Memory Lane: Siyum Hashas 1968, Echoes of Lublin in Boro Park

Memory Lane: Siyum Hashas 1968, Echoes of Lublin in Boro Park

Yehuda Alter 

Fifty-five years ago, the 7th Siyum Hashas, took place in Boro Park, and saw a massive crowd that overflowed out of the Beis Yaakov of Boro Park auditorium to join in this celebration. 

It must be understood that 55 years ago—less than 25 years following the churban Europa—Boro Park teemed with Holocaust survivors—so many of them from Poland where Daf Yomi was already a household name before the war. Brooklyn was then home to dozens of Chachmei Lublin alumni at that time…people who knew and revered Rav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, personally! 

Against this backdrop, we present a glimpse of this event, by no means as large as the Metlife event that we have witnessed this week… but in many ways no less significant. 

Boro Park was a central hub of asknanus in the postwar years, where so many important organizations were founded, bolstered, and nurtured—mostly by Holocaust survivors who sought only to rebuild a world gone up in smoke.  Their dedication to the daf Yomi—tending to this crucial endeavor—is a shining example of this.  

The ‘Central Siyum Hashas’ in Boro Park 

Following is the way the legendary Reb Yossel Friedenson described that evening in his erstwhile “Dos Yiddishe Vort.’ “[The Siyum] took place Sunday, 27 Teves, in the auditorium of the Beis Yaakov School in Boro Park—to which did, despite a heavy downpour, come a larger-than-one-thousand-head crowd from all parts of the city, led by prominent Rabbobnim and Admorim. The large hall was overfilled, and many hundreds overflowed outside, due to the dearth of space. 

Gracing the dais

The account of that evening goes on to note the prominent Rabbonim headlining the event who delivered addresses that evening—great men who transmitted Torah and Yiddishkeit for the future of American Jewry, each in their own way:  

Rav Simcha Elberg: a poilishe ga’on who hailed from Warsaw, he was the longtime editor of Hapardes, the preeminent Torah journal of American Jewry—publishing hundreds (if not thousands) of Torah, and torah-themed, essays over the years. As noted, he was the maggid shiur of the largest daf Yomi Shiur in America. 

Rav Pinchas Hirschprung: a legendary Ga’on, he was a prized talmid of Rav Meir Shapiro, and was the longtime rov in Montreal. After the passing of Rav Meir Shapiro in 1933, he gave the entrance exams into Chachmei Lublin.  

Rav Avrumele Shapiro: Profiled in this column last week, his role in perpetuating his brother’s legacy—in particular that of Daf Yomi—cannot be measured. 

Rav Mordechai Harlig: Himself a Boro Park rov for a time, he was the nephew, and adopted child of Rav Meir Shapiro. He was later a rov in Crown Heights for many years. 

Rav Chaim Twersky—Chernobyler Rebbe of Boro Park: A scion of the great chernobyler dynasty, he led the Torath Moshe Shul on Tenth Avenue, which he later changed to Beis Aaron, in tribute to his holy ancestor. His work and leadership on behalf of Boro Park Jewry can fill volumes. 

The Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Nachum Mordechai Perlow, representing the Mo’etzes Gedolei Hatorah opened Maseches Brachos, beginning the new cycle of Shas. A fitting honor to a scion of this Chassidic movement which was so centered on Torah, the Rebbe moved to Boro Park in the later part of his life, roots of which have continued to flourish here. 

Half a century has passed since that historic evening in 1968, and our community has thrived and flourished—while undergoing metamorphosis of all kinds, and confronting challenges large and small. The one thing that has remained constant is our love and cherishment of the holy Torah—the very secret of our endurance, which has been cemented and nurtured by these princes of a lost world in Boro Park of yesteryear. 

Photos presented here feature some of the Rabbonim who graced the event. 

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