For over 50 years Rabbi Brovender has taught thousands of students from all around the world. This week we introduce you to Rabbi Josh Ross. After receiving an advanced double BA in History and Philosophy from Dalhousie University (Canada), Rabbi Ross spent eight years learning at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Upon returning to North America with his wife Rivky and their children he worked as a campus rabbi for the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus. The Ross family spent three years at Cornell and three years at Princeton and Josh is currently the OU-JLIC’s Deputy Director. In his spare time Rabbi Ross is a powerlifter and strength and conditioning coach.
How did you meet Rabbi Brovender?
After college I came to Israel to find a yeshiva to learn at for a year. I was very uninspired by all the yeshivot I visited and had basically given up until an old friend of mine invited me to spend Shabbat at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Aside from it being the last Shabbat before I left Israel, it was also Shabbat Tisha B’Av and miraculously Rabbi Brovender and Rabbi Ebner happened to both be there. I got to spend Shabbat with Rabbi Brovender and hear his inspirational explanations of kinnot on Tisha B’Av. Ever since, I have had an enduring love of both Rabbi Brovender and Tisha B’Av. And yes, I returned to learn at the yeshiva for eight years.
What do you find most important or striking about the “Brovender Method” –his unique way of teaching?
There is NO question that despite his countless contributions to Jewish education for men and women, in my opinion his “learn how to learn” philosophy is paramount. It sounds almost silly but being a campus rabbi for so many years, almost all college students I continue to meet really don’t know how to learn. They do not have a firm grasp of the fundamentals or the history or how it evolves. They may know who is a Tanna or an Amora but they do not consider the time period the Tanna was living in, who his contemporaries were and why this matters. I can go on at length about this method, and Rabbi Brovender should probably write a book about this (seriously) but because of my learning from Rabbi Brovender, I have always strived to help my students learn how to learn, irrelevant of their skill level.
When it comes to Torah learning, what were you most drawn to after learning with Rabbi Brovender?
While Rabbi Brovender had the terrible misfortune of having me in his Gemara shiur for several years, I found his entire outlook and approach to learning the parsha both powerful and inspiring. I can confidently say that on my journey from the beginner shiur to the Kollel, single to married, childless to being a father – with almost no exception, in eight years I never missed his Thursday night parsha shiur.
Aside from his philosophy of learning how to learn being at the forefront of every shiur, drasha or chavruta I am ever involved in, I have to say that I have always been struck by his lack of ego and approachability. Given his contributions to the Jewish community, learning, and Israel one could see how almost accidentally, someone of his stature could become somewhat unapproachable. And yet he was always happy to talk to anyone, answered my dumbest questions in my first year without any disdain, always introduced himself as Chaim and genuinely seemed to dislike any acts of kavod by any of his students. Over the years I have met many, many people and I am constantly reminded of how little Rabbi Brovender cared about kavod or ego and how influential and important that is in connecting with and relating to people.