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Saturday, January 19, 2019

This is the story of a concept that touched and changed countless people everywhere. It is a story of a nation closing ranks in times of danger with astonishing alacrity and focus. It is the story of the power of a good idea. It is the story of the recent “Yom Limud and Tefillah.”

It is very much a story of our time.

The “Yom Limud and Tefillah,” (presented also as a Day of Jewish Unity to our unaffiliated brethren) touched over 500,000 people! Participation continued even after the day was officially over, with more and more people signing on to be involved. By nighttime, when they were finally able to take stock on what had been one of the most amazing days ever, the organizers were able to recognize that their initiative had been supported by Jews literally ALL OVER THE WORLD!!

There was participation from the USA, Eretz Yisrael, Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Australia, Belgium, Greece and even Japan, to name but a partial list. The campaign had turned global in an unprecedented way, as the best global campaigns tend to do. With hundreds of thousands of people actively involving themselves in the “Day of Jewish Unity,” it became clear that the initiative had struck a chord in the hearts of Jews worldwide.

The media coverage detailing the upcoming day of prayer, was featured in editorials, broadcasts and even front page mention in various secular Jewish newspapers. It was obvious that the message was cutting across party lines and religious affiliation to unite one and all in a way that simply warms the heart.

The initiative proved to be a marvelous success.

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Due to the nature of current events – the Iran nuclear threat – in general, and this article in particular (coming as it does on the heels of Dirshu’s mission to the kever of the Chofetz Chaim in Belarus), I’d like to begin this piece by sharing the following anecdote, involving the Chofetz Chaim and a reunion of two of his grandchildren.

The Chofetz Chaim had a granddaughter who lived in Communist Russia for the majority of her life. A professor and mathematician by profession, she was a brilliant woman with a formidable intellect. In her later years she moved to Eretz Yisrael, and Rav Hillel Zaks—another grandchild of the Chofetz Chaim—went to see her. Rav Shimshon Pincus accompanied him to his cousin’s home, and would later relate the story of that visit and the powerful lessons he learned there.

Sitting with the professor, they questioned the older woman as to her relationship with her illustrious grandfather.

“Do you remember the zeide?” Rav Zaks asked.

“Well,” she replied, “I only met him twice. The first time I was just a little girl and I don’t recall that visit.”

“What about the second time?”

“My second visit happened right before I left for university. My parents were religious and were worried about the fact that I was leaving home and whether I would remain frum. (She didn’t.)

“Hoping to influence me for the good, they sent me to visit my grandfather, the Chofetz Chaim in Radin. I left cosmopolitan Warsaw, traveling by train and eventually by horse and wagon to reach his tiny village. I was used to spacious homes well-lit by electricity, but my zeide sat in a darkened room that was full of books and nothing else, illuminated by candlelight. It was light-years away from what I was used to, and it was difficult for me to believe that people still lived life this way.

“Zeide,” I asked him, “when will you leave the darkness for the light of the world?” (Her jab was double-edged, cynically disparaging her grandfather’s Torah outlook, which she considered steeped in darkness, along with a reference to the fact that he was literally sitting in the dark with only a candle for light.)

“Why don’t you come out of the darkness, Zeide, into the light? We aren’t living in the middle Ages any longer. There’s a modern world out there to be part of!”

The Chofetz Chaim was silent for a few moments, digesting her words.

“Eventually, he turned to me,” she continued, “and asked, “‘Do you see the planes flying above us in the sky?’

“I nodded.

“‘They will yet create a plane (rocket ship) that will fly to the moon.’

Here the Chofetz Chaim was predicting the future—that one day NASA would build a rocket ship capable of reaching outer space and the moon.

But the Chofetz Chaim hadn’t finished predicting the future.

“Do you see the bombs that they throw from the planes?” he asked, referring to the first-generation bombs which were used to sow fear and psychological damage more than anything else.

His granddaughter nodded again. Suddenly, the Chofetz Chaim raised his voice.

“Science,” he said, “will yet create a bomb capable of destroying the entire world!”

The Chofetz Chaim had just foretold the creation of the Atom bomb! He predicted it before anyone had created anything even remotely similar!

Looking his granddaughter in the eye, her zeide said, “We work on improving man, while they work on the ultimate destruction of mankind! And you want me to leave my world, so brilliantly lit, to enter your world of darkness?”

This incident not only pertains to the incredibly broad mindset and worldview of a tzaddik who lived close to a hundred years ago, but to the actual events that are taking place right now in the halls of world power – the U.S. Congress and the U.N.—as the world’s diplomats remain committed to their insistence on signing a treaty with Iran, no matter the cost or the danger of a future Iranian nuclear bomb being used…chas v’Shalom. The Chofetz Chaim’s words are clearly as relevant today as they were when he was alive, and the accepted leader of the entire nation.

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Traveling across Eastern Europe in a bus filled with some of the greatest gedolim of our generation is not an ordinary occurrence. Then again, these are not ordinary times.

Tuesday, the 24th of Elul, Sept 8th, 2015, was the Chofetz Chaim’s yahrtzeit (yes, the same Chofetz Chaim who foresaw the future), and a special mission of gedolim traveled from Eretz Yisrael to stand at his kever and daven for Klal Yisrael, which once again finds itself in a perilous situation—this one brokered ironically by the United States of America.

A mere seventy years ago, the world laid down its weapons at the end of World War II and faced with the enormous guilt of standing by while 6 million Jews were murdered, tried to make amends.

Fast forward to the year 2015.

Events are moving with dizzying speed as the president runs to sign a deal with Iran – a deal that many feel can only bring harm to the United States and its allies everywhere. Congress is voting to finalize the accord. If they do, they will have signed a deal into law that could very well place the Jewish People and democracies worldwide in grave danger.

Enter the “Day of Jewish Unity.”

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The idea was a simple one, and like the greatest of concepts, simple and brilliant at the same time. The “Day of Jewish Unity” was spearheaded by Acheinu, the kiruv arm of Dirshu. The initiative was linked to Dirshu’s “Yom Limud and Tefillah,” which coincided with Dirshu’s mission to Radin.

The Concept: a massive day of tefillah and Torah study.

Over 500,000 people are estimated to have taken part in the “Yom Limud and Tefillah,” as hundreds of yeshivos, kollelim, Bais Yaakovs, seminaries and international corporations committed themselves and their students/employees to taking part.

From the Belzer cheder in Boro Park to the Toras Ahron Yeshivah in Lakewood;

From Yeshivah Tiferes Elimelech to Bais Mikrah in Monsey,

From Riverside Abstract, BP Graphics and Madison Title, to the Bobover Yeshivah in Toronto;

From the Yeshivah Ketanah of Lakewood to day schools in Houston, Los Angeles and Yeshivas across Eretz Yisrael and across the globe. Participation included shuls and kollelim in Eretz Yisrael, North America, Mexico, France and beyond.

Children and adults of all types stopped what they were doing and participated with all their hearts. All of this coincided with Dirshu’s unity mission to the kever of the Chofetz Chaim in Radin, led by a delegation of prominent Chassidish, Litvish, and Sefardic gedolim and Rav Dovid Hofstedter, nasi of Dirshu.

The Chofetz Chaim was one of the most beloved and revered leaders of pre-World War Two Europe, and Jews around the world stood united on the day of his yahrtzeit as they recited two chapters of Tehillim in unison. Many also partook in a learning session consisting of that day’s Daf HaYomi B’Halachah limud – a daily Mishnah Berurah and mussar learning program.

Whereas many campaigns involving religious Jewry pass by without making waves in the outer, non-religious and non-Jewish worlds, the “Day of Jewish Unity” initiative not only caught on, but spread like wildfire to every corner of the globe, clearly resonating with many leading secular Jewish media outlets. It even was featured in a broadcast on the leading media outlet in Israel. This alone instilled a feeling of unity in Jewish people everywhere well advance of the event—as all geared up for the big day of brotherhood.

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We set out on our mission Tuesday morning, poised to take part in a moment of incredible achdus and togetherness.

As Jews the world over gathered together to recite Tehillim, I connected with famous radio personality Nachum Segal—he in New Jersey, me in Belarus—for a live interview. We discussed the trip, how it felt to stand at the kever of the Chofetz Chaim, and the incredible array of gedolim who’d come along for the journey.

And then Nachum did something out of the ordinary. Something he has seldom done in many years of reporting for the Jewish people. He asked me to recite the two chapters of Tehillim that Jews were saying all over the world—live, on his broadcast.

It was a unique opportunity, one which bound every Jew taking part in Acheinu’s initiative into a single gigantic tapestry, originating in Radin on the Chofetz Chaim’s yahrtzeit and spreading forth to every corner of the globe. A beautiful tapestry that included every kind of Jew—men, women and children, yeshivish, Chassidish, Ashkenaz, Sefard, young and old. As I recited the age-old words of Dovid Hamelech live on the air to an audience of tens of thousands, with Nachum repeating every verse after me for his listeners’ benefit, I knew that I would never forget this moment, or the heartfelt prayer of Acheinu that we recited together.

That interview, and the entire “Day of Jewish Unity” initiative, are classic examples of how we, as religious Jews, can use today’s technology to make a kiddush Hashem. I am grateful to have been a part of so historic a moment.

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Sometimes it feels as though we just can’t get along and that nobody even wants to try. Then along comes an initiative that captures the heart and soul of every Jew, proving just how much we really do love and care for one another. When confronted with the danger from Iran, and its frantic dreams of world domination and destruction, we remember how much we truly do care for one another.

Acheinu initiated the campaign to spread the message of achdus and brotherhood. But that alone cannot explain the grassroots movement that swelled in its wake, growing exponentially until it took on a life of its own. That alone cannot explain how an idea, even a very good idea, took off so rapidly, almost instantaneously generating excitement from every sector of our community. It cannot explain the fact that dozens of corporate companies volunteered to take part, ceasing operations right in the middle of their business day, picking up their Siddurim and reciting the same chapters of Tehillim that Jewish people were saying all around the globe.

Yes, it was a wonderful initiative. But how to explain the massive display of brotherhood, of schools and educational institutions representing every stream of the religious world taking part—or the pure voices of thousands and thousands of children ringing out across the globe, exhorting the Master of the World to have mercy on His Nation?

There is an explanation, of course.

A way to explain how this movement, this brilliantly simple initiative sponsored by Acheinu, took on such momentum and a life of its own.

The answer is simple.

Jewish people love one another, and want to unite.

We Want to UNITE!

That is why the initiative took on such momentum. Because this is what the Jewish people really want!

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We must, of course, lobby our elected officials and use every bit of power we possess in the political realm. Hashem expects His children to do their hishtadlus. But at the end of the day, every one of us knows that the real power and salvation will come not from government or politicians, but from the One Above and the power of achdus.

Numerous people signed up to study the Dirshu daily dose of Chofetz Chaim inspiration on the big day. This is the true face of the Jewish People. In a single day, we unmasked unmistakable unity through the simplest of eternal gestures, as we rose up to proclaim our belief in Hashem and to seek comfort in the eternal words of Tehillim.

As we took our places beside the kever of the Chofetz Chaim on the day of his yahrtzeit, and as the entire world joined hands in the most worthy of Torah endeavors, I reflected how the powerful words that the gadol hador told his granddaughter some ninety years earlier were still as relevant now as they had been back then—because tzaddikim are above time and space.

May the entire world merit to partake of the great light from the many seforim of the Chofetz Chaim, and may he serve as a source of merit for us in Heaven in this critical moment in the history of the Jewish people.