Retrospective 30th Anniversary
The year was 1973. Rabbi Alexander S. Gross found himself on sabbatical in a war torn Israel. In a series of letters to Mr. Moshe Chaim Berkowitz, Rabbi Gross summed up the situation: “The terrible and bloody massacre put the country back into a Tisha B’Av mood, and everyone here is in a state of mourning and aveilus-Hashem should have mercy.”
Yet with all of the turmoil around him, Rabbi Gross was not to be deterred from the important mission that he was set on fulfilling- find a Rosh Yeshiva to head a new Yeshiva Gedolah in Miami.
In April of 1974, Rabbi Gross wrote Mr. Berkowitz, “Moish, my head tells me that Miami Beach will become a great center of Torah and that your name will stand out prominently when the history of Torah education will be written. You are right Moish, and you were right all these years. Because it was you who put the bug into me to start a Beth Medrash.”
“To me, this project will be the greatest thing that happened to Florida. You should consider yourself fortunate that you are the head of such a vast Torah undertaking.”
In describing HaRav Yochanan Zweig, Rabbi Gross wrote “R’ Yochanan is a Rosh Yeshiva of Beis HaTalmud. My Karmi and Alfred Union are his talmidim. He is a great Talmid Chacham, speaks well and is very warm and lovable.”
“I am convinced that we have a winner of R’ Yochanan. He is respected by everyone here. This is something rare in this part of the world.”
Rabbi Gross met with Rabbi Zweig to discuss the philosophy of the proposed Yeshiva to discern which bochurim would interact well with the Miami Beach Jewish Community. Excited about the prospect of building this dynamic new institution, R. Gross immediately dialed R’ Berkowitz in Miami. Apparently, he “forgot” the time difference and woke up Mr. Berkowitz at 3:30 in the morning! Mr. Berkowitz shared his excitement and gave the green light.
Rabbi Zweig dispatch Rabbi Yaakov Poupko, whom he had known from the time he spent in Ner Yisroel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, and who was then a respected member of the Kollel in Lakewood, N.J to study the situation in Miami.
Rabbi Zweig then visited Miami Beach together with Rabbi Dov Lesser in May of 1974 to meet the community firsthand. At that time, he forged a bond with Rabbi Moshe Mendel Simon, the head of the Mesivta High School at that time, staying in his house each time he visited from Eretz Yisroel.
Rabbi Zweig was very impressed with the caliber of the students Miami Beach was producing. In fact, he had experienced this firsthand prior to coming to Miami for some of the best students in the largest Yeshivas in Israel were Miami boys. These young men, among whom were Karmi Gross, Mark Miller, and Alfed Union, would all go on to becoming leading Rabbis and educators in the United States and Canada.
Mr. Berkowitz organized a parlor meeting at Harry Rosenberg’s house which raised $50,000 to launch the Yeshiva. Among those who represented all segments of the Miami Beach community were Mr. Berkowitz, Emanuel Edelstein, Gabby Deutsch, Steve Robinson, Paul Kasden, Cantor Abraham Seif, Rabbi Simon, William Mechanic, Willie Silverstein, Joseph Applebaum, Joe Malek and Seymour Friend. The first Yeshiva board meeting was scheduled to be held in Mr. and Mrs. Bob Entin’s house, and would include those who became longtime supporters and friends of the Yeshiva. The meeting included: Nussie Zemel, Hyman Galbut, Emanuel Edelstein, Gabby Deutsch, Rabbi Pinchas Weberman, Mel Feit, Mr. Kuber, Rabbi Mordechai Shapiro, Rabbi Tuvia Stern and Danny Retter.
In July of 1974, Rabbi Zweig arrived with his entire family (then four children) at the young age of 31 to open the Talmudic College of Florida. Rabbi Simon and Yermiyahu Bursytn came to pick him up at the Fort Lauderdale airport. Ten students followed Rabbi Zweig from Israel to study under his discretion.
Mr. Berkowitz personally undertook the task of locating a Beis Medrash, dormitory, and food services. He searched tirelessly driving together with Rabbi Zweig at one and two o’clock in the morning in pursuit of a suitable home for the Yeshiva. The original dormitory and cafeteria in the Yeshiva were located in a house owned by Beth Israel Synagogue, who kindly rented the space to the new yeshiva. The address eventually became the home of Congregation Zichron Naftali (named in memory of Rabbi Burstyn’s father). Mr. Alex Smilow zt’l was crucial in establishing an efficient kitchen, personally overseeing every last detail. Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Glueck also provided indispensable assistance in supervising both the kitchen and dormitories.
Mr. Ellie Reichnman encouraged the board to ancher the Yeshiva to Miami Beach and was a major force in the acquisition of the Yeshiva’s first real estate purchase – the home of the Rosh Yeshiva at 3791 Royal Palm Avenue.
R. Gimpel Orimland used his dynamic personality to fan the ruach of the Yeshiva. He would come to Shalosh Seudos and sing for hours on end with the bochurim. It was through R. Orimland and his relationship with Mickey Muhlrad, that our honorary president, Dr. Alfred Swire, zt’l and his wife Sadye were first introduced to the Yeshiva.
The Yeshiva blossomed to not only become a home to some of the most promising young scholars, but also an island of precious Torah study for the greater Miami Jewish community. Hundreds flocked to study in the fledgling Yeshiva at 4014 Chase Avenue, and it became clear that the Yeshiva would need a new, larger home very soon.