For Chaim Pyekrash, focusing on Torah for a few hours a day was just what he needed after a long career in journalism. Born in Tiberias, Israel, and raised in Pardes Chana, the 76-year-old came to Tel Aviv’s Kolel Tiferet Zekanim Levi Yitzchak, a morning yeshiva for retired men, after 50 years spent as a reporter for the daily Hazofe newspaper.

Just last month, he joined his peers for a celebration of the yeshiva’s completion of studying a tractate of the Talmud.

“There’s a friendly, familial atmosphere here,” he said.

Pyekrash’s classmate, Moshe Baruch Schwartz, heartily agreed. He said that he’s been attending the yeshiva since its opening 22 years ago by Chabad-Lubavitch of Tel Aviv.

“I always felt that the day will come when I can go back to what I learned in cheder,” said Schwartz, 85, using the term for Jewish elementary school.

Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor who was confined to the Warsaw ghetto during most of World War II, made it to Israel in 1948 as a volunteer fighter aboard the famous Altalena supply ship owned by the Irgun militia. After his arrival, he longed for the time to spend learning Torah as he had as a child growing up in the town of Munkacs in the now Czech Republic. Once he retired from his position as a senior technician for the army, his wife told him to go learn once more.

Besides the yeshiva in Tel Aviv, Chabad-Lubavitch centers operate seven other similar programs, from the cities of Karmiel and Tiberias in the country’s north to Rechovot, Rishon Lezion and Ashdod on the coast.

All told, Schwartz and the rest of the original Tel Aviv students have completed 19 of the Talmud’s 39 tractates. Their most recent accomplishment, the 225-page tractate of Ketubot – which deals with marriage and its obligations for the husband and wife – took two years to complete.

Rabbi Uri Ben Shachar, who headed the yeshiva for 13 years, began teaching the class, but passed away in September at the age of 81.

When Ben Shachar fell ill, he asked his grandson, Rabbi Shaul Reitzes, to help him teach the class. Reitzes is now teaching another section of the Talmud, the tractate of Sanhedrin, which the students began immediately after their celebration.

Retired journalist Chaim Pyekrash, 76, learns a section of the Talmud.
Retired journalist Chaim Pyekrash, 76, learns a section of the Talmud.

“It is special that this is something that my grandfather started, and which I am continuing,” said Reitzes.

Turning to his 50 students, who are all in their 70s, 80s or 90s, Reitzes asserted that they are more diligent than younger, more energetic learners. Besides their studies in Talmud, they also study classic commentaries on the Torah, as well as Chasidic thought. Classes run for three hours each morning, Sunday through Thursday.

“Younger students often need to be reminded to stay focused,” said Reitzes, “but my [older] students are motivated. They count on the class.”

Rabbi Yossi Gerlitzky, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Tel Aviv, put it in different terms.

“When you see them studying and questioning,” he said, “they seem as if they have reclaimed their youth.”

But whereas teenagers can’t wait for time off each year, Gerlitzky said that his yeshiva’s students want to study as much as possible.

Said the rabbi: “They’re asking for us to do away with summer vacation.”