Beyond the Blatt: How a Community in Boro Park Embraces the ‘Source of Life’
Recently, an incredible story, related by Rav Aaron Schiff, Rov
of Antwerp, have been making the rounds. In it, he was about to leave for
America to speak at the siyum Hashas last year, when he was asked by the son of
an elderly woman to come see her, before heading out. When he arrived at her
home, she told her story:
“I was a young girl in Krakow when the Holocaust broke out. After losing my family, and suffering so much, I drifted away from Yiddishkeit. I married, and was leading a secular lifestyle in the city. One day, while walking in the marketplace, I noticed a peddler selling Gemaras…and I was instantly transported to the home of my childhood, and to my father who would spend the predawn hours, and the hours after a hard day's work, engrossed in his learning… I nearly fainted. And this image ultimately brought me back to Yiddishkeit.
“Seventy years later, I have generations of Torah observant descendants to show for it.”
This is a testament to the power of a commitment to Torah—in spite of our worldly obligations— and something that remains in the minds of our children for decades to come.
In recent years, our community has galvanized around the need to provide organized learning programs for balebatim who—although they may not be water carriers and shoemakers like in the shtetl of yore, nevertheless put in long and hard hours of work in the gamut of fields. And these communities are providing a framework by which balebatim can take the precious early-morning hours before work, and the evening hours after a day’s work, and decimate them to the pursuit of Torah.
Multiple communities within Boro Park, each with their own approach and emphasis, are bringing the working men in their community to greater and greater heights of acquiring and mastering Torah, thus transforming them and their households through the sweetness of Torah learning.
Today, we go ‘beyond the blatt’ for a look at the Me’or Hatefillah community—located at 20th Avenue and 60th Street—which is headed by Rav Yosef Paneth shlit”a, and their recent celebration of incredible milestones and accomplishments.
Some would say that the Shul should really be called “Me’or HaTorah”, due to the strong emphasis of Torah within this community. But perhaps it is the Torah that puts the shine into the tefillah… and the primary catalyst for the Rov’s establishment of this community in this fast-growing corner of Boro Park.
Rav Paneth has been a uniquely-gifted marbitz Torah in the Boro Park community for many years. His engaging manner of giving over the Daf Yomi shiur drew hundreds of people to his shiur every night. In the winter of 2014, he was asked by a few balebatim to establish this kehillah, which has since grown to over 300 families, ka”h.
He immediately began delivering shiurim, which has been a major factor in attracting so many to the kehillah. The number of shiurim has also grown steadily within this time. In addition to multiple daily shiurim in Gemara, the Pirkei Avos shiur, and the shiurim before Yamim Tovim draw overflow crowds, and infuse meaning into the special moments of our calendar.
And while the siyum hashas of the Daf Yomi was certainly celebrated at Me’or Hatefillah, it was the recently-reached milestone of seven-and-a-half years (winter ‘14-spring ‘21) that represented the kehillah’s own completion of the Daf Yomi cycle.
And what better way to celebrate this than by using this as a springboard to spawn yet more Torah learning? The “Liba’ee b’Oraisah (our hearts in Torah)” event brought together the entire kehillah to an evening of recommitment to Torah learning—whether through the four Daf Yomi Shiurim given by the Rov every day, to the two daily Amud Yomi shiurim, or to join the dozens who learn with chavrusas.
The Marah d’Asrah, as well as Mr. Naftali Horowitz (a wealth partner at J.P. Morgan), spoke about the incredible transformation, elevation, and clarity that serious Torah learning brings to the chaos of the world.
One member of the kehillah notes: “the demographics of our Shul are such that we each have family and friends moving out to Jackson or Toms River, to homes and properties that are exponentially larger than what we have in Boro Park. Many of us can easily afford to do so. Yet, we give up happily for the Torah and the meaning that we get here.”
In a video produced in honor of the siyum Hashas Me’or in the winter of 2019, all of the interviewees seemed to echo a similar theme: the power of Torah to elevate the mundane and give meaning to life, and their gratitude to a unique marbitz Torah to spearhead this revolution on this edge of Boro Park.