Birkas Rifka - Sometimes Dreams DO Come True

Enter your email address to receive our newsletter and updates:

Mishpacha Article #1

By Gavriel Horen, "Mishpacha" 12 Tishrey 5767

Through Carpentry and Caring, a Ben Torah
Shows How One Chessed Leads to Another.

Many carpenters build furniture. YITZCHOK KITAY BUILDS LIVES.

The ben Torah craftsman's "clients" are the most destitute families in Yerushalayim, for whom a new closet or set of beds is more than a gift – it's a statement. Referred by gabbai tzedakah to the poorest homes, Kitay delivers both high-quality furniture and personal chizuk to raise people's spirits. "To mechazek people, to give them strength to go on, it's not a matter of giving a bed or a closet, it's matter of showing you care," he explains.

His workmen are American yungeleit , new olim who quickly discover that parnassah is not so easy to come by. By welcoming them into his shop and teaching them carpentry skills and professional work ethics, Kitay prepares Bnei Torah to support themselves in any field they enter. He also makes sure they keep growing in Torah. "Someone has to open the door to help these yungeleit ," he explains. "We're opening the door."

One chesed leads to another: To benefit his workers, Kitay instituted the Chaburah Shas program in his shop and has since publicized it throughout America and Israel . This memory enhancement program can be applied to any area of learning, and has been adopted by tens of thousands of people in homes, schools, shuls , kollelim , yeshivos and shiurim around the world.

When you meet Kitay for the first time, he hardly gives the impression of being a chessed maverick. Rather, he is a modest ben Torah who sprinkles his speech with lots of Chazals , vertlach and hashkafa . But after listening to him for a while, you begin to sense the emunah and vision that has led him to seek one opportunity after another to do chessed . Not many are zocheh to better the lives of tens of thousands of people, but this is what Kitay has done through his remarkable chessed network called Birkas Rifka.


It all started, appropriately enough, with a chessed .

As a bachur at Yeshivat Mercaz HaTorah in Yerushalayim , Kitay began doing repair work to support himself in full-time learning. Stashing a toolbox in the trunk of his car, he became a traveling handyman. Along the way he met an elderly philanthropist, who was taken with the idea of a ben Torah learning and working, and offered him a small workroom in the Yerushalayim suburb of Motza . Most people would have thanked Hashem for helping them this way. Kitay, however, saw in the gift a golden opportunity to help others.

"I needed a parnassah and someone was interested in helping me," he explains. " Hashem gave me the idea to help other yungeleit make a parnassah too, and to use the fruits of their labors to help even more families in need."

From these beginnings blossomed Birkas Rifka , named in memory of Kitay's mother and the mother of his benefactor. Over the past fifteen years the shop has quadrupled in size and is now filled with cabinet-maker table saws, edge-banding equipment, presses and sanders – all donated by supporters eager to be part of this chessed. More than 100 yungeleit have passed through these doors; some stay a year, others up to three years.

"When Yitzchok brings someone in, it's like he's bringing in a member of family," says Rephael Gennis, who stated working here after making aliyah in 1999. "He really cares about you and treats you with dignity. In the shop, everyone learns from their mistakes – but they're not made to feel like they made a mistake. Not only did I learn carpentry skills and how to build things in an organized fashion, I also learned how to respect customers' needs and my obligation to provide a quality product."

Under Kitay's expert tutelage, yungeleit plan and execute simple and complex designs concentrating on maximum space utilization, a must for Israel 's typically small apartments. This training is put to the test every time they enter the home of a "client" and find there's no room to put anything! In one apartment, for example, they found a family of eight sleeping in a 10-square-meter (33-square-foot) space. Only by knocking down a wall and moving a door could they make room for the pullout beds and closets they had brought.

Dedication to Torah values is a key part of the training. All shop members are required to daven three times a day and commit themselves to regular learning. During shop hours, Torah tapes play continuously in the background. At lunch, the men eat together and study Kitzur Shulchan Aruch around the table. When someone completes a masechta , the shop hosts a siyum and invites other blue-collar workers to the celebration.

"The shiurim and tapes that I heard in the shop gave me a solid background in emunah and bitachon ," relates Tzvi Mike Kashnow, who worked here for two years. "And the concept of a ben Torah working in a Torah environment gave me a totally different outlook on earning a parnassah . Now I am a Rebbe in an American yeshiva, a part-time handyman and carpenter, and have a web design business. Every day I use the work ethics that I learned at Birkas Rifka , both in preparing shiurim and in my interpersonal relationships with my students and colleagues."

"My working there really gave me the motivation to push on in my learning," adds Gennis, who went on to found his own computer sales, service and leasing company. Another graduate now owns a welding business; another does carpentry work for the Israel Museum ; another became a building-site manager; and yet another opened a vocational yeshiva program for English-speaking bachurim .

The Chaburah Shas program, designed by Rav Sender Dolgin and implemented in the shop, enhances the yungeleit's Torah learning through a schedule of weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly chazarah . Thanks to Kitay's publicity, Chaburah Shas has been successfully adapted by the Toldos Aharon Rebbe in his kollel ; by Rav Binyamin Carlebach in a large chaburah at the Mirrer Yeshivah in Yerushalayim ; by followers of Mishnah Berurah Yomi and Shulchan Aruch Yomi ; and even by a cheder rebbe in Lakewood , N.J. , who uses it to teach alef-beis .


Backed by a motivated workforce, Kitay finds that he has no dearth of "clients." More than 1,000 families have received new beds, closets and other furnishings from Birkas Rifka to date – and thousands more are begging to be next. Gabbai tzedakah recommend only the most destitute cases and provide the money for materials. Kitay must raise the rest of the funds to pay his crew. Under this agreement, every closet costs Birkas Rifka $1,200; every set of beds costs $500.

It would be easy to pass on a novice's mistakes to these families, but the results would be devastating. His years of experience in repair work taught Kitay that if something isn't built right the first time, it will probably have to be repaired or replaced at the earliest opportunity. Poor families can afford to do neither.

"Anyone who is poor will always find people who give them things that have no value," he observes. "I was once in a home where someone had donated a cheap closet. Twenty minutes after it was put up, the children broke off a door. Who's going to fix it? No one! Have you helped this family, or hurt them?

"Another time I came to a home to make two bunk beds that had to sleep five children. By accident, I knocked against the dining-room table, which was low, lopsided, and moved in all directions. It was right before Pesach . I thought, What if one of the children sitting at the Seder accidentally kicks a leg of the table, and the wine spills over onto his only pair of clean clothing? I couldn't leave the family in that situation. I took the table into the shop and had someone work on it for eight hours to rebuild it better than new. It was a matter of helping those people survive."

"The poverty we saw in these homes is unbelievable," says Gennis. "Once we walked into a home that didn't have a sink in the kitchen. There was a tap sticking out of the wall and a piece of cardboard held up by planks that served as a countertop. There was a hole in the cardboard leading to a bucket. When he saw what was going on, Yitzchok gave the family a used kitchen in addition to the beds and closet. People like these aren't just poor; their lives are disorganized. They need someone to reach out and help them. Afterwards I saw such tears of joy on their faces because now there's order in the apartment. This is real chessed ."

Indeed, Birkas Rifka provides much more than new furniture. Often the clutter and lack of space affect occupants psychologically, robbing them of the energy they need to improve their situation. What do you do when you find fifteen children squeezed into a tiny apartment, sleeping four to a room, more than one to a bed? Or an apartment littered with broken appliances, broken windows, a broken triss , and peeling paint? In the latter home Kitay installed a new, six-section closet. After he left, the landlord suddenly decided to fix the windows and the triss and bring in a painter. "Why?" Kitay asks. "Because he saw someone else was interested in helping."

In his gentle way, Kitay manages to restore people's dignity even while he is delivering thousands of dollars worth of tzedakah . Often he will share vertlach and insights that have helped him in his own avodas Hashem . "We're all in the same boat; everyone has their headaches," he explains. "I like to share ideas that give me chizuk . We also have an unwritten contract that everyone has to daven for siyatta diShmaya for us. Everyone is so happy to do this, too. This is my customer relations. I also invite these families to my simchas ."

Those who are privileged to support Birkas Rifka's exemplary work know that one dollar really can do two things – give yungeleit the opportunity to learn marketable skills in a supportive, Torah-true environment, and give destitute families high-quality furniture and hope for the future. By giving to Birkas Rifka , everyone can experience for himself how one chessed really does lead to another.