As I ride the elevator up to the 26th floor of my Battery Park office I am met by a coworker.I wish him a פרייליכן חנוכה and he looks to my bag and asks me “When did you go?” It takes me a minute to realize that he is referring to the Yachei Kallah bag I have slung over my shoulder, the bag I use for work every day. I tell him that I go every year. He seems excited to inform me that his brother in law will be going this year. I exclaim without any hesitation…”It’s an amazing experience… It changed my life.”

It seems to be a big statement to make about one’s life. I have been blessed with a beautiful family, a job that I love, a shul, a Rav and a Rebbe I connect with and friends who share my ideas and ideals. Only 5 years ago, after some careful consideration and a הסכמה from my Rebbe, did I venture to attend my first Agudath Yisrael Yerushayalim Yarchei Kalah – and I can honestly say, it did in fact, change my life.

Clichés abound when you hear a statement like this. Truth be told the impact of the experiences I had at Yarchei Kallah and in Eretz Yisrael have done more to promote growth and consistency in my life, my learning, my hashkafos and my family than almost any other event or experience in my life.

It’s hard to say what specific aspect created this impact. Was it the overwhelming sense of אחדות I felt walking through the doors of the Ramada in Yerushalayim and being greeted by hundreds of American בעלי בתים all having traveled thousands of miles to escape into the shangri-la of Torah? Could it be the astounding and mesmerizing shiurim by Gedolei Torah like Harav Asher Weiss or Harav Nissim Kaplan? Could it have been the bus rides to the kosel, the יום כיפור קטן at Kever Rochel? Or maybe, just maybe, it was the time distance and escape from my regular life that gave me the pause to think about who I want to be and how I can become that person.

Before attending the AIAYK, I was a regular בעל הבית doing regular life things. And then Yarchel Kallah happened and the GPS on my life started recalculating. Connections to Roshei Yeshiva and Gedolei Torah became my new normal. More confidence with my learning helped me to expand my sedarim. My community involvement has increased and my desire to be a “yarchei Kallah guy” began to define me. Even my children have learned to love my trip; not just for the Eretz Yisrael gifts they get, but because they are proud to say their father takes off from work to go learn 3 sedarim a day in Eretz Yisrael. They look forward to the stories of my experiences, from shaking hands with the Rav of Mayanei Hayeshua hospital (at the hospital) to the live presentation of the שמיר worm and where he may live today. So many areas of my life have been touched thus far: ארבע מינים, Kiddush and bentching, tzitzis, hilchos Shabbos and more.

As is often the case, I anticipated a stagnation as the years progressed. Remarkably, while the Yarchei Kallah became a consistent part of my life, my growth and the impact on me had exponential results. Just last week a shiur was given by a visiting Rav at the shul where I daven. The discussion about hilchos shabbos with regards to refuah was the crux of the shmuz. I was amazed to find myself in the thick of the post shiur conversation. Together with those I perceived “learned”, I stood and participated as one of the crowd. Just last year, we spent a week delving deep into the sugya of the actions of refuah on Shabbos being הוטרה or דחויה and hearing from the poskei hador about practical applications. I was still a proud part of the “Yarchei Kallah chevra” many months after it had taken place.

Sure those reading this will say that a puff piece about my Yarchei Kallah experience could help Agudath Israel’s marketing…. They are right. But the truth in these words are unmistakable. I found something extraordinary here at AIAYK and I want to get the secret. As a young member of the group I can בעזרת השם look forward to many years of the Yarchei Kallah experience. I urge you to consider whether you are ready to change your life… change your family…. change your perspective on Torah, Avodah and Yiras Shamayim. I jumped when I was given the “go-ahead” and the results thus far have been beyond my comprehension. Please join me HERE!

Shaya Sonnenschein

Chanukah 5779

(Press Release)

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