With the growth of frum families in West Hempstead, the evening kollel has been picking up in attendance. It is the venue where working men can hear a speaker discuss a halachic matter before a chaburah, and then the participants break up into pairs to tackle the topic at hand, the Daf Yomi, or other subjects on their minds.
Ahead of Shavuos last week, the West Hempstead Community Kollel, which takes place at Bais Torah U’Tefillah (BTU), hosted Rabbi Shmuel Marcus as its speaker. As many of the shul’s members are former residents of Queens, he is a familiar figure to them, being the rav of the Young Israel of Queens Valley and the former Kehilas Ishei Yisrael. He was introduced by Rabbi Yehuda Davis, a native of West Hempstead, who serves at the rav of Kehilas Torah Temimah in Kew Gardens Hills.
“The West Hempstead Community Kollel started seven months ago. Having grown up here, I was taken aback. The community was ready for this for a long time,” Rabbi Davis said. “I was contacted by a group that was so driven to get it off the ground. It is truly moving to have learning paired with action that will last. It’s action based on knowledge.”
Rabbi Marcus spoke of the kollel as “yet another destination of Torah in the community.” He related it to Rabbi Yose ben Kisma in Pirkei Avos, who spoke of his hometown as a “place of Torah.”
“Those who create places of Torah, it is as if they are learning Torah,” he said. Offering inspiration ahead of the holiday, Rabbi Marcus spoke of Rabbi Aryeh Katzin, a longtime kiruv leader whose path to Yiddishkeit started in Moscow in the late 1970s. “He heard of Eliyahu Essas, met him as a teenager, and wanted to learn with him.” The famous refusenik told Katzin that he does not teach students in his underground yeshivah. “I only teach teachers. Come to my class and become a teacher,” Rabbi Marcus paraphrased. “You are now a teacher, so start reaching.”
Rabbi Marcus then quoted Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, who said that teaching Torah to sons is an obligation, and as one is obligated to teach his children, a father is also obligated to learn on his own.
His final example offering encouragement to the kollel was the Rambam, who wrote that to learn is to remember Maamad Har Sinai, when the Torah was brought down to Earth, with the process of continuous revelation as it is applied to given situations. “Be so careful lest you forget. It’s like you were there at Har Sinai. We are engaged in transmitting and sharing the revelation at Har Sinai. Torah is the way you live life.”
Like many of Rabbi Marcus’ former congregants, I maintain my connection to him that resulted from the pandemic. At the height of the closures, he delivered the Daf Yomi shiur on Zoom. Although it is now back in person, it is simultaneously given virtually – not only for anyone who cannot attend in person, but also for folks like me who no longer live in Kew Gardens Hills.
Taking inspiration from Rabbi Marcus’ speech and the sizable audience, I attended the Shavuos Tikun at BTU, alternating with the House of Torah across the street. Rabbi Uri Lesser, the rav of BTU, did likewise, speaking at his shul about the evidence that allows an agunah to remarry, and across the street about the unique sh’eilos of conversion. Like BTU, the Sephardic k’hilah across the street also maintains a daily learning program. Although I live a considerable walk from this cluster of Torah learning, I was welcomed by participants as we shared our commitment towards knowledge of halachah.
By Sergey Kadinsky