The Homework Kollel-Where a Boy Becomes a Bachur
December 30, 2021
When Rabbi Yitzchok Hertz’s twin sons were in seventh grade and his younger son was in fifth, homework was a struggle. Like in many families, each night, the same questions arose: Do you have homework? Did you do your homework?
Homework was a stress, and the learning was something to “get over with” rather than something enjoyable and fulfilling.
Rabbi Hertz knew that something had to change.
It was then that he heard from the son of R’ Isser Wolfson z”l from Passaic, whose father had “slots” each night to learn with his sons. Each son was allotted 20 minutes, and father and son got to spend that time together learning, bonding, and growing.
Rabbi Hertz tried it himself. He made slots of learning for his children nightly—and it was a game changer. Suddenly, the stress of homework vanished. It wasn’t about getting homework done, but about spending quality, productive time together.
And it wasn’t about finishing homework, but about learning. Really learning.
And then, Rabbi Hertz’s brother Tzvi z”l suddenly passed away. Seeking to do something l’iluy nishmaso, Rabbi Hertz thought of an evening learning program for boys. If his idea worked for his own sons at home, why couldn’t it work on a larger scale in a local shul for a greater number of youngsters?
In short order, Rabbi Hertz launched a program that became known as the Homework Kollel, with two initial branches, one in the Westgate beis midrash and one in the beis midrash of Kelm Woods. The idea was simple: Give boys in fifth through eighth grade an opportunity to transform nightly review of their limudim into a rewarding, interactive experience. Throughout the week, the boys would enjoy camaraderie and mentorship while being rewarded with gift cards to local vendors, including a pizza store, an ice cream store, a sefarim store, and a toy store. In addition to the gift cards, the boys would be treated each Thursday night to cholent and kugel, a beautiful way to wrap up a week of aliyah.
“We saw the impact right away,” remembers Rabbi Hertz. “The parents felt that their sons finally had some nightly structure and fulfillment. The boys felt important; they felt part of something bigger. And then we got feedback from their rebbe’im and menahelim, who said that the boys’ sense of gratification was being reflected in their classroom learning and overall performance.”
In other words, Rabbi Hertz had struck gold.
Making of a movement
The project took a lot of work and coordination. Each location was assigned its own sho’el u’meishiv to oversee the program and interact with the boys, and chavrusas were arranged for those boys whose fathers were not available and a paid chavrusa could not be arranged to learn with them.
From a financial perspective, in addition to the costs of running the program, the Homework Kollel employs eight paid chavrusas who are available to learn with boys.
Still, Rabbi Hertz wasted no time in exploring avenues of growth, expanding to additional locations in Lakewood. He also brought in rabbanim and roshei yeshivos to speak to the boys from time to time, giving them a feeling of chashivus, of being a part of something truly important.
And grow it did. Today, the Homework Kollel is comprised of eight locations, including branches in Detroit and North Miami Beach, and services over 400 boys nightly.
“It became a movement,” says Rabbi Hertz. “And the boys realized it; they are honored and thrilled to be part of something broader in nature, a program that has been uniting boys from different yeshivos and different communities under the umbrella of the Homework Kollel.”
The program has had innumerable positive effects, impacting the boys in significant ways. Mechanchim have pointed out that large classes in our schools as well as innumerable distractions often shortchange boys of the opportunity to develop passion and clarity in their formative years of Gemara learning. The Homework Kollel transforms nightly review of classroom learning into an interactive, satisfying experience for upper-elementary school-aged students. Through commitment to a consistent learning partner and the enthusiastic atmosphere created by a community of eager participants, the boys are inspired toward Gemara mastery, retention, and achievement.
“The Homework Kollel is an incredible nightly experience for the boys,” observes Rabbi Hertz. “It’s where a boy’s potential shines in all its glory. It’s a place that is making a difference every night for every boy who participates.”
But it’s not just the learning and the fact that homework gets done. And it’s much more than the prizes and refreshments that the boys enjoy (and they do!). It’s the motivation and inspiration that the boys are infused with. The boys become enthused and energized, eager to continue growing and accomplishing.
“My boys joined the excellent Homework Kollel program in the Tallymawr shul,” says Mrs. Jaradi, a local resident with boys who are part of the Kollel. “This program impacts their learning and behavior. Baruch Hashem, they are shteiging… Keep up your great work!”
Rabbi Hertz recalls several boys who were struggling in school and whose parents had been advised to ensure that their sons receive tutoring to bring them up to par. “After joining the Homework Kollel and learning consistently in this special environment, these very same boys shot up to the top of their classes. It was extraordinary. We saw a tangible spiral upward, a spiral of success and feelings of satisfaction.”
“Boys who properly review their limudim at night and know what’s going on the next day in the classroom become confident, successful students,” says Rabbi Yaakov Bogart, menahel at Tashbar. “The Homework Kollel provides this opportunity to boys in a most ideal fashion.”
Rabbi Yaakov Birnhack, a father and rebbi, is effusive in his praise for the Homework Kollel. “This learning program has influenced my sons and their friends to happily spend their evenings in the beis midrash, enthusiastically involved in their learning. What an amazing accomplishment!”
Notes and letters pour into the Homework Kollel’s office from parents who are deeply grateful for what Rabbi Hertz has created—a virtual revolution in nightly learning.
“We can’t thank you enough for all you are doing for our son,” say Yosef and Orah Bamberger, parents of a Kollel participant. “The learning in shul each night adds a dimension to his quality of learning and understanding and to his value of limud haTorah.”
“The boys take ownership of their homework and learning and want to do it,” observes Rabbi Hertz. “The Homework Kollel has shifted their whole approach to learning, changing it from something they had to do to something that they want to do.”
An eye on the future
“My vision,” Rabbi Hertz shares, “is to have a Homework Kollel in every community. Somehow, someway, people have outsourced to the yeshivos the responsibility of inspiring the youth and connecting them to learning. But it takes a community. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child. For all boys, whether their father is available to learn with them or not, and whether they currently have a nightly learning arrangement or not, the Homework Kollel can make it happen.” Ideally, each community would have a rav and yungeleit running the respective programs.
As Rabbi Hertz seeks to grow the Homework Kollel, he will continue to invest time and effort into expanding the existing locations.
“The palpable enthusiasm and the tangible results speak for themselves and make all the efforts worthwhile,” Rabbi Hertz concludes. “The pep in each boy’s step and the smiles on the faces of their parents and rebbe’im make it all worth it as we ignite our boys with passion and pride.We see the growth of the boys after they join the program, which is one of the reasons why it’s been said that the Homework Kollel is ‘where a boy becomes a bachur.’”
To take part in the Homework Kollel’s growth, please donate at www.rayze.it/homeworkkollel.com or call Rabbi Hertz at 732-604-1361.
Boys can sign up to join the Homework Kollel by filling out a written form, or they can have their parents sign up for them on the Kollel’s website at homeworkkollel.org/registration.