By Shimmy Blum
15 years ago the Yidden of Eretz Yisroel encountered the vicious assault of the second intifada. The askonim of Agudas Yisroel wanted to show support for their brethren by organizing a solidarity mission to Eretz Yisroel. They asked the advice of the Gedolei HaTorah of Eretz Yisroel as how to proceed.Their answer was unequivocal. Come to Eretz Yisroel and learn with great hasmada, in keeping with the words of Chazal “Torah Magna U’Matzla” Torah protects and saves. And so the Yarchei Kallah was born.
Every year since, the Ramada Hotel in Yerushalayim has seen its ballroom transformed into a veritable Beis Medrash. From its humble beginnings of approximately 50 participants it has now grown to over 300 attendees, ken yirbu. They hail from more than 10 states in the United States, from Canada, Mexico, England, Switzerland, Belgium and of course Eretz Yisroel. In addition, lomdim of all ages and backgrounds are in attendance.
A happy 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 Yarchei Kallah 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
What spurs hundreds of people to drop their overwhelming family and professional schedules for nearly a week?
Let’s begin to answer this question by taking a look at the typical schedule of the Yarchei Kallah. By Sunday evening, even before the official start of the program, there was already a kol Torah in the ballroom-turned-Bais Medrash. Lomdim were learning b’chavrusa and familiarizing themselves with the Torah topics that were learned throughout the Yarchei Kallah. They were poring over the specially prepared 400 page sefer with marei mekomos on the sugyos of berachos and birchas hamazon.
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 Yisroel.From Monday through Thursday, the schedule was packed with intensive learning. The day began with a 6:30 am Daf Yomi shiur, 7:30 am Shachris and breakfast. A full schedule of sedarim and shiurim until 7:00 pm 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 hasmada is as good as you’ll find in any Bais Medrash, in any yeshiva.”
Rich, Diverse Program
No doubt, 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 near magical ability to get each participant – regardless of background and daily schedule – to participate in the limudim with fervor. All those who join understand the importance of Ameilus B’Torah. Their desire to learn is enhanced by the exceptional program that the Yarchei Kallah offers.
The most oft repeated refrain among participants is to enthuse about the level of the shiurim and shmuessen, all at the Yarchei Kallah’s location without the need to travel the width and breadth of Eretz Yisroel. “They are among the greatest
marbitzei Torah of our generation, outstanding gedolim who deliver otherworldly
shiurim. They covered everything from pshat and lomdus to practical halacha and deep hashkafa.”
“The Shiurei Iyun were given by: Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Rabbi Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rabbi Binyomin Moskowitz, Rabbi Boruch Dov Povarsky, Rabbi Meir Tzvi Spitzer and Rabbi Asher Weiss. The Shiurei Halacha were delivered by: Rabbi Yitzchok Berkowitz, Rabbi Yaakov Avrohom Cohen, Rabbi Avrohom Direnfeld, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Dunner, Rabbi Nisan Kaplan and Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein. Divrei Chizuk V’Hisorirus were imparted by: Rabbi Daniel Alter, Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, Rabbi Pinchos Friedman, Rabbi Zvi Kushelevsky, Rabbi Reuvain Leuchter and Rabbi Yitzchok Scheiner. The lomdim were privileged to have the Viznitzer Rebbe give Divrei Chizuk V’Hisorirus on the opening night of the Yarchei Kallah.
In addition to the men’s program, there was a rich, full schedule 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 as well as 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 askonim including Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin, Rabbi Labish Becker, Rabbi Avrohom Nisan Perl and Rabbi Eliyahu Simcha Bamberger, of the Agudath 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 Yarchei Kallah 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 Yarchei Kallah was even better than all the previous ones I’ve been at.”
Organizers have added many tweaks to 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 hachana (preparation) shiur, prior to the Iyun shiurim, delivered by Rabbi Shlomo Gottesman, co-chair of the Torah Projects Commission of Agudath Israel of America. This helped crystalize the sugyos and mefarshim in a very relatable manner. Similarly, Rabbi Shlomo Cynamon shlit”a, Rav of Khal Bnai Torah of Flatbush, delivered a daily chazara shiur to review what the maggidei shiur shared.
Chaskel Bennett, a member of Agudath Israel’s Board of Trustees, was one of this year’s first time Yarchei Kallah 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, 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.”