Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein Joins Lander Beis Medrash

New Maggid Shiur Shares Thoughts on Education in 2019, the Evolving Role of the Rebbe and his own Career Path

Date: May 21, 2019
Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein
Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein
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(New York, NY) — Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein has been named senior maggid shiur at Beis Medrash L’Talmud, an affiliate of Touro’s Lander College for Men (LCM).

Rabbi Sonnenschein studied at Yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn and its affiliate, Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchak in Jerusalem. He received Semicha from Yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin. He currently serves as the Mora D’asra of  Khal B’nai Shalom in Waterbury, Connecticut and was a Rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shmuel in Waterbury, a position he held since the yeshiva’s founding in 2000. He served as Mashgiach Ruchani at Camp Heller for 15 years and currently serves as Mora D’Asra of Camp Shoresh.

As senior maggid shiur, Rabbi Sonnenschein will give an iyun shiur, offer guidance and mentoring to the students at Beis Medrash L’Talmud.

If you had to describe your outlook on life in a few sentences, what would it be?

Hashem has given each one of us the tools we need to build a unique relationship with Him. We were never meant to all be the same, and it is tragic when people compress or depress parts of their personalities or downplay their abilities in order to "fit in" to what they think is an ideal that others expect of them. How do I discover my unique journey? By learning to understand myself and by understanding how my personality is a perfect match with Hashem's will. 

What is the essence of your philosophy in Chinuch?

Chinuch is mentioned in the Torah in Shema, "And you should teach your children." Chazal tell us that "children" includes not just biological children, but talmidim as well. This is instructive and means that a Rebbe is a father figure . A father's approach is built upon his love for his children, and it is this love that inspires him to understand his children and to create a structure for their growth. With such a foundation, a Rebbe can encourage excellence in his talmidim, because they know and feel that it is with love and for their own benefit that he urges them to reach for higher goals.

What do you think are the three most important things today’s Beis Medrash/college students need from their Rebbeim and why?

First and foremost they need to be taught authentic Torah. This includes transmitting information, but more importantly, it involves giving them the tools to be able to develop their own skills and abilities in understanding the many complex areas of Torah study. Secondly, Talmidim need to forge a healthy relationship with their Rebbeim. This relationship should allow Talmidim to feel comfortable being themselves, while at the same time, inspiring them to go beyond their comfort zone to become their best selves. A genuine connection is crucial, and provides the model for their subsequent relationships throughout their lives with Rebbeim and Rabbonim. Third, it is the Rebbe's job to introduce and connect his Talmidim to the broad world of Torah. This includes giving them exposure to the great leaders of previous generations and to a multitude of unique approaches to Torah and Yiddishkeit.

How has the role of the Rebbe evolved in recent years? How are you adapting to the needs of today’s students?

The biggest difference between Chinuch a decade ago and Chinuch today is the enormous impact of technology on all of our lives. It is a challenge in two ways: firstly, learning to navigate the effects of constant connection to the outside  world while attempting to achieve spiritual growth in the sublime world of Torah study; and secondly, a Rebbe today needs to be familiar with the world that his students inhabit, and this means having an understanding of technology platforms such as social media.

What kind of impact do you hope to have on the students? How will you achieve this?

I hope to inspire confidence in my Talmidim and to give them the courage to aim  high in Torah and Avodah. I will do this by delivering a shiur that enhances their understanding of the Gemara, while valuing their input and perspective. Having spent the last two decades in Chinuch—listening, advising and strengthening students, I am excited by the opportunity to develop relationships with the outstanding talmidim at Lander. I deeply appreciate the value of a Rebbe-talmid connection, both in learning and beyond the classroom and it is my particular dream to forge these relationships that extend farther than the scope of the shiur. As the students make major life decisions about their personal and professional futures, I look forward to helping them understand themselves and recognize their own uniqueness and to supporting their individual journeys.

What do you enjoy most about being a Rebbe? Why did you choose this path?

 When I got married, my plan was to go into computers. I didn't search out the position of Rebbe, it found me. I discovered that the role of connecting with talmidim, teaching them and encouraging them was gratifying beyond imagination. I don't consider myself to be superior to my talmidim. I feel that I am a "regular guy" who is in the position of Rebbe, and I have tremendous respect for young men who have taken it upon themselves to engage in high level Torah learning. The thought that I am making an impact on people's lives that will affect them forever is both exciting and awe-inspiring. Nothing gives me more nachas than meeting talmidim years later and seeing the beautiful and successful lives that they have built.

The Lander College for Men Beis Medrash L’Talmud is an undergraduate division of Touro College. Located in Queens, the college is grounded in a dual curriculum of intensive Torah study and a wide range of academic programs. Dedicated to Touro’s mission of perpetuating the Jewish heritage, LCM prepares students to uphold the ideals of Torah and pursue positions of professional and communal leadership. For more information visit lcm.touro.edu