Torah took the mound at Citi Field in Flushing this past Sunday as the Orthodox Union (OU) fielded a team of 29 internationally renowned scholars who led classes on a wide array of 31 subjects for around 2,500 participants at its third annual Torah New York event. The classes ranged from more traditional approaches on how to spiritually prepare for the Jewish High Holidays to more modern issues like repentance in a time of social media and the effects artificial intelligence will have on Shabbos observance in the future. Moishe Bane, President of the OU, noted how encouraging it is to see the enormous numbers of the community eager to engage in Torah study in preparation for the Jewish New Year. “It is so exciting to observe the eagerness of our community to connect to Torah study and to a deeper understanding of their relationship to G-d,” he said. “In these days immediately before the High Holidays, I cannot imagine a more profound message to G-d of our eagerness to connect.”
In addition to the lectures, a highlight of the day was the Semichas Chaver Program Panel and siyum. Commonly referred to as SCP, the OU initiated this groundbreaking initiative, which aims to give the local workingman practical halachic applications to bring into their homes. The siyum attracted over 400 people from 23 North American communities. Rabbi Elyada Goldvicht, founder of SCP, explained that participants joined from around the country to feel the energy of the simchah as they have been learning to live and experience Torah in a new light and have cause for celebration. The program is sponsored in memory of HeChaver Shlomo Michael ben Meir Strauss, whose son Elliot is a member of the Kew Gardens Hills chapter led by Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, rav of the Young Israel of Queens Valley. The program includes testing and requires attendees to join in person allowing for the establishment of a lifelong chaburah. Rabbi Marcus pointed out that, growing up in Toronto, his father was the ultimate role model, always showing how to devote time both to the family in the most special manner as well as to a k’hilah filled with Yidden of all backgrounds. Often in the most trying times, the responsibility to the congregation will supersede spending time with your children, but as you maintain your family, you in turn are part of another. He recalls visits to his grandparents, the Soloveitchiks in Chicago, that aimed to form many distinct memories. Some local participants include Yossi Adler, Zev Baker, JA Bruckner, Johnny Daniel, Bobby Fagin, Cobi Friedman, Aaron Gropper, Adam Mermelstein, Yechiel Palagon, Michael and his brother Judah Plaut, David Steinberg, Daniel Tuckman, and Edar Ben Zikry.
The Vedol family was delighted to journey from Malden, Massachusetts, for this auspicious occasion, while many from the SCP group in Boca Raton celebrated with their magid shiur, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg. The rabbi explained that we must take advantage of our friends and mentors, as change comes through making resolutions, not mere wishes. When we prepare a plan and pause throughout the timeline, we can celebrate the beauty of each success. Rabbi Uri Lesser, the magid shiur from West Hempstead, New York, had the privilege of his father joining his chaburah. During the event, they each expressed the nachas to be in one another’s company and see such a strong display of Torah around the world. Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, magid shiur, Woodmere, said he extends appreciation to Rabbi Yisrael Kaminetsky of DRS for giving him the original teaching opportunity and exhibiting the beauty and excitement behind learning Torah. RIETS Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Hershel Schachter led the program and took halachic queries from program members. The rabbi commented that learning the 613 mitzvos is an aspect of teaching the Torah. After we master these laws, we can proceed to learn the daily daf. Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, has long been associated with the program and gave a video message of encouragement and brachah to the gathering. A lavish meal and lively dancing followed. Allen Fagin, OU’s Executive VP, began the evening reminding all to take their learning onto the Shabbos table and to revel in the remarkable display of Torah that will forever be enriched on a global scale in the years to come.
There was also NCSY programming where I encountered the Wiener family of Woodmere. Zvi And Penina had just been to hear Rabbi Joey Haber, where they discovered new ways to be the best parents to their daughters Zahava and Naomi, who both previously attended various summer and Shabbaton programs. Jonathan Sherman, President of NCSY’s Queens regional chapter, remarked on his yearning to expand his personal growth and leadership qualities.
A parallel interactive program was enthusiastically prepared by Bracha and her husband Ami for over 60 children, ages 5-12, where the children each made a shofar and other meaningful projects, while their parents were able to enjoy all the offerings of the broader program. Gavriel Malakov learned of Torah NY from his shul, Beth Gavriel in Forest Hills. He brought along his family to participate in the children’s activities, while he learned that the mind is truly capable of much more. The OU, the nation’s oldest and largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization for Orthodox Jewry in America, also previewed a state-of-the-art app for daily Talmud study called All Daf. The app is expected to transform the way Daf Yomi is studied in the future with its interactive statistics, graphs, charts, video, maps, and biographies. It is expected to launch with the new seven-year learning cycle that starts in early January 2020. Asher Laub is a superb violinist who had the opportunity to grace the audience. He reacted how unique it was to be involved in a day of collective awe-inspiring moments. As a coordinator of Torah NY, Shlomo Licht of Kew Gardens was encouraged by the diversity of the crowds seeking to expand their academics and spend a day evoked in Jewish thought, surrounded by others.
During the baalei t’filah workshop, Charlie Harary explained to chazanim that the greatest good Hashem can give is Himself, and the Torah acts as the interactivity between man and Hashem. When a sh’liach tzibur stands at the helm of the congregation, he penetrates somebody’s heart through his very own, navigating the heart of the people, not their ears. The impact is not made if the worshipers join along in song – rather if your heart, as the leader, is lit and correct. If there is one concept gained, it is to align your heart before you walk up to the amud, because the moment you feel any overconfidence, the special flame is extinguished.
Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, an internationally acclaimed posek, author, educator, and lecturer on helping shape the contemporary Jewish world, welcomed how artificial intelligence could benefit halachic observance in the future, specifically that of Shabbos. While he cautioned about the impact robots might have on Shabbos in the home, there could be many other benefits that would enhance life for observant Jews in the future. I asked the rabbi where we stand as individuals with the High Holidays approaching. Often people want to feel real; on Rosh HaShanah there are special higher levels for our t’filos. Then, as the Aseres Y’mei T’shuvah arrive, our soul goes on vacation to gain new heights. It is now that we have the chance to go above and beyond our expectations and take upon us ideas even if they are too lofty. Hopefully, this will push us to choose an action to continue throughout the year, even if that does not transpire; taking upon new actions during this week will affect our entire year.
Rabbi Avi Berman, Executive Director, OU Israel, traveled to New York ahead of Torah Yerushalayim on October 6 at the Ramada Hotel. With the Aseres Y’mei T’shuvah soon upon us, I enquired of the rabbi for a pointer to get us motivated. Everyone has the capability to prove how much better he can be. First, take a moment to evaluate our daily actions, allowing us to feel more complete with ourselves so we can have a year with moments of clarity. Regarding the current political dilemma, Rabbi Berman mentions that we must have our full trust in the Almighty as He has already mapped our path.
Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger delivered a personal and intimate textual study of the Rosh HaShanah machzor. Afterwards, he commented in order to gain any clarity for the year ahead, we must first follow the guidance of the Chofetz Chaim and dedicate a few moments each day to gain our personal perspectives.
Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein educated parents on the limits of responsibility toward their children. Beforehand, he related a parable to help for us in these evaluated days. When we try to lease a car, we are asked if we have outstanding debt as we must have paid down 75 percent of our obligations to be eligible. We now have one week left to pay down our minimum for this past year because, at the close of Yom Kippur when we beg for life, we really are requesting an extended credit line. Shlomo Schwartz, Chief Financial Officer of the OU, pronounced the unbelievable kiddush Hashem of the day alongside the dedication of the organizers and magidei shiurim.
On his way into the lecture hall, Rabbi Eytan Feiner encouraged the Queens community-at-large to be the biggest eved Hashem we know how by giving our Creator nachas each and every second of our lives. The rabbi then captivated a packed room discussing David HaMelech as the quintessential king who never stopped immersing himself in t’filah. Rabbanit Shani Taragin expounded on the repentance within Elul and the romance of Shir HaShirim when you enter a new intense domain of love with Hashem. Literature compares the Shir to the Kodesh HaKodashim, where the love of the Jewish nation is given the chance to manifest.
Sivan Rahav-Meir, a well-known political reporter for Israel’s Channel 2 News, who has a wide following for her views on the blessings and dangers of social media, told a packed audience of the dangers of wealth, privilege, and unbridled access to social media.
“It is no longer good enough to have Amazon; now you need Amazon Prime. We can’t even wait a week for a package to arrive; it must be that day or at least the next. What does that say about our culture? This is the crisis of our generation. How do we learn to use social media for the good, but turn it off and away from things that distract us and our children?” she asked. Stay tuned for an exclusive to the QJL woman’s point of view with Rahav-Meir.
The event also featured a screening of a never-before-seen recording of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l teaching, often with humor, one of his famed annual T’shuvah Drashos. There he noted two traditions, that of learning Torah, but moreover the religious and emotional experience involved in the love of Hashem. The Rav pointed out how we lack enthusiasm for the Yamim Nora’im, and we must connect emotionally to alter this path. Regarding Erev Yom Kippur, it is its own unique day, separate from the rest; and as it is Erev – before – it is the bearer of the news.
The blue-ribbon list of scholars who taught sessions throughout the day also included: Dr. Henry Abramson, Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Rabbi David Fohrman, Rabbi Avraham Kahan, Rabbi Levi Langer, Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky, Rabbi Judah Mischel, Mrs. CB Neugroschl, Rabbi Shaul Robinson, Dr. Smadar Rosensweig, Rabbi Yonason Sacks, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, Mrs. Dina Schoonmaker, Mrs. Shira Smiles, Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, Rabbi Ya’akov Trump, Rabbi Steven Weil, Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Dr. Ora Wiskind, and Rabbi Dr. Jeffery Woolff.
Together with his father, Robbie Aboff, events coordinator at the Chazaq Organization, observed the beauty in bringing the k’dushah of Torah and Yiddishkeit to the same stadium at which they attend Mets games.
OU’s Executive Vice President Allen Fagin, formerly of Forest Hills, expressed that there was no better time than during the week of S’lichos to host the signature Torah event of the year for the metropolitan area to join in unison being kovei’a itim LaTorah for one extraordinary day of potential, opportunity, and change. The demonstration of limud haTorah had no beginning or end, with captivating programming available to those in each stage of life, no matter their religious level or experience, united by the fundamental goal of the day – togetherness – allowing each participant to grow in his or her desired relationship to Hashem.
“The comprehensiveness of Torah NY, the range of classes, and the breadth of scholarship that reaches young children, teenagers, and adults makes this such an important event for the Jewish community. It is so heartwarming to see us transform Citi Field into a real field of dreams, and how Torah learning can raise and inspire our community.”
Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. Rabbi Yehuda Friedman serves as the Associate Director for Synagogue Services and is the Regional Director for Long Island and Queens. He took notice of all the voices and expressions throughout the day, seeing how everyone learned in his or her own means and got heard. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Birthright Israel/Israel Free Spirit, Yachad, and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs. For more information, please visit www.ou.org.
By Shabsie Saphirstein with OU Staff