Rabbi Ari Schonfeld continues to instruct his eighth-grade students at Yeshiva Bais Hillel in Passaic from afar. However, in assessing the current situation, in which we find ourselves isolating due to COVID-19, Rabbi Schonfeld realized that for many young boys evenings would be devoid of meaningful structure. Utilizing his creative talents from his position as director of Camp Eeshay in Clifton, combined with his experience as a junior high school rebbe, Schonfeld came up with the idea of offering a nightly seder, which would combine a shiur, words of inspiration from Gedolei Torah and opportunities to compete for prizes, small to major, all in under an hour a night.
Through word of mouth and dissemination through local schools and shuls, “Night Seder America” broadcasts on Zoom began on March 19, with approximately 300 participants. When The Jewish Link contacted Schonfeld on May 3, the number of boys participating had exploded to 1300 from across the U.S., Canada and as far away as Australia. Joining boys from Passaic, Clifton, Elizabeth, Lakewood and surrounding areas are boys from Portland, Chicago, Memphis and Cleveland, among others.
At 8 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday evenings, the program begins with the awarding of raffles for the review of the materials from the day before. Next is a 30-minute shiur presented by Schonfeld on a topic that is relevant to the season, such as portions of Gemara Tamid before Pesach or topics with accompanying visuals such as the specifications of a kosher shofar. The shiur is followed by a pre-recorded 10-minute dvar chizuk by a noted Torah scholar.
According to Schonfeld, “Every Rav whom we contacted was most enthusiastic about participating in the program. To date we have hosted, among others, Rabbi Pesach Krohn, Rabbi Yoel Gold, Rabbi Berel Leiner, Rabbi Yechiel Spero, Rabbi Eitan Feiner, Rav Gav Friedman, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman as well as entertainers Boruch Levine and Eitan Katz. My personal greatest moment was when we hosted my venerable grandfather, Rabbi Fabian Shonfeld.”
On Wednesday evenings, the special speaker is one of the participants who is about to become a bar mitzvah. On that evening, he dons his bar mitzvah suit and hat and delivers his “pshetel” to over 1300 guests, creating a festive venue for his great milestone even during these limiting times.
The program concludes with creative contests and a call for meaningful activities. One such challenge was posed to the participants by Rabbi Yaakov Bender, who encouraged the boys to write actual letters to be mailed to significant people in their lives such as grandparents, older siblings, uncles and aunts. Prizes for the contests consist mainly of gift certificates. The grand prize, which will be awarded in the coming weeks, is a $400 Segway.
Underwriting the program from its inception through Pesach was a generous anonymous donor. Since Pesach, donations have been coming in from the families of the participants. These donations are often earmarked for marking milestones such as bar/bat mitzvahs, births, weddings and yahrzeits. Hopefully these donations will ensure the continuation of the program for as long as it is needed and enjoyed.
Assisting Rabbi Schonfeld in this creative and meaningful endeavor are his sister, Malky Goldberg, in Baltimore, as well as the local team of Schonfeld sons who keep close tabs on the raffles.
To learn more about the program and to register as a participant, contact [email protected]
By Pearl Markovitz