Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman

Gala 2016 Rabbi Grossman PhotoRabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman is a sixth generation Jerusalemite, born in 1946. A dramatic turning point in his life occurred in 1968, a few months after the Six-Day War. Rabbi Grossman wanted to show gratitude to G-d for the miracles he witnessed, and so he decided to move to the Lower Galilee town of Migdal Ha’Emek to provide the socio-humanitarian aid sorely needed there. Migdal Ha’emek had been established in 1953 as a development town designed to accommodate part of the great influx of Jewish immigrants from the North African countries. The town’s population grew in size much faster than the evolving socio-economic and educational infrastructure. The resulting shortage of jobs and lack of sufficient school facilities and teachers had a devastating effect on the inhabitants. Migdal Ha’Emek quickly became known as one of the prime centers of criminal activity in Israel.

Rabbi Grossman’s arrival was without fanfare. No welcoming committee. No mandate from the people or from the administration. No budget. No staff. No office. He joined in the conversations of idle youth hanging out on the street corners and, after gaining their confidence, began organizing private classes for them. But he knew that to get to the core of the problem, he would have to tackle it at its roots.

Rabbi Grossman became a steady and frequent visitor at the town’s discotheques and pubs, engaging the young clientele in dialogue. Slowly but surely the tough exteriors began to peel away and there began to surface the gentle side of the members of the new generation searching for their true identity.

The painstaking work was beginning to meet with significant achievements and public recognition. Rabbi Grossman’s reputation as “the Disco Rabbi” had been firmly set in the minds of the general public in all of Israel who received regular reports from the communications media. He began visiting prisoners in Israel’s jails, giving them words of encouragement and providing them with young rabbis to teach them the beauty of the Torah way of life.

Though official statistics showed that criminal activity began a downtrend in Migdal Ha’Emek, the town’s residents didn’t need statistics to show them how much the situation had improved. The cleaned-up atmosphere helped entice entrepreneurs to set up factories in the town’s industrial zone and the unemployed regained their pride as jobs became available.

In 1969, only one year after Rabbi Grossman’s arrival in town, he was unanimously elected to the position of Chief Rabbi of Migdal Ha’Emek, with lifetime tenure. At age 23 he had thus become the youngest municipal chief rabbi in all of Israel.

The foundations were laid for the opening, in 1972, of the Migdal Ohr Youth Village, now called the Migdal Ha’Emek Academic Campus, and home to nearly 6,500 children at risk. It is the world’s largest Jewish youth village, akin to a medium-sized university campus. Migdal Ohr also serves an additional 6,000 disadvantaged youth at its two other academic campuses and 160 Youth Clubs. For more than 43 years, Migdal Ohr has been transforming the lives of children from impoverished and disadvantaged homes, where the basic need for shelter, safety, and love could not be met.

In 1983 Rabbi Grossman was presented with the coveted Love of Israel award by the President of Israel, Mr. Chaim Herzog. In 1991, Migdal Ohr was awarded the nivchar he’asar (“Best of the Decade”) award and was acclaimed as the best educational network in Israel for the past ten years, and Rabbi Grossman was chosen to be honored with the Israel Tolerance Prize at a special ceremony in the Israeli Parliament. In 2004 the State of Israel bestowed upon him its highest honor- the Israel Prize, for “Lifetime Contributions to Israeli Society”. In 2008, at Israel’s 60th Anniversary celebrations on Mount Herzl, Rabbi Grossman was honored with lighting the very first of 12 ceremonial torches. In 2009 Rabbi Grossman was awarded the Caring Institute’s International Humanitarian of the Year. In 2014 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Distinction, which was presented to him by Israel’s President Shimon Peres.

Rabbi Grossman has twice been offered – and each time respectfully declined – the position of Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel in order to remain close to his children on campus.