Vinnews coverage on Siyum Hashas qoutes Ezra Friedlander
East Rutherford, NJ - The phrase B’rov Am Hadras Melech literally came to life last night as 93,000 Jews converged on MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for the twelfth Siyum Hashas, a majestic night which, for many, proved to be the event of a lifetime.
R’ Meir Shapiro’s vision of Daf Yomi functioning as a catalyst for achdus in Klal Yisroel was fulfilled as men in black suits and hats, dressed in long coats and short, mingled with others in t-shirts, polo shirts and baseball caps. On the upper concourse, women of all ages proudly took their place as active participants and equal partners in the celebration of the seven and a half year cycle that culminated with joy and exuberance so palpable that it literally reverberated throughout the massive stadium.
Siyum attendees heeded the call to use mass transit and charter buses arranged by the Agudah ferried in thousands of participants from Borough Park, Flatbush, Far Rockaway, Queens, Monsey, Lakewood and the Catskills. Despite concerns that MetLife’s 25,000 parking places might prove inadequate for the anticipated crowd, there were parking places available throughout the night with parking attendants keeping traffic flowing smoothly at all times and even allowing for at least one tailgate party, as a group of men from the Young Israel of East Brunswick, celebrating several local mesaymim, unfolded plastic tables next to their cars and enjoyed a festive seudah catered by Highland Park eatery Park Place.
The massive electronic screens surrounding the stadium were illuminated with the words “Welcome to the Twelfth Siyum Hashas” and directed men and women to the proper entrance gates. Recorded music filled the air as crowds began to filter through the gates which opened at 4:30 and participants marveled at hearing strains of Avraham Fried wafting through the air at the largest stadium in the National Footbal League, with several newly debuting Siyum related releases also included in the playlist. Upon entering the stadium, Siyum attendees flocked to pallet upon pallet of cardboard boxes, picking up copies of the two hundred plus page Siyum program, the accompanying children’s magazine, HaSiyum Junior and colorful rain ponchos.
Both in the seats and in the concourses the mood was both expectant and joyful as friends and strangers alike shared their enthusiasm at being to participate in this landmark event.
“The last Siyum Hashas was the most exhilarating moment of my life,” Mendy Newmark of Queens told VIN News. “Just to see Klal Yisroel together, dancing, saying Amein Yehei Shmey Raba, that is why I am here.” Newmark is working through the Daf at his own pace, one week at a time said, “I’m not counting how long it will take me to finish Shas,” he said. “I’m learning, not counting.”
For talk show host Zev Brenner, this was the third Siyum Hashas he has attended.
“It gets bigger and bigger each time,” noted Brenner. “It is wonderful to see so many people, not just learning, but appreciating learning.”
The overwhelming love of limud Torah was evident throughout the night, even for those who weren’t making a siyum.
“I heard Reb Nosson Tzvi say over that there is nothing better that you can give your kids than to say ‘Hadran Alach’, “ said Yossi Kunstlinger of Monsey, who started doing the Daf recently and is looking forward to making a siyum one day. “There is no bigger love that you can give your child than to tell them that you, as a father, were mesayem all of Shas.”
For Staten Island resident Dovid Winiarz, who was attending his third Siyum with his sons, each subsequent event has been tinged with a different flavor.
“I watch my boys grow up, to appreciate Torah learning, and as they get older, to teach Torah themselves,” explained Winiarz. “They come to the Siyum to see Kavod HaTorah and we were honored to bring in an entire vanload of people who were being mesayem.”
One of Winiarz’s passengers had a special connection to the Siyum.
“I had the privilege of bringing Rebbetzin Lustig, whose husband was at the very first Siyum Hashas with me,” said Winiarz. “He is still alive, he is still doing the Daf and his wife is here tonight celebrating. I was so excited to have had the honor of driving her here tonight.”
“To be with all different kinds of Jews from all different walks of life, gathering together for the same reason, to learn Daf Yomi, that just shows that Torah prevails,” offered one twenty four year old young woman from Monsey. “It was beautiful on the drive down here to see so many people on the road, all different types of people, yet all heading here for the same reason.”
While many who were present at the Siyum last night hailed from the greater New York area, distance was not an impediment for the many who traveled for hours to attend the event. Yaakov Perez traveled from Montreal for the opportunity to attend the siyum and spend a few moments with his daughter who traveled in from Camp Shira, called the night “a unique experience”, marveling at the opportunity to see so many people together.
An eighteen year old girl from Detroit whose father was making his third siyum said the twenty hour round trip was well worth while and admitted to being extremely proud of her father’s accomplishments. Another woman from Detroit whose husband was making his fourth siyum said she was thankful for the opportunity to attend the siyum.
“I’m so proud of my husband,” she enthused. “And grateful. I’m grateful to Hashem for giving my husband the opportunity to do this.”
Baltimore resident Shaindy Lasson, whose husband downloaded Daf Yomi shiurim given by Rabbi Moshe Elefant from the Orthodox Union, admitted that having a husband who does the Daf can present certain challenges.
“It is seven and a half years, day in and day out. Anywhere we had to go, I had to drive so that he could learn in the car. If I had a question about traffic I had to figure it out on my own because he was doing the Daf on his iPhone. When we weren’t traveling, most of the time my husband would sit himself down in the living, in a central area, so that the kids running in and out of the house would see him sitting on the couch with his gemara, learning.”
For one family, the event was an opportunity of a lifetime to marry a personal simcha with the Siyum Hashas, by celebrating Sheva Brachos at MetLife Stadium.
“For us, the Siyum Hashas represents the very best of Klal Yisroel,” said Agudah askan Chaskel Bennett, who celebrated the marriage of his daughter just one night earlier. “The Jewish people are made up of so many diverse and distinct groups that it is very rare to ever achieve total unity. Daf Yomi has the almost magical power to unify Klal Yisroel in ways only giants like Rav Meir Shapiro zt’l could have ever envisioned. Creating achdus is something that should rank very high on everybody’s list and Daf Yomi represents a dedication to Rav Shapiro’s timeless mission. Like HoRav Yitzchok Sheiner shlita said, not everyone can rise to the level of a Rav Elyashiv Zt’l or a even be a Rov or a Rebbe, but almost anyone can learn a Daf a day and it has changed my life and that of so many of my friends.
“Joining our personal simcha with Klal Yisroel’s simcha is a dream and something I am deeply proud of. I daven that my children will one day be zocheh to tell their children and grandchildren that their parent’s first Sheva Brachos took place at the twelfth Siyum Hashas with 90,000 ponim chadoshos. I am a big believer in the beauty and strength of a united Klal Yisroel and my neshama sings when we work together in harmony. The siyum exemplifies the highest ideals of what Agudas Yisroel was founded upon: bringing yidden together under the banner of Torah. What better message can I give to my children?”
While just being able to be physically present at the Siyum was an unforgettable opportunity, the program itself, filled with inspiring speeches replete with emotional moments: the total silence that filled the stadium during davening, the physical power that echoed throughout the arena when 93,000 people answered Amein Yehei Shmey Raba with one voice, the Kel Maley Rachamim made for the six million who died during the Holocaust followed by the singing of Ani Maamin, hearing the Hadran being made and the spontaneous eruption of singing and dancing after the final Amein of the Kaddish made after the Hadran.
“Hakadosh Baruch Hu took my father in law two weeks ago, but he gave me the gift of being able to say Kaddish with 93,000 people to answer,” said Winiarz, who admitted to feeling tremendous emotion during the davening. “Was I the only one who got the shivers saying the bracha Baruch Ata Hashem Goal Yisroel, knowing that there was nothing between that tefilla and shomayim?”
“Mom, your father, my grandfather did not die in vain,” tweeted one Siyum participant. “93,000 people plus 57,000 more worldwide are here tonight honoring the Torah!”
“I loved hearing the amein from the other side of the stadium hit you a second after you finished your amein,” commented Simcha Leiner of Lakewood. “It was like a wall of amein!”
“The concept of davening mincha and maariv with over 90,000 people – the implications are geula oriented,” said Beit Shemesh resident Lenny Solomon, who has over thirty albums to his credit and was also present at the last Siyum Hashas. “If we can have 93,000 people saying Amein Yehei Shmey Raba with kavana, we can change worlds. We are being mikadesh shem shomayim and making the biggest Kiddush Hashem.”
Stadium workers confessed to being awed by the immense respect that was prevalent throughout the night, both in the behavior of the participants as well as in the notion that so many people had gathered to celebrate a more than seven year learning cycle of religious texts. According to some stadium personnel, the event, which ended at approximately 1 AM, was the longest they could ever recall taking place at MetLife Stadium.
Shimmy Atlas flew in from Chicago with his eight year old son Yehuda, fulfilling a promise he made to himself seven and a half years ago after seeing how inspired his boss was when he returned home from the last Siyum Hashas.
“We were here when the gates opened at 4:30 and we spent time talking to the stadium officials,” said Atlas. “They told us that they get big crowds here all the time, but when I was sitting in my seat looking down on the field, I saw a New Jersey cop pulling out his cell phone and taking pictures of the crowd. They don’t see evens like this here and they realize that this is something special. They can’t fathom what this is all about, but they are in awe of it.”
Atlas was thrilled to spend a good part of his day today, soaking wet.
“I got to Lakewood this morning and I got completely soaked in the downpour. Then, when we got here we sat down in our seats in the pouring rain, just watching and getting wet again. It was such an experience for us to be here and see everything that we didn’t care that we were getting wet. My son told me ‘Tatty, this is the first time I am going to be in a real stadium and it is for the Siyum Hashas.’ When we finally dried off, we got soaked again, this time by the dancing. We kept dancing and dancing and I didn’t want to stop. Even when my son got tired and went to sit down, I just kept dancing with total strangers. I texted my wife afterwards saying, ‘I am drenched from Kavod HaTorah.’”
For Yehuda Atlas, one of the 16,000 children dubbed Masmidei HaSiyum for their learning, the event was a momentous one.
“I told Yehuda that he could wear a white shirt and pants to the Siyum, but he insisted on wearing a suit and a tie,” said Atlas proudly. “Every time they mentioned Masmidei HaSiyum his smile was a mile long. As we left the stadium, Yehuda was tired and exhausted but he said to me ‘Tatty, thank you so much for bringing me.’ He will never forget this. Ever.”
Despite the distance from the floor, many women admitted to being moved by the dancing taking place far below.
“I was dancing in my heart,” said one girl from Camp Shira’s teen camp, which came out en masse for the siyum.
“It was like that feeling you have in your heart at a wedding,” added another. “The stadium staff couldn’t believe that at some moments you had thousands upon thousands of people not making a sound and at other times you had 90,000 people erupting in spontaneous joy. It was very uplifting and the achdus was amazing.”
“I never saw anything like this in my entire life,” commented Aliza Kunstlinger of Monsey. “I really wished I was a man so that I could go down there and dance with them.”
At Camp Bnos, in Liberty, New York, whose teen division Camp Chayil came to the siyum, the rest of the camp watched the proceedings via video hookup and according to one staff member watching the siyum from the remote location had its advantages.
“A lot of people commented that because it was a hookup we were able to sing and dance along, something we couldn’t have done at the actual Siyum. Everyone loved it and people were so moved that girls were crying at some points.”
Other camp hookups were equally well received.
“Everyone was singing and dancing,” said one staff member at Camp Rayim in Parksville. “It was really heartwarming and inspiring.”
Officials at Agudath Israel were elated by the outcome of the event.
“It is unbelievable to see everything come out so beautifully,” said Chani Friedman, who has been involved in publicity at the Agudah for many years and worked on the last three Siyums. “It never gets old, especially because this was totally new for us, having over 90,000 people in one location. Things have been really crazy for the last year, but it was all worth it.”
Asked what was most special at this year’s Siyum, Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at the Agudah observed, “Everything is special. This is unprecedented in its size, in its scope and in the good feelings of the people here. People are thrilled to be here although I think people would be overjoyed if they were dripping with rain, but we are especially overjoyed that they are not. It is like the clouds were held back by the force of everybody’s will.”
By the end of the night, Siyum goers appeared overjoyed, ecstatic and buoyed both physically and spiritually by the event which was described by one attendee as “mind blowing.”
“I have been to the hookups in previous year, but it doesn’t compare to seeing it live,” said Yitzchok Levine of Baltimore. “It was very, very inspirational and I thought the dancing was the most moving part. They were dancing in the aisles, everywhere. No one cared whose hand you were holding, people were just dancing and people said they have never seen anything like this.”
“This was just something you don’t want to miss,” added Levine.
“It felt like everyone was expressing the sheer joy of being together,” noted Carol Lempel of Woodmere who agreed that the dancing was one of the most uplifting parts of the evening. “It wasn’t just the people on the floor, it was the whole stadium taking part in the moment. I wanted to be here to support my husband in his learning. It is hard for him to do it every day but it is a wonderful thing and it brings a good ruach to the whole home.”
For Jeff Cohn of BaltimoreJewishLife.com, who left his home at noon and didn’t get back to Baltimore until 5:30 AM just in time to daven at neitz, the long hours and many miles were well worth the trip.
“This was the largest gathering of Klal Yisroel in America and one of the most exciting things I have ever been to,” reported Cohn.
For Brooklyn attorney Ruchie Freier, the Siyum was an opportunity for all of Klal Yisroel, both men and women, to come together in celebration.
“From the chasidim to the baalei teshuva, every Jew was welcomed and given a voice, and the women who support their husbands in learning were given recognition several times during the evening. Men, women and children from all backgrounds joined together to pay tribute to our Torah in a beautiful display of achdus. After battling four hours of traffic, witnessing the representation of every stripe of Judaism made it all worthwhile.”
“Daf Yomi” has introduced a new lexicon into Jewish vocabulary said one of the speakers, explaining that the individual now studying “the daily daf” is now being identified as a “daf Yomi yid”, which has come to mean more than just a person whose entire day evolves around the daily commitment to studying—its how he conducts his lifestyle in every facet, and that is nothing short than revolutionary” added Ezra Friedlander, CEO, The Friedlander Group.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer for VIN News and attended the Siyum HaShas