Picture Perfect Snapshots of Dirshu Amidst Hurricane Sandy


[By Yosef Sosnow]

“It is all because of Sandy.” That is not really the true answer, but that is what I told him…

“Him,” is the person who asked me, “What is pshat that Dirshu is making a big Shabbos Kinnus Olam HaTorah in the DoubleTree Hotel in Tarrytown? What is the point?” he asked.

I answered, “It is all because of Hurricane Sandy.” What I meant is that Hurricane Sandy gave me additional focus on why Dirshu members and their wives will be converging on the DoubleTree in Tarrytown this Shabbos and culminating on Motzoei Shabbos for the Grand Siyum Melave Malka.

Let me first say that I am bit biased in favor of Dirshu. I have been a member of Dirshu for more than four years during which time I have taken monthly tests every month. I know how much the ‘mechayev,’ the accountability of Dirshu, has done for my learning, I recognize how that ‘mechayev’ has rendered all excuses not to learn, to be just that… excuses. Hurricane Sandy brought things into focus with “Kodak Moment clarity”.

A Few Snap Shots

“Let me paint a picture,” I told my friend, “not an imaginary picture, but a true picture of Dirshu during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Then you will truly understand what we are coming together to celebrate this Shabbos.”

The picture starts in Far Rockaway. Rabbi Dovid Teitelbaum, a long time Dirshu Kinyan Torah monthly Daf Yomi test participant and a Rebbi at the Yeshiva Ketana of Long Island is in the picture. He is in the Agudas Yisroel Shul of Long Island learning the Daf, chazering – reviewing for his test. It is pitch-dark in the shul and he is using a flashlight. For davening the shul had distributed the flashlights it uses on Tisha B’Av… Rabbi Teitelbaum is using his flashlight to learn…

“I was the only one in the shul… the wind was howling, it was dark, very, very dark. I was a bit scared, but my goal was clear, I had to learn the Daf and review the previous blatt… the test was just a few days away. Banishing my fear I plugged ahead, ‘Tanu Rabbanan…’ I couldn’t help it, but at that moment, unbidden, a song that I once heard on a Journeys tape came to mind… ‘He sits late at night by the candlelight…’ I felt so connected to the previous generations who sat at their Gemaros in the dark, learning Hashem’s Torah. If not for Dirshu I don’t think I would have been in that darkened shul, my head in the Gemara, its tiny letters illuminated only by the pale light of the flashlight…”

As for this columnist, the thought of the Tisha B’Av flashlight brought to mind the words of the Shulchan Aruch that we just learned in Hilchos Rosh Chodesh in the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha. The Shulchan Aruch writes that the night of Pesach always falls on the same weeknight as the previous Tisha B’Av… yes, the Geulah will be on the same night as the suffering… The Shulchan Aruch writes that this is hinted in the words, “Al matzos umerorim yochluhu— matzah, redemption and maror, bitterness are eaten together’… Yes, the sweet, redemptive beauty of that learning in the Hurricane Sandy pitch-dark shul was certainly an antidote to Sandy’s golus-like qualities!

A Ten Year Old Learning for the Test by Candlelight

Ten year old Nochum Shanik offers another moving Dirshu/Sandy snapshot. As he was leaving the generator powered emergency Far Rockaway testing site at the Bnos Bais Yaakov School on Beach 9th St. we spoke to Nochum Shanik. Nochum may be the youngest Dirshu Kinyan Torah test taker. A mere ten years old, he is taking the monthly Daf HaYomi Test! I asked Nochum, “How were you able to prepare for the test with Sandy’s fury pounding Far Rockaway?”

He replied, “Although I was not able to attend my usual shiur, my father and brother learned the Daf with me.”

“Did you have electricity?” I asked.

“No, we learned the Daf with a candle at home…”

Can we even imagine what must be going on in the celestial worlds, when a ten year old boy, in the midst of a raging storm, while the world as he knows it is being turned upside down, at a time of blackout when there is no power, no gas, little clean water in the neighborhood… is sitting and learning by candlelight with his father and brother so that he can take the test in a generator powered basement of a school…?!

It is people like Nochum Shanik and Rabbi Dovid Teitelbaum who are the real guests of honor whose accomplishments will be hailed at the Dirshu Shabbos.

And they are not the only ones.

The “Dirshu Cell Phone”

Our camera turns its focus to Lakewood, NJ. The city was devastated by Sandy but there were still some 250 test takers packed into the generator powered Lakewood Cheder dining Room. One test taker, Avrohom Pardes, related, “On Monday night my chavrusah and I were learning in a bais medrash close to home… the wind was howling, the window panes were shaking, but we kept on going. We heard tree branches – ripped up by the gale force winds – smash against the outer walls of the shul and then, suddenly, the room went black… we lost power… With barely a moment’s hesitation my chavrusah took a flashlight out of his pocket, fastened it around his head with a belt like a utility worker… and continued learning… I opened my cell phone and we learned by the pale light until we finished our quota… we had a test Sunday.”

Certainly, there were others learning that night but the focus and urgency with which Dirshu members learned is unique and perhaps even unparalleled.

The Chassan in the Middle of Sheva Brachos!

It is not only Sandy, however. Let us take our camera across the Atlantic to London, England. This past Friday at the Dirshu test in London, there was an incongruous sight. While all of the test takers were wearing different types of hats and yarmulkes as is characteristic of Dirshu achdus that crosses all communal and ideological lines, there was one unexpected sight – a yungerman wearing a brand new spodek, the high shtreimel worn by Polish Chassidim. A spodek on Friday morning?!

Rav Binyomin Eckstein, director of Dirshu London explained, “He is a chosson just two days after his chasunah in the middle of sheva brachos!”

Yes, on Friday morning, two days after his chasunah, with Shabbos sheva brachos just a few hours away, this chosson felt compelled to take his Dirshu test…

One final Far Rockaway snapshot. At the testing site we spoke to Yonasan Lazer. “My chavrusah, Aharon Pfeifer and I are both chasanim. We spent the entire Sunday chazering for our Dirshu bechina on the first part of Masechta Shabbos. While everyone was discussing where to get gas, worrying about their freezers and when the lights would go out, we just sat there in the bais medrash and learned and learned, just breaking for lunch and supper as we chazered for the bechina. Dirshu just changes your focus…”

Celebrating the Accomplishments of the True Picture Perfect Dirshu Heroes

So I told my friend, “If you want to understand pshat in the Dirshu Shabbos, just look at our dear friends, Rabbi Dovid Teitelbaum, Nochum Shanik, Avrohom Pardes, Yonnasan Lazar, Aharon Pfeifer and our chosson from London, then multiply those by thousands! It is their accomplishments that deserve to be celebrated. It is their heroism, yedias haTorah and yegias haTorah that we will celebrate; it is the siyumei haShas of thousands, the siyum on Kinyan Halacha that will provide Klal Yisroel with poskim muvhakim, it is the completion of the “forgotten chelek,” Chelek Daled of Mishna Berurah that we will celebrate on Motzoei Shabbos!”

I concluded by telling my friend, “If you want to see maror transformed into matzah, take the maror, the bitterness of Sandy and the bitterness of the golus and make it into matzah that will be the harbinger of the geulah; if you want to participate in a true, gala seudas mitzvah that celebrates true heroism; the place to be is at the Grand Melave Malka in Tarrytown this Motzoei Shabbos. Dirshu will celebrate and hail these heroes; listen to the words of gedolim; sing, dance and eat a seudah… everything will be there except the oro shel livyason, may that also be added, bemheira biyameinu!

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


  1. ” we learned by the pale light until we finished our quota”
    They now have LED powered flashlights that can be clipped on to a baseball cap. I have one made by Eveready which I got at home depo for $15. It provides a powerful reading light, even for someone in their 50’s!!! They last at least several hours.