December 10, 2018

Yehuda Goldberg: The Entrepreneurial Educator

Yehuda Goldberg

American-born Yehuda Goldberg always felt he missed out by forgoing the chance to spend a year in Israel after high school. On the other hand, he said, there wasn’t really a program for him. Despite having been born and raised in a pro-Israel, Modern Orthodox family, he wasn’t ready to sit and learn Gemara for 10 hours straight in a yeshiva. Goldberg was a conscientious, enterprising teenager who had founded two digital marketing startups while still in school — so he wasn’t looking to come to Israel to party like many kids his age. Bereft of choices, Goldberg went straight to college. 

Sixteen years later, Goldberg, 34, is looking to right that wrong with the next generation. He said skipping a gap year and going straight to college is a growing phenomenon among Modern Orthodox North Americans who feel that going to Israel would delay their careers. So together with American-Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Chayen, last September Goldberg opened Torah Tech, an alternative gap year program with the tagline, “Torah in a real-life setting.” Whereas many post-high school yeshiva programs in Israel actively nurture an insular “bubble” in which 18-year-olds can focus solely on Torah study and spiritual growth, Torah Tech provides an environment that mimics the life their graduates are likely to go on to lead. 

“We’re immersing them in a framework that they can take with them for the rest of their lives,” Goldberg said. He bristles at the term yeshiva. “We’re a career development program. We’ve denied acceptance to boys looking to go to yeshiva.”

Nonetheless, his students are expected to turn up at 7 a.m. for morning prayers and Torah study at the beit midrash  (study hall), which, in keeping with the school’s ethos, is situated along with 65 startups in a shared workspace in Israel’s high-tech epicenter, Tel Aviv. A business-centric beit midrash affords the students the chance to really live the value of Torah v’Avodah (Torah and work), Goldberg said. Professionals from the surrounding startups often join the boys for their daily prayers and study sessions. Because the program is kept purposely small, there’s also a social responsibility to show up on time to comprise a minyan — the 10 men required for prayers. This inaugural year has 10 boys enrolled and Goldberg has pledged that the student intake will never creep much above 30. 

“Yehuda Goldberg opened Torah Tech, an alternative gap-year program with the tagline, ‘Torah in a real-life setting.'”

Three times a week, the students attend tailor-made internships — the “tech” part of the program — that include cancer research at Tel Aviv’s renowned Ichilov medical center, 3-D prosthetics, self-driving cars, big data, as well as non-high-tech internships such as photography. This year’s crop was at the top of its classes and already has been accepted to high-ranking colleges including Johns Hopkins for pre-med. 

After a nine-hour day at their respective jobs, the boys return to the beit midrash for evening prayers and a study session billed as a “Chavurah With Professionals” led by C-level executives. Goldberg is the founder of the Judah Agency, a digital marketing firm that has handled ad campaigns for brands including Microsoft, Cisco, Verizon and Toyota. 

“We’re showing them that here’s someone who runs a $100 million [venture capital] fund and yet he finds the time to sit and learn,” Goldberg said referencing a teacher and member of his board of directors, Aleph VC’s General Partner Aaron Rosenson. “This is how life works. The hatzlacha (success) comes from Torah.” 

The choice to situate Torah Tech in Tel Aviv, while deliberate, is not always celebrated by parents who associate it with being a party city. But Goldberg disabuses them of those notions, saying, with the highest concentration of Jews in Israel, a separate beach, an ongoing religious renaissance, Tel Aviv is fast becoming the most desirable place for young, observant Jews to live today.