It took almost nine decades for the sweet sounds of Torah to be heard again in the Sofiensaal Auditorium in Vienna, yet during the first week of Nisan, klal Yisrael witnessed a profound manifestation of Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker. A siyum on the Daf Hayomi Seder Nezikin was held on 2 Nisan in the exact same hall in Vienna where the historic first Daf HaYomi siyum was held. The hall that saw the Nazi takeover of Austria and hosted Nazi rallies and events now has again merited to host not only this siyum, but an enthusiastic undertaking by the Vienna community to undertake daily learning in Dirshu’s Daf HaYomi B’Halacha program.
In advance of the event, a rare letter was released by seven of Vienna’s prominent rabbanim calling on all of the members of the community to join the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha program. The siyum began with the entrance of the rabbanim together with the nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, who came to Vienna especially to participate in the historic event. The siyum on Seder Nezikin was made by Rav Dovid Bidel, a rosh kollel in Vienna and Daf HaYomi maggid shiur.
A highlight of the event was the drasha of Rav Hofstedter, who stressed Dirshu’s message of ol Torah and achdus through accountable limud haTorah. In a Pesach-related message he said, “Chazal tell us that the Bnei Yisrael had no mitzvos and needed the blood of Pesach and milah to merit redemption from Egypt. Don’t Chazal tell us that Bnei Yisrael had other merits, such as the fact that they didn’t change their clothing, language and names?”
Rav Dovid answered, “Yes, they maintained their Jewish clothing and even spoke a Jewish language, etc., but they were simultaneously completely immersed and absorbed in the culture of Egypt, the norms of behavior, the norms of entertainment. They had a veneer of the Jewish religion, the outer trappings of Jewish observance. Superficially they heeded the Jewish religion, but their essence, their inner core, was completely Egyptian. What ‘energized them’ were the things that ‘excited’ their fellow Egyptians.
“Thus, the only way to extricate themselves from the culture of Mitzrayim was with mesiras nefesh, with blood—blood of milah and blood of Pesach.
“Our generation has so many zechusim! Look at the beautiful edifices of Torah that we have built on the ashes of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, our generation is similar to the generation of Mitzrayim in the sense that we too have been inundated with the host culture. The only way that we can extricate ourselves from the superficiality of today’s culture is with mesiras nefesh!
“When it comes to Torah learning we must dedicate ourselves to learning with true accountability.”
HaRav Zishe Horowitz, shlita, rav of the Kehillas Hachassidim of Elad, was the guest speaker at the event. Rav Horowitz said, “Our children must see us learning Torah and especially learning practical Halacha. When a child sees his father learning Halacha, he too will be spurred to learn Halacha and gain the resultant yiras shamayim.”
Heartfelt zemiros and grammen were sung by Reb Yisroel Adler. It was deeply moving to see the entire assemblage spontaneously burst out in song and dance as the Sofiensaal Auditorium again experienced true simchas haTorah after an almost nine-decade hiatus. The entire frum community of Vienna was deeply moved and, indeed, new shiurim in Daf HaYomi B’Halacha sprang up in numerous shuls in the aftermath of the event.
The next stop was the city of Budapest, Hungary, where a fascinating Torah revolution is transpiring under the auspices of Rav Dovid Kelety. “I cannot tell you what an impact Dirshu’s visit had on the young, dedicated Yidden from Budapest. They truly felt part of the Torah world, and renewed their motivation to dedicating their lives to live in accordance with the Torah and Halacha, and most importantly to learn Torah with mesiras nefesh. Hashem promised us that ‘Torah would not be forgotten from your children. Dirshu is instrumental in helping fulfill that promise in Budapest,” Rav Kelety explained.
The next day brought the Dirshu delegation to Berlin, the capital of Germany. Berlin features more than one kollel and the Dirshu delegation’s first stop was Beis Medrash Beis Tzion, a shul that had survived Kristallnacht and today houses the Adas Bnei Yisroel kehilla as well as a kollel. Leading the Berlin kehilla in this endeavor was Rav Moshe Halpern and Rav Yitzchak Eherenberg, Chief Rabbi of Berlin.
One of the most moving moments at the Berlin event was the special message from HaGaon HaRav Berel Povarsky, shlita, rosh yeshivas Ponevezh, of whom Rav Moshe Halpern is a close talmid of Rav Berel. In his video message to the kehilla, Rav Berel lovingly said, “Rav Moshe, my talmid is like a son to me! It follows that you Yidden in Berlin are all my grandchildren!”
The symbolism in Berlin was a fitting backdrop. The fact that Dirshu, the largest organization facilitating limud haTorah in the world, established a branch just around the corner from where Hitler’s Reichstag was once located was not lost on anyone.
Seventy years after the churban, the Nazis are in the dust heap of history and Yidden are learning and taking Dirshu tests on Daf HaYomi in Berlin, Vienna and Budapest.
By Chaim Gold