal with such issues. So in 1999, he founded Atid.       “I was inspired by my own experiences as a young teacher. I was also partially motivated to create a program that would’ve been useful to me. I wanted something that would unite Judaic studies teachers to focus on the greater common denominator issues.”   Atid continues to discuss and focus reforming the way Judaic studies topics are taught. It began by focusing mostly on the Anglo-Saxon teaching community, but now has a greater focus on reforming the Israeli education system. Saks says he’s seen an impact on Israel’s system already.   “Beforehand, mostly, a lot of the issues mentioned were about money difficulties. But that’s distracting from the greater goal. What if money wasn’t  the problem? What is the best way to achieve what Jewish education intends to achieve? That’s what Atid intends to discuss.”   However, Saks wasn’t willing to stop there. A few years later, he decided to take Jewish education in a totally different direction. By founding, he intended to provide a “vigorous learning opportunity” to Jews globally by providing an outlet for them to select a number highly interactive learning programs.   “Web Yeshiva focuses on shiurei torah that you can learn from the comfort of your home,” Saks explained. “No matter where you live, by the time you come home from work at the end of the day, and did homework with the kids, it’s 10PM. There are no more shiurim to attend in person. So I wanted to provide an outlet for those to learn on their own time.”   Current users of Web Yeshiva vary from a New York lawyer to a man who lives in a tent in Mexico who can still acquire a WiFi signal. But Saks encourages people of all levels of Torah knowledge to use his service. All classes are archived, and some are given at no charge to the user.   Saks, four children later and still residing in Efrat, where his parents have now purchased a home as well, is happy with the success his life choices have brought him, and the waves he’s helped start in reforming Jewish education. He intends to keep at what he’s doing to help ensure the success of the Jewish future. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also recently published a book through the OU Press, “To Mourn a Child,” currently available for purchase. Click here for details. Also, please visit the links above to learn more about the programs Saks founded.