May 15, 2014

Public School Teen to Community Rabbi

From NCSY and reading Chaim Potok's "The Chosen," Yerachmiel Fried, a typical public school teen ended up getting ordained by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and founding the Dallas Community Kollel.

As a public school teen in Indianapolis, IN, Randy Fried spent a lot of time building medical models, planning his future career as a doctor and hanging out with friends. Though his family attended an Orthodox synagogue — Fried’s father, a Holocaust survivor who grew up in a frum family in Europe, felt most comfortable with Orthodox services — they observed little else in the way of Jewish observance.

“I was Jewish, obviously, but I was just a typical American teenager who never gave much thought to anything religious,” explained Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried (formerly Randy). “Even in our shul, it was mostly made up of families where the parents had once identified as Orthodox and felt comfortable in that synagogue environment, but did not consider themselves observant in any way.”

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

“When Rabbi Ronald (Tzvi) Gray, a young Orthodox rabbi who earned semicha from Yeshiva University, came to Indianapolis to head the shul, he brought in NCSY as an outlet for teens. Fried, who was 13 at the time and whose friends had joined, decided to tag along.”

“I joined NCSY while belonging to other youth organizations, like BBYO and USY, but NCSY stood out right away because of its Shabbatons,” recalled Fried. “Those weekends were so moving, and the Havdallah ceremonies were very impactful. It was a wonder and revelation to see such unadulterated joy in being Jewish.”

At the same time, Fried read Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen,” and the world of yeshivas, rebbes and Talmud study described in the book kindled a deep interest in learning more about his faith. “Between NCSY and that book, I was ready to take the next step in my journey,” said Fried. A transfer to study at the Yeshiva of the South in Memphis, TN, was suggested by an NCSY advisor at a Shabbaton. After much thought, Fried switched schools and found meaningful experiences in the yeshiva that continued to nurture his growing passion for his heritage. But he returned home for public school, as requested by his parents, after the Memphis dorm burnt down.

Back home in Indianapolis, his yeshiva rabbi called and, upon ensuring that Fried really did yearn to return to yeshiva, asked him: “Are you a man or a mouse?” Fried thought it over and replied, “Well, I’m certainly not a mouse.” He summoned the courage to speak with his parents about his desire to immerse himself more fully in a yeshiva environment for an extended period of time, and, with their approval, he attended Skokie Yeshiva and later Brisk Yeshiva of Chicago, where he made the transition to becoming fully observant. He deferred a full scholarship for pre-med studies to learn in Israel for a year at the Israel Research Torah Institute (IRTI), which turned into 16 years of rabbinical studies at IRTI under Rav Tzvi Kushlevsky. He also studied at the Mir and other kollels and was ordained by the esteemed Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l. During this time, he married Miri Morgenstern, and they started a family.

The family of six moved to Dallas, TX, in 1992, when Fried was invited to found and run the Dallas Community Kollel (DATA). In the last 21 years, the kollel has transformed the city with many hundreds of returnees to observance through its classes and seminars, and has built many Torah institutions in Dallas. Rabbi Israel Lashak, regional director of Southwest NCSY, admires Rabbi Fried’s work and is grateful for all that he’s done for the community and NCSY. Fried continues to lead the kollel, publish new Torah works, and supervise the mikvah and Beit Din on Geirus (conversion). He has written and published several noted works on halacha and Jewish thought.

Today, Rabbi Fried and Miri have seven children, four of whom are currently in Israel, learning in yeshivas or seminaries. One son is a captain in the Israeli Air Force.

“I look at NCSY with first setting me on my path,” said Fried. “I am grateful for the Jewish life my family and I live now, and NCSY played a major role in where we are today.”



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