For many, this past weekend was steeped in argument, anger and division. Friday’s inauguration of Donald Trump as the United States’ 45th president left half the country invigorated and the other half defeated. The following day, there were protests held around the world — protests against the Trump presidency, against his values and against a fearful vision of the United States under his rule.
And yet, despite this great division, Dirshu, an organization dedicated to spreading the light of holiness through Torah study, fostered the opposite atmosphere. Motzei Shabbos, Dirshu held its annual convention to celebrate its 20th anniversary, at which thousands of Jews from throughout the country came together to study and celebrate the completion of Masechta Bava Metzia. It was impossible for the pintele yid not to shine as gedolei Yisroel and leading rabbinic authorities shared their words of wisdom.
There was no better way to celebrate 20 years of Dirshu bringing yiddishkeit to Jews of all walks of life. At this event, I was joined by Jews of all backgrounds — sephard and ashkenaz, litvish and chassidish — to celebrate our culture, our heritage and our Torah. I was able to share a truly formative experience with my Jewish brothers from across the country.
Even more so, the event was livestreamed, with Jews who were unable to attend still able to participate. Embracing this modern technology, Dirshu was able to create a truly global feeling of belonging and oneness.
With such a diverse pool of yidden, one might expect there to be disagreement and division, but there was only joy and festivity as we basked in the glory of yiddishkeit.
This past weekend, the United States was more divided than it has been in decades, with barbs flying from all sides and a general feeling of discontent, fear and even hatred. And yet, the thousands that filled the halls of the Crowne Plaza in Stamford, Conn., did not sink to the level of insult or anger. Instead, those present looked to their faith; our great unifier. Everyone there held their heads up high and concentrated on learning.
With the demands on travel that being in the PR business naturally brings about, I have had the privilege of visiting synagogues around the world, observing Shabbos and sometimes even chagim in synagogues throughout the United States — from Miami to Los Angeles to Denver — and internationally, in cities like London and Moscow. I have many times seen the practice in which aliyahs are auctioned off to the highest financial bidder. But until motzei Shabbos, I had never seen an aliyah auctioned off to the most dedicated learner.
The shlishi aliyah at Dirshu’s 20th anniversary was “bought” by a gentleman who gave his commitment to learn 10,000 blatt of gemara. He did not do this for glory or for recognition, as he chose to remain anonymous; no, he did this because his time learning is the most valuable thing he can give. I was inspired to learn of this. And I was in awe that the second to highest bid for the aliyah was for the bidder to learn 9,500 blatt of gemara. Such a dedication — months of future learning — when many are feeling unsure of what will come tomorrow filled me with a sense of renewed devotion to our faith and our community.
I feel proud to have dedicated my motzei Shabbos to this event — though it is a small dedication in light of all the religious fervor I saw. I feel incredibly indebted to Dirshu for hosting me. I feel invigorated after spending time with these wonderful group of people. Even more so, however, I feel a renewed sense of conviction in Dirshu. This organization has managed to create an environment that fosters such immense heights of spirituality.
Truth be told, I was originally scheduled to be at the inauguration this past weekend. But with a business engagement on Friday morning in New York City holding me back, those plans could not come to fruition. Instead I was given the opportunity to spend my motzei Shabbos at the Dirshu siyum. I am so grateful that I was able to participate in that experience.
Although many will remember this weekend as one of protest and argument, fear and dismay, I will remember it quite differently. Not a word about the inauguration was even uttered during the course of Dirshu’s weekend. Instead, the entire event was geared toward Hashem and halacha. Instead, the mesayemim were focused on their learning and on growing spiritually. Instead, I felt a deep sense of belonging and devoutness. Thank you, Dirshu.