By Shimmy Blum
Fifteen years ago, the Yidden of EretzYisrael encountered the vicious assault of the second intifada. The askanim of Agudas Yisroel wanted to show support for their brethren by organizing a solidarity mission to EretzYisrael. They asked gedoleiTorah of EretzYisrael how to proceed. Their answer was unequivocal: Come to Eretz Yisrael and learn with great hasmadah, in keeping with the words of Chazal, “Torah magna u’matzla”–Torah protects and saves. And so the yarcheikallah was born.
Every year since, the Ramada Hotel in Yerushalayim has seen its ballroom transformed into a veritable beismidrash. From its humble beginnings of approximately 50 participants, it has now grown to over 300 attendees, kenyirbu. They hail from more than 10 states in the United States, from Canada, Mexico, England, Switzerland, Belgium, and EretzYisrael. Lomdim of all ages and backgrounds are in attendance.
A welcome and significant change from previous years was the opening of an additional ballroom to accommodate the record attendance. Last year, the one section of the Ramada ballroom used by the yarcheikallah was bursting at the seams. This year, the space reserved for the program was doubled to two sections of the ballroom–and nevertheless the room was full throughout the day.
Schedule Of Torah
By Sunday evening last week (January 18), even before the official start of the program, there was already kol Torah in the ballroom-turned-beismidrash. Lomdim were learning b’chavrusa and familiarizing themselves with the Torah topics that were learned throughout the yarcheikallah. They were poring over the specially prepared 400-page sefer with mareimekomos on the sugyos of berachos and birkas ha’mazon.
The marei mekomos were exceptionally comprehensive, covering much of the relevant Gemaros, Rishonim, Acharonim, and poskim.
Many of the participants had already begun learning the sugyos before the trip to Eretz Yisrael. From Monday through Thursday, the schedule was packed with intensive learning. The day began with a 6:30 a.m. daf yomi shiur, 7:30 a.m. Shacharis, and breakfast. A full schedule of sedarim and shiurim until 7:00 p.m. or later followed–with only a modest lunch break in between. “Everyone who walks into the room gets ‘blown away,’” says Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, chairman of Agudath Israel’s Commission on Torah Projects and a participant in each annual yarchei kallah. “The hasmadah is as good as you’ll find in any beismidrash, in any yeshiva.”
Rich, Diverse Program
Transitioning from a daily schedule that allows only a limited amount of learning to one filled with intense learning is no small feat. Yet, the yarchei kallah has a magical ability to get each participant–regardless of background and daily schedule–to participate in the limudim with fervor. Those who join understand the importance of ameilusb’Torah. Their desire to learn is enhanced by the exceptional program that the yarcheikallah offers.
The common refrain among participants is their enthusiasm about the level of the shiurim and shmuessen–all at the yarchei kallah’s location, with no need to travel the width and breadth of Eretz Yisrael. “They are among the greatest marbitzeiTorah of our generation, outstanding gedolim who deliver otherworldly shiurim. They covered everything from p’shat and lomdus to practical halachah and deep hashkafah.”
The shiurei iyun were given by Rabbis Dovid Cohen, Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Binyomin Moskowitz, Boruch Dov Povarsky, Meir Tzvi Spitzer, and Asher Weiss. The shiurei halachah were delivered by Rabbis Yitzchok Berkowitz, Yaakov Avrohom Cohen, Avrohom Direnfeld, Yehudah Aryeh Dunner, Nisan Kaplan, and Yitzchok Zilberstein. Divrei chizuk v’hisorerus were imparted by Rabbis Daniel Alter, Avrohom Chaim Feuer, Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, Pinchos Friedman, Zvi Kushelevsky, Reuvain Leuchter, and Yitzchok Scheiner. The lomdim were privileged to have the Vizhnitzer Rebbe give divrei chizuk v’hisorerus on the opening night of the yarchei kallah.
In addition to the men’s program, there was a rich, full program for the approximately 75 women who joined their husbands on this special trip. The women were taken on tours of intriguing sites around Yerushalayim, and as far as the Kinneret. They were also privileged to hear from renowned speakers, including Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, Rebbetzin Rena Tarshish, and Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi. The women’s program was capably coordinated by Mrs. Aliza Grund and Mrs. Debby Jacobs, who also was actively involved in all other technical aspects of the event.
Organizing a complex event such as the Yerushalayim Yarchei Kallah is a difficult but extremely rewarding task. A team of dedicated askanim, including Rabbis Shlomo Gertzulin, Labish Becker, Avrohom Nisan Perl, and Eliyahu Simcha Bamberger, of the Agudas Yisroel staff, work tirelessly before, during, and after the yarchei kallah to make it such a great success.
Everyone Felt At Home
The yarchei kallah’s track record of participants who return time and time again–and newcomers who join each year–speaks for itself.
One third-time participant, Gad Pariente, an immigration attorney from Montreal, explains that with each passing year it becomes more evident that yarcheikallah organizers work hard to accommodate the needs of each individual participant. Echoing the sentiment of the other attendees, year after year, Mr. Pariente said, “This year’s yarcheikallah was even better than all the previous ones I’ve been at.”
Organizers have tweaked aspects of the program over the years, including accommodating the needs of those who aren’t fluent in Yiddish. There is now a special track of live, first-class English shiurim alongside those delivered in Yiddish or Hebrew, for those who prefer.
Additionally, there was an option each day to participate in a hachanah (preparation) shiur, prior to the iyunshiurim, delivered by Rabbi Shlomo Gottesman, co-chair of the Torah Projects Commission of Agudath Israel of America. This helped crystallize the sugyos and mefarshim in a relatable manner. Similarly, Rabbi Shlomo Cynamon, shlita, rav of Khal Bnai Torah of Flatbush, delivered a daily chazarah shiur to review what the maggidei shiur shared.
Chaskel Bennett, a leading askan and member of Agudath Israel’s board of trustees, was one of this year’s first-time yarcheikallah participants. He says that he has for many years been eager to participate in the program but felt that it wasn’t feasible. This year, despite his business and klal activities, he took the plunge. He went along with his father, Dr. Leslie Bennett of Kew Gardens Hills, another first-time participant.
Mr. Bennett returned home elated by his experience. “Learning b’chavrusa and attending high-level shiurim together with my father challenged and enthralled us. People are always searching for the good that is in this world; in my experience, the Agudah Yarchei Kallah is as good as this world gets.”