It began in 1969 when Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, a sixth generation rabbi from Meah Shearim in Jerusalem, discovered Israel’s street children consisting of wandering orphans, drug addicts, abused kids, estranged from their poor families and without faith.
The 23-year-old rabbi made it his mission to rescue the lost children. He and his wife took a bus to Migdal Ha’Emek, a disadvantaged town in the northeast Galilee populated by the poorest immigrants from Eastern Europe and Arab countries. It was a hotbed of crime and drugs where Torah was all but forgotten.
As the bus rumbled into town the rabbi asked, “Where is the yeshiva?”
“There is only a disco,” the driver said.
“Okay, take me to the Disco Yeshiva.”
The driver turned to the rabbi’s wife: “Is he crazy?”
The rabbi gathered kids from the discos and the streets and started a Torah class. In the local jail he taught Pirke Avoth twice a week. He gave one of the prisoners a kiss. Two days later he opened a letter: “Rabbi, that was the first kiss I ever got in my life.”
Hanging out with the homeless kids on the street and in the discos, Rabbi Grossman gained their confidence and attracted a growing number of at-risk children. Beginning with 18 of them, Grossman and his expanding staff now serve more than 10,000 boys and girls across the country with four daycare centers, 10 kindergartens, four elementary and junior high schools, 6 high schools, a Gan Yavne College, Zoharim Youth Village, 200 foster family supervised apartments, 160 Ohr Yisraeli Youth Clubs, a recording studio, medical center and a bridal salon for weddings.
Migdal Ohr (“Tower of Light”) graduates are among Israel’s top doctors and lawyers, army generals and even a Knesset member.
With a universal reputation as “the disco rabbi,” Grossman came to New York last month to preside over the annual Migdal Ohr gala at Espace. He introduced one of his graduates, Isaac Kakone.
Isaac grew up in a broken home in Montreal. At 15, embittered that his parents divorced, he found himself on the street, drinking and “doing things.”
“Not knowing who I am, with all this anger in me, I hit rock bottom. This man said he’d send me to Israel to see Rabbi Grossman. I wanted to go to Tel Aviv but I went to Midgal Ha’Emek. There was someone to talk to. I started studying computers and Torah. They gave me food, clothing, everything that only your mother gives.”
The disco rabbi put his arm around him. “Whatever happened, happened. From now on you just grow.”