“We are the voice of the American Jewish future” – Ambitious Communal Agenda Outlined at 30th Annual Siyum Hashas of the Igud Harabbanim
In a tradition that is now three decades strong, the leadership and member rabbanim of the Igud Harabbanim – Rabbinical Alliance of America gathered on Tuesday evening, Chai Elul, for a grand Siyum Hashas and advocacy convocation. For the 20th year, this gathering was held in the majestic Sephardic Lebanese Synagogue on Avenue T in Brooklyn.
This is the premier annual event of the rabbinical body, which was founded in 1942 by gedolim such as Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l, Rav Gedaliah Schorr zt”l and Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l, and encouraged and guided by the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l & Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. The Igud currently has a network of over 950 diverse rabbanim across the country, as well as a Beth Din led by Rav Herschel Kurzrock, and robust activity in the government advocacy sphere.
Chai Elul earned the honor for this event as it is the birthday of both the Baal Shem Tov and Baal Hatanya zt”l. Being so close to the Yomim Norai’m, the Siyum is preceded by an extensive “Chomer L’Drush” session, where intriguing thoughts and marei mekomos on the topic of teshuva are shared with the Igud’s full rabbinical body.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, Presidium member of the Igud, and Mara D’asra of Kahal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, chaired the Chomer L’Drush session. For the past few years as well as this year, this session was sponsored by Rebbetzin Faygie Eisner and family, in memory of her late husband and Executive Vice president of the Igud, Rabbi Shlomo (Saul) Eisner Zt”l. Rabbi Klass thanked HaRav Eliyahu Elbaz shlit”a, Mara D’asra of the Sephardic Lebanese Synagogue for hosting the event, and shared various original thoughts on the topic of teshuva. Several dynamic rabbanim followed, each sharing thoughts that would inspire and motivate any kehillah: Rabbi Meir Eliyahu, a special guest from Eretz Yisroel; Rabbi Eli Biegeleisen of the Lido Beach Synagogue; Rabbi Dr. Hanania Elbaz, Presidium member of the Igud, and Rav of Congregation Achi-Ezer in Brooklyn; and Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, Presidium member of the Igud and Rosh Kollel of Ayshel Avraham Rabbinical Seminary of Monsey.
Leading activist Mark Meyer Appel closed the session with a short-yet-powerful message about the Igud’s multifaceted government advocacy efforts, particularly in the areas of chinuch and support for Eretz Yisroel. “We will continue to be strong,” he concluded.
Siyum Hashas – Convocation
The tables in the “Ulam,” located down a grand stairwell in the Synagogue, were beautifully set as befits a great seudas mitzvah: Once again, the Igud’s rabbanim cumulatively completed Shas. Adorning each table was a placard from the caterer, Premier Catering, declaring that the event was under the hashgacha of “Alef-K,” the Igud’s kashrus division, under the leadership of its Rabbinic Administrator, the noted Rabbi Moshe Y. Wiener.. When welcoming the guests, Rabbi Klass proudly pointed to the placards, noting the Igud’s return to kashrus after many years, another sign of the historic body’s renewed focus and vibrancy.
Rabbi Yehoshua Hecht, member of the Igud presidium, Rav of Congregation Beth Israel of Norwalk, CT; and Dinner/Convocation Chairman, cited the words of Chazal, “Kinnus tzaddikim na’a l’olam, a gathering of tzaddikim benefits the world.”
Joining the diverse rabbanim at the seuda was a large delegation of powerful political leaders who see the Igud as a guiding light for the needs of Orthodox Jewry. The delegation included Councilmen Kalman Yager and Chaim Deutsch, Assembly candidate Simcha Eichenstein, activist Ari Kagan. Pinny Hikind represented New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Alex Gurevich represented Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales.
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, Executive Vice President of the Igud, greeted the dignitaries, thanking them for working together on behalf of the community’s needs. Councilman Deutsch cited his successful effort to offer kosher food for Jewish public school students which was a particular priority of the Igud’s late Director, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum zt”l. “The Igud has been the voice of the community for over seventy years,” Councilman Deutsch exclaimed.
Rabbi Simcha Silverman, Rav of Congregation Etz Chaim of Brooklyn, and Siyum Chairman, noted that as the 30th Igud Siyum Hashas, an incredible 81,330 dafim were learned. He introduced HaRav Leibel Wulliger shlit”a, Rosh Kollel, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, who made the Siyum. HaRav Wulliger stressed the greatness of learning Torah and maintaining ehrlichkeit in an era with unprecedented nisyonos. “Now in tuf shin ayin ches, we are at yet another Siyum HaShas,” he marveled. Rabbi Klass then recited the Kaddish.
The Mara D’Asra, HaRav Elbaz, made the has’chala of the new cycle of Shas, explaining the importance of berachos in Yiddishkeit – as signified by Maseches Berachos being the opening of Shas. Special guest addresses at the Siyum were delivered by Rabbi Aharon Zev of the Aur Torah Sephardic Congregation of Staten Island and Rabbi Yaron Reuven of the B’Ezrat Hashem Inc kiruv organization.
In an annual highlight, Rabbi Hecht delivered a rousing speech delineating this year’s convocation platform, which served as a call-to-arms for the Igud on an array of crucial communal issues. He articulated an eight-point agenda, imploring rabbanim – among other items – to increase limud haTorah in their shuls; work to fight intermarriage in America and protect the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel; fully support the Israeli Chief Rabbinate; and implore the Jewish Federation organizations across the country to make a greater investment in religious education. Rabbi Hecht decried the outdated, out-of-touch views held by many major American Jewish organizations today. “The true voice of American Jewry today is the Igud, not the Federations and ADL,” he exclaimed.
No doubt, the Igud has its hands full as it tackles these pressing issues. Yet there is no doubt as to its determination. Rabbi Mirocznik, a respected figure in legal circles and Democratic Party politics, shared some of the aggressive pushback he has received from close associates due to his advocacy of the Igud platform, but he remains more determined than ever. “I’m a yid first,” he explained. “Let the chips fall where they may.”