The halls of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem buzz with youthful energy as young men in their late teens and 20s rush between classes, clutching notebooks, Talmuds and other Jewish texts.

Among them is Shlomo Lichtenberg, an 85-year-old retired chemist who is spending 10 days soaking up the advanced Jewish education he never received as a child in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“Shlomo is as energetic and ‘with it’ as the rest of the students here,” says his study partner, 21-year-old Zalmy Goldberg, a student mentor (shaliach) originally from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. “We all enjoy having him here with us, showing us that it’s really never too late to do something good.”

Lichtenberg’s story begins in Bucharest, Rumania, where he was born in 1929. Together with his family, he relocated to Argentina as a child. “My Jewish education was very limited,” he recalls. “I spent one year studying with a Russian-born teacher in preparation for my bar mitzvah—and that was it.”

After training as a chemist, he left for Israel in 1955. There, he learned Hebrew and then promptly enlisted in the fledgling Israeli army. After his discharge, he went on work in a large government firm, where he eventually met his American-born wife and fellow chemist, Jacqueline. The two married in 1966 and relocated to New York—to be closer to aging relatives—a year later, just before the outbreak of the Six-Day War in June of 1967.

Putting on tefillin
Putting on tefillin

For the next 35 years, the couple lived in Monsey, N.Y., where they raised their two daughters (one is now a psychologist; the other recently retired from the U.S. Air Force). During that time, Jaqueline Lichtenberg also published a number of science-fiction novels.

In 2002, the Lichtenbergs moved to Chandler, Ariz., where they met Rabbi Mendy and Shterna Deitsch, co-directors of Chabad of the East Valley there.

There, they purchased a house close to what became the Pollack Chabad Center for Jewish Life, which Lichtenberg proudly describes as “the most beautiful synagogue in the world.” Until that became a reality in late 2013,he attended services at the Deitsch residence, and later in a rented storefront, at times walking five miles to attend on Shabbat.

‘Ignited a Spark’

In 2012, wishing to visit relatives in Israel but unable to travel around on his own, Lichtenberg arranged to meet up with a friend from Chabad who was a student at Mayanot in Jerusalem and who agreed to help him around the country.

The experience of seeing the Mayanot students busy learning things he never had a chance to learn when he was their age “ignited a spark in me,” says the octogenarian.

With his 21-year-old study partner and student mentor, Zalmy Goldberg
With his 21-year-old study partner and student mentor, Zalmy Goldberg

“The following Simchat Torah, Rabbi Deitsch asked everyone to set a spiritual goal for the coming year. I said I would learn at Mayanot. The rabbi was bewildered and suggested that maybe I should attend a program that caters to seniors, but I said, ‘Only Mayanot!’ Everyone was so surprised, but I was the most surprised of them all.”

After making arrangements with Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, director of Mayanot’s Executive Learning Program, Lichtenberg flew to Israel and is currently deeply immersed in Torah learning.

When asked about the stamina needed to keep a rigorous yeshivah schedule that entails learning from early morning to deep into the evening, he explains: “I grew up with anti-Semitism in Argentina, but I was never afraid of a challenge, and that is how I am alive now at 85. Everybody asks how I am so energetic, and I reply that I have a young soul and am connected to G‑d.”

Learning in class
Learning in class
At prayer
At prayer
With a new friend and fellow Torah student
With a new friend and fellow Torah student