Partners in Torah, the Jewish world’s largest one-to-one learning program, will be celebrating its 25th anniversary on May 14 at an awards banquet in Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan. Chava Willig Levy, a prominent Woodmere resident, will be honored at the banquet as Partner of the Year.
Started in 1993 as a grassroots project, Partners in Torah began with six people—three sets of chavrusas—learning together in the basement of a Passaic, NJ shul with the goal of making Judaism accessible and relevant to Jews of all backgrounds. The model was simple. Drawing on the inherent power of personal relationships, Partners in Torah matched people schooled in Jewish texts with fellow Jews who didn’t have that opportunity, for up to an hour a week of hearty discussion and mutual learning.
As the demand for this unique approach to Jewish learning grew, Partners in Torah opened satellite programs in day schools, shuls, and JCCs. With time, word spread about the concept along with a demand for expansion. Prompted by a call in late 1997 from someone in Ketchikan, Alaska whose brother had participated in one of its 25+ locations, Partners in Torah decided to test the idea of matching people to study together by phone. After a slow start, the program was marketed in 1999 to Birthright Israel participants who widely embraced the opportunity to continue their Jewish journey. The rest is history. To date, over 72,000 men and women from 39 countries have been brought together to discover a richness in Judaism they didn’t know existed. As described by Partners in Torah’s National Director, Rabbi Eli Gewirtz, “I never imagined the idea would take off like this.”
In conjunction with its 25th anniversary, Partners in Torah invited its participants to nominate their study partner for the “Partner of the Year” award. To nominate, partners wrote an essay about their partner and why they thought he/she should be the recipient of the award. Choosing one essay, according to Rabbi Gewirtz, was a daunting task. “With well over 100 extraordinary essays, it was practically impossible to select only one.” The task was left to a group of lay leaders who together selected an essay written by Dr. Linda Greenberg of Yardley, PA.
“In December 2003, I called a complete stranger named Chavi in hopes that she would help me learn about Jewish prayer. After introducing myself, she shared the following story about a watchmaker. She said that long ago there was a town that lost its watchmaker. Slowly over time, the watches of the people stopped working. With no one to repair them, they sat dormant. One day a traveling watchmaker came into their town. People lined up to have him repair their watches; however, to each one he said that the watches had sat too long and were beyond repair. Suddenly, to the joy of the watchmaker, he could repair one person’s watch. The watchmaker asked this person what he had done with the timepiece all these years. The owner said that each day he wound the watch just a little bit. That small amount of effort allowed the watch to spring back into action with a few adjustments. Chavi told me that with a little studying, my ability to understand and to pray would come. We started with Adon Olam. Slowly, we worked through the Siddur… I learned what the Holy words of Hebrew truly meant. I can now pray with meaning… The amazing gifts of knowledge she has given me over almost 15 years of our phone calls once a week are true priceless… This year when I sat down at my Seder, I came armed with the knowledge of more than just 4 questions…
“Chavi has been a true inspiration and a mentor in my Jewish growth. She is truly like the watchmaker who came where none had been for so many years and is the reason that my Jewish knowledge keeps growing. Chavi deserves to be the Partner of the Year for all the time and commitment she has given to the program, to me. The words thank you cannot truly express the deep gratitude I have for my chavrusa (study partner). No longer do I call a stranger in New York; I call a friend who I am proud to say is My Partner in Torah.”
Friends and community members who would like to join Partners in Torah in paying tribute to Chava Willig Levy and Dr. Linda Greenberg may visit PartnersinTorah.org/banquet or call 800-STUDY-4-2.