Forty-five years ago, a yungerman named Rabbi Simcha Bamberger came to Manchester, England as one of the city’s first four kollel yungeleit. Rav Osher Westheim, one of the prominent Rabbonim in Manchester at that time, asked him if he could perhaps say a shiur. When Rabbi Bamberger proposed a Daf HaYomi shiur, Rabbi Westheim discouraged him, saying, “If you will be lucky, you will have one person show up! Do something easier.” Rabbi Bamberger was adamant that he wanted to start a Daf HaYomi shiur and put up signs and other forms of publicity. The day of the first shiur dawned… and one person showed up. That one person eventually brought another and by Masechta Shabbos they had ten people. Just one year later, there were 130 and today some 300 people come to listen to Rav Bamberger’s shiur every day!
Fast forward about three decades. Dirshu started its new, ambitious, daily Mishnah Berurah program entitled Daf HaYomi B’Halacha. When someone proposed starting a Daf HaYomi B’Halacha shiur in Manchester, England a prominent Rav responded, “If you are lucky you will have one person attend.” Dirshu persevered. Today, ten years later, there are thirteen Daf HaYomi B’Halacha shiurim in Manchester! That is the power of Torah and the power of what even one person with a desire to be marbitz Torah can accomplish.
The Closing of a Circle
Indeed, earlier this month in Manchester something akin to a closing of a circle took place. Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu, who was on a visit to Manchester in preparation for the massive Dirshu World Siyum scheduled there for 8 Teves/January 5, attended and delivered words of chizuk to that very shiur of Rav Bamberger, which is today the largest Daf HaYomi shiur in the world! When he walked in, Rav Bamberger greeted him with the bracha of “Baruch asher yakim es divrei haTorah hazos.” Like Rav Bamberger’s shiur, Dirshu has had a revolutionary impact on limud haTorah and limud haTorah with accountability in Manchester.
This year, Europe will be a central component in Dirshu’s World Siyum where the accomplishments of lomdei Dirshu who have toiled and been tested on Shas will be acknowledged and be’ezras Hashem, legions of new lomdei Dirshu will be inspired to join and raise the bar of their own limud haTorah to unprecedented levels.
Rav Hofstedter was accompanied by Rabbi Chanoch Greenblatt, head of Dirshu’s operations in Manchester and senior members of Dirshu’s hanhalah in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Avigdor Berenstein and Rabbi Shlomo Rozenstein. Together, they visited the Event City Convention Center, the largest indoor venue in Manchester where some 4,000 people will be’ezras Hashem, gather in the largest celebration of limud haTorah that Manchester has ever seen.
Rav Hofstedter also met with leading Manchester Rabbonim, HaGaon HaRav Gavriel Krause, shlita, Av Beis Din, HaGaon HaRav Yisroel Chaim Horowitz, shlita, Rav of the Satmar Community and HaGaon HaRav Chaim Heimlech, Dayan at Machzikei Hadas and a longtime Daf HaYomi B’Halacha maggid shiur in his pervious tenure as a Dayan at the Adas of Melbourne, Australia.
In addition, Rav Hofstedter visited the Heythrop Park Resort Hotel near Oxford, the site of the upcoming Dirshu European Convention and World Siyum that will be held on Shabbos, 13-15 Teves/January 10-12.
Five years ago, the Convention site, with its 200 rooms was sold out weeks in advance. This year, there will be some 500 rooms to accommodate the Dirshu learners from all over who seek to attend.
The Achdus Element
Another major development in the march towards the World Siyum is the phenomenal response from French Jewry to the efforts of Dirshu to promote limud haTorah in France.
Virtually of all the prominent Rabbonim in France representing literally the entire cross-section of Orthodox Jewry in France, have come out in enthusiastic support of Dirshu’s harbotzas Torah effort and have urged the hanhalah of Dirshu to make a country-wide siyum in the largest indoor venue possible. The communities of Paris, Strasbourg, Lyon and Marseille are expected to participate in the World Siyum which will be held on 15 Teves/January 12 in the Dom de Paris, a beautiful, domed, indoor stadium that holds more than 5,000 people!
Rabbi Shlomo Rozenstein, Dirshu’s Public Relations Director, commented, “The achdus in the French community is phenomenal. Charedim, non-Charedim, Sefardim and Ashkenazim are all fully mobilize to not only attend the siyum but to utilize it as a springboard to encourage more and more accountable limud haTorah among all French Jews. It is very moving to see so many different communities working together with remarkable achdus for the singular purpose of promoting limud haTorah.”
“If All French Jews are Participating, I want to as well!”
Rabbi Rozenstein shared a remarkable story that gives insight into the impact that the siyum is making on members of the community, people who would appear to be far removed from limud haTorah. “There are two brothers, the Cohen brothers who own a network of sefarim and Judaica stores in France. They have become big supporters of the concept of a grand World Siyum and created a website where they are encouraging people to sign up to learn a blatt Gemara on the Shabbos before the siyum so that the entire collective community can make an additonal siyum haShas together with the lomdei Daf Yomi. On the website you can pick your blatt or several blatt that you will learn on that Shabbos. In this way, the entire Shas will be completed.
“When I was in Paris, I was touring the Dom de Paris stadium with members of the technical staff. One of the people was the production manager, the person in charge of the sophisticated sound system. He heard me talking with others about signing up to learn on the internet and how it is a joint effort being undertaken by French Jewry. Suddenly, this person, who on the outside did not look Jewish at all, exclaimed in French. ‘I want to sign up too!’ We asked him if he is Jewish, explaining that being Jewish is a prerequisite to signing up. He answered, “Yes, of course, I am Jewish and if all French Jews are participating, I want to as well!’ We pointed out a problem – ‘But you don’t know how to study Talmud!’ He had a ready, adamant reply, ‘You give me someone to study with and I will do it!’ That is the power of achdus through Torah that we have been seeing in France.”
Another deeply moving moment of a different sort of achdus transpired on the last night in Manchester. Manchester is very far north, thus, in the summer one cannot daven Maariv until about 10:30. Rabbi Chanoch Greenblatt had arranged to pick up Rav Hofstedter from his place of lodging at 10:20 in order to daven Maariv at a local shul.
When Rav Hofstedter came down, he was surprised to see a minyan of Yidden waiting to daven Maariv with him, right there. It wasn’t just a minyan of Yidden, rather it was a minyan of Manchester Daf HaYomi B’Halacha maggidei shiur. The maggidei shiur, who know better than anyone how this vital Dirshu program has transformed the daily lives of the hundreds of people who collectively attend the various shiurim, came to show their hakoras hatov to the organization that has made it their life’s mission to enrich Klal Yisroel with limud haTorah.