Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein Named Menahel of Lander Beis Medrash
New Menahel Shares What it Takes to be Successful in Chinuch Today, the Evolving Role of the Mechanech and his own Career Path
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(New York, NY) — Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein was named menahel at Lander College for Men Beis Medrash L’Talmud. He was previously senior maggid shiur, a position he held since 2019.
Rabbi Sonnenschein received semicha from Yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn and studied there and at its Jerusalem-based affiliate, Yeshivas Pachad Yitzchak. He currently serves as the Mora D’asra of Khal B’nai Shalom in Waterbury, Connecticut and was previously a Rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shmuel in Waterbury.
As menahel, Rabbi Sonnenschein will be offering shiurim as well as guidance and mentoring to all the students at Lander College for Men 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.
When a rabbi shares himself with his talmidim in an authentic way, the chinuch is transferred to them. When they hear his ideas and how he reacts to certain situations, they absorb his perspective in a natural and organic way. I always appreciate when talmidim tell me that they knew what I would say or do in a particular situation. It’s then that it’s clear to me that beyond imparting information and knowledge, I have also taught them how to think and approach life through a Torah lens.
This philosophy on chinuch is one I received from my own rebbeim. The people I learned from shared their perspective and this is the mesorah I’m passing on in my effort to nurture true Bnei Torah.
What do you think today’s Beis Medrash/college students need from their Menahel 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. Talmidim need to forge a healthy relationship with their Rebbeim and menahel. 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.
As menael, I work to create a unified identity for the yeshiva that helps create a sense for the students that they are part of a warm and embracing family. Before Rosh Hashana, I asked everyone to daven for the yeshiva and their friends to help them all see that being part of the Lander family is their identity.
With the current situation in Israel looming large, we are of course helping them deal with tragedy but also giving them a sense of belonging to a yeshiva that cares about how they are doing and feeling. I am available every Monday and Thursday from 3-10 pm just to talk to the talmidim. I offer advice, a listening ear and do my best to help them with anxiety and issues relating to dating, their home life or a shiur that isn’t working out. I don’t have all the answers but at least they have a place to go with concerns and struggles and someone who can help them make important decisions.
How has the role of the Menahel 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.
Right now we are at a point in our history where our parents are not Holocaust survivors. Years ago, people felt they were from Poland or Lithuania, but today we feel we are Americans and students don’t remember a different life. I try to transmit the Torah of previous generations to my American students, sharing the rich culture, values and ideas from the gedolim of yesteryear and making it relevant, modern and accessible.
What do you enjoy most about being in Chinuch? Why did you choose this path?
When I got married, my plan was to go into computers. I didn't search out the field of Chinuch, 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 now, Menahel and I have tremendous respect for young men who have taken it upon themselves to engage in high level Torah learning while pursuing their careers. 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