In 2007, the South Side Lunch and Learn was formed, a means of connecting Baalei Batim to a Torah framework during their workday. R’ Shmuel Zaidman, the director of this non-profit organization, shares the beginnings of this made-in Lakewood program and its growth to communities around the world through www.Torahanytime.com, where live Shiurim are posted every day for all to enjoy.
Through the Years
The lunch and learn innovation was established by noted Askan Rabbi Yissocher Dov Warman and staffed by Rabbi Avrohom Bitterman & R’ Simcha Szendro, as a means of infusing Baalei Batim with a short, yet, invigorating shiur in the middle of their workday. The added incentive to draw attendance was the free grab and go lunch for attendees to take back with them to their workplace. The program was thriving, and a few years later the reigns were handed over to R’ Shmuel Zaidman, who for the past Eight years has been singlehandedly managing, coordinating and directing the South Side Lunch and Learn. “It was incredible Hashgacha with the switching of hands,” recalls R’ Zaidman. “I had been attending the shiur occasionally and when I was approached to take it over it was a seamless transition.” Although fairly new to Lakewood at the time, R’ Shmuel was acquainted with many of the current South Side Lunch and Learn sponsors – a boon to the organization. The program has evolved over the years to welcome retirees, Yungeleit learning first Seder in yeshiva and then heading out to work, as well as the primary target of Baalei Batim. The participants are fortified by the break to their daily schedule, an enhancement to their overall day. In a 40 minute span, attendees grab a minyan for Mincha, a shiur and lunch. Rabbi Shloime Dickman, a long-time attendee of the program, notes the Kiddush Hashem involved. “People take off in middle of their busy schedules to hear a shiur,” he enthuses. “It is a tremendous Kiddush Hashem and a great Zechus to be part of the program.” Not only is the program a Chizuk to participants, the Maggidei shiur attest to the inspiration they glean from this unique Chaburah. “I feel privileged to be part of this special program,” says Rabbi Daniel Levy, one of the Maggidei shiur. “What can be more precious in the eyes of Hashem than people who are looking to grow and being Moser Nefesh to hear another shiur.” Rabbi Eliezer Ralbag, Rav of the Lakewood Courtyard shul and a guest maggid shiur, notes how these “Giborei Koach”, who utilize their time every day in the midst of their hectic schedules, are creating a wondrous Kiddush Hashem that will be a great Zechus to them and their families.
Gracing the program is a steady group of seven, talented and respected volunteer Maggidei shiur on a weekly rotation. Every Monday, Rabbi Dov Halperin, lectures on halacha; on Tuesday, Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Epstein, of “Corner of 2nd” fame, covers in-depth analysis of the weekly Parshah; Rabbi Yaakov Heinemann shares his expansive knowledge on Sha’alos in Hilchos Shabbos, Rabbi Dovid Heinemann, Rosh HaYeshiva Mesivta Keser Torah/Belmar shares his beautiful history as a Mechanech presenting interesting Sha’alos in Halacha, Wednesday: Rabbi Eli Oelbaum, discusses tangible improvements on Tefillah; Rabbi Avrohom Osher Makovsky addresses Inyanei D’yoma; On Thursday: Rabbi Daniel Levy delivers an enlightening Shiur on Current topics on Hilchos Shabbos. The Shiurim are interactive, with a stimulating back and forth discussion on the topic. In addition to these Maggidei Shiur, are numerous Alumni and guest speakers available to give shiur to the Lunch and Learn throughout the year; Rabbi Eliezer Gewirtzman, Rabbi Binyomin Pruzanksy, noted author and alumni speaker of the Lunch and Learn; Rabbi Shlomo Perr; R’ Shlomo Berelowitz, Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern of TorasChaim.org, Rabbi Mendel Kessin, R’ Abish Zelishovsky, R’ Yitzchok Schechter, Rabbi Asher Rodtkin, Rabbi Eliezer Ralbag, Rav of Lakewood Courtyard Shul; Rabbi Yosef Yehoshua Kushner, Dayan in Bais Horaah and author of “Commerce and Shabbos” among many others. With the occasional turnaround in Maggidei Shiur, R’ Shmuel is on the lookout for dynamic Talmidei Chachamim to interact and uplift the crowd. It is a rewarding search, he says, and one that he knows lends success to the program.
The shiurim are catered to its audience. Even those who would like to attend, can only come a few times a week. Hence, the rotating maggidei shiur. “We didn’t want to have the type of program where if you miss a day, you’re behind and have to catch up. We realize that people need flexibility in middle of the work day and won’t always be able to participate. Therefore, we decided to have different topics every day, so if you weren’t here on Monday, there is no reason why you can’t join on Tuesday.”
R’ Shmuel manages each day’s lunch rotation, graciously provided by well-known Lakewood restaurants. Participants enjoy the take-out fare from these dairy and meat establishments, energized to return on the next leg of the workday.
The food, says R’ Shmuel, is as good as the inspiration. “We have pretty much every major caterer and restaurant lined up to sponsor lunch for our participants. The large number of sponsors eases the burden somewhat, because it spreads the cost around. So if you come learn, you can be assured that you will go back to work with a meal that is from the best that Lakewood has to offer.” Other program costs are financed through private donations.
R’ Shmuel repeatedly mentions how appreciative he is to the program’s sponsors, calling them partners in the initiative. To illustrate just how committed the lunch and learn sponsors are he shares a telling anecdote. “I try not to take advantage of the relationship with any of our supporters,” explains R’ Shmuel. “That said, one of our sponsors was on a weekly rotation to provide food for the program. For a few weeks during the year, I decided to give him a break and ordered food from somewhere else. On the third week, I called him to make a food order and I heard in his voice his disappointment. He told me that I was supposed to order food from him every week and now he missed out on the Zechus of supporting the program. Here I thought I was doing him a favor! It was eye-opening to see how committed this patron, and all our other wonderful supporters, is to Torah”
R’ Shmuel likens the program to a clock; there are so many moving parts that need to be in sync with one another to make it tick. No doubt, it can be a challenge to have all the nuts and bolts, which comprise the program, running smoothly. In less than an hour, Mincha must start on time, the Maggidei Shiur must be present ready to deliver shiur, and the food delivered to the shul for pick-up from the hungry attendees. Ever efficient, R’ Shmuel sends a weekly email blast and daily text highlighting the program information to participants. However, sometimes, with a program this detailed, things can fall out of place, such as an absent maggid shiur or delayed food pickup and delivery. “It is almost like running a marathon,” quips R’ Shmuel. “But, once you get good at keeping everything moving along it is a whole lot easier!” R’ Shmuel shares one blunder to show just how hands-on he needs to be. A few years back, when R’ Shmuel was traveling out of Lakewood lunch was not picked up from a first-time patron. When he received the call from the store owner the shiur was long over and unfortunately the food was no longer needed. “As soon as I got back to Lakewood I apologized to the store owner and offered to pay him for the lunch,” continues R’ Shmuel. “I wanted to show him how much we appreciate his generosity. This restaurant is now a long-time supporter, committed to the success of our program!” R’ Shmuel is involved in many initiatives for the Tzibur, yet the Lunch and Learn program in particular is very dear to him and one he wants to see continue for years to come. “I am so glad to have a hand in continuing this meaningful program,” he says. “Yes, there are many facets to the program that need tending to, but I would never give up the Zechus of manning this Torah enterprise.”
If your schedule does not allow you to participate in the daily shiur, you will be happy to hear that you can listen to the shiur anytime from literally anywhere in the world. The South Side Lunch and Learn program has partnered with TorahAnytime.com, a website that freely shares Shiurim on a wide range of topics from hundreds of speakers across the world. The daily shiur is recorded, both visually and audio, and posted on the website within 24 hours. “It would be impossible to watch our Shiurim” says R’ Zaidman, “if not for Nussi Gugenheim who is not only a regular attendee but he also executes the daily video setup and uploads and labels every Shiur, an extremely detailed process. Nussi is another invaluable volunteer who contribution cannot be calculated.” Without any exaggeration, the Shiurim have been listened to thousands of times from people spanning the globe. “I was in Givat Zeev and an Avreich thanked me for my Shiurim,” says Rabbi Oelbaum, a Lunch and Learn Maggid Shiur. “I receive letters from listeners telling me how the Shiurim we host in Lakewood have improved their Tefillah!” R’ Yosef Davis of www.torahanytime.com, a participant of the program, comments how the Shiurim have spread far and wide, reaching communities all over the world. “The Lunch and Learn Program has become a staple in Lakewood,” he says. “It is incredible to see it growing and gaining traction outside the community. Torah Anytime is the Lunch and Learn’s legs, spreading Torah out to the world!”
R’ Shmuel witnesses firsthand the success of the lunch and learn model. He sees the lives the program has touched and the sounds of Torah that has reverberated in the Lakewood Bais Medrash and beyond. Therefore, to maximize on the success and bring Kavod Shamayim to more people, R’ Shmuel is willing to share the program’s framework with any city in the world that wishes to duplicate the South Side Lunch and Learn program. “I am committed to spreading the success of the program,” declares R’ Shmuel. “I will show any community, no matter where they are located, how to establish a Lunch and Learn program.” It is a passionate call, a fervent hope to light the world with Torah, from the torch of one Lakewood organization on fire. (A. Dwek)
South Side Lunch and Learn is located in K’hal Zichron Yaakov, 175 Sunset Road. The program runs Monday – Thursday from 1:45 – 2:25. Mincha and the daily shiur is conducted in the Ezras Nashim, followed by lunch in the kitchen, next to the Simcha hall. For further information, as well as sponsorship opportunities, please contact R’ Shmuel Zaidman at P: 732-497-2273 / Email: email@example.com