Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests and of course my Rebbe, teacher and mentor Rabbi Grossman, good evening. My name is Avi Korenfeld, I am 29 years old and a lawyer by profession. Tonight I stand before you as an individual who can reflect back on the past and look forward to the future knowing that my connection to the Migdal Ohr Institutions and to Rabbi Grossman its founder and dean truly changed my life.
My story begins over 20 years ago when I was a young child living in Uzbekistan where my father was a successful businessman and we lived a comfortable life. We had very little connection to Judaism but at the age of six my parents formed a close relationship with a local Rabbi leading to the decision to make Aliya and come to Israel. At that time I was given a brit milah and a year later my family and I made Aliya, leaving all we had behind.
Like many new immigrants, we came to Israel unable to speak the language, not understanding the local culture and with no financial means to support us. We moved from place to place, city to city, one apartment after the next, one new school after another, with no stability in our lives as my parents desperately tried to find work. Eventually my parents managed to find work and we moved to Nazareth Illit, a city in northern Israel. With their new found jobs both my mother and father were forced to work long and hard hours each and every day.
While they worked, I roamed the streets aimlessly looking for something to do, something that would keep me occupied. It still amazes me today that I did not turn to violence, drugs or alcohol as so many immigrants did at that time. My parents did not have the means to pay for my education let alone summer camp and while I was wandering the streets during the summer I saw a poster on a notice board inviting children and youth of all ages to attend summer camp for free. Naturally my parents agreed and from the moment I walked into Migdal Ohr’s summer camp I knew I had come to a unique place.
That summer literally changed my life. From being a child with a life of little substance or meaning, living in an area where I spent most of my day wandering around aimlessly, I came to a place that embraced me with love and warmth and that knew how to teach me, guide me and set me on the right path. I felt like I had come home.
Hearing of my experiences and learning more about Migdal Ohr, my parents had no doubt that this was the school I should be going to. As it turned out, Rabbi Grossman had not only captured my heart but had built a unique institution that throughout my schooling took in over 2000 immigrants mainly from the Former Soviet Union looking after them and provided them with a strong Jewish education.
That period was the most wonderful and happiest of my life. In addition to the high standard of education I received, it was the patience, caring and personal attention that most stands out in my mind together with the support and encouragement from all involved. It didn’t matter to any of the staff if I was religious or not, Russian or Israeli, what were my strengths and weaknesses.