Last Thursday night, an international Kiddush Hashem was on full display at the new Event Space in Brookhaven Mall in Passaic host to Zichru 1000. This event honored those who memorized the first 1,000 Daffim in Talmud Bavli. For the first time in history, an initiative and event came together that allows lay persons and seasoned learners alike to remember their learning, whether they are walking to shul or walking down the aisle of the grocery store. The Zichru program offers Daf Yomi learners various memorization tools for recalling the Gemara they learn: pictures, animations, audio files and text. During this special evening, which was attended by hundreds, Zichru learners were “grilled” on key points in the parts of Shas they learned; specifically, Brachos through Kesubos.
The audience enjoyed a delicious dinner as the Mezamrim choir entertained. The test takers, of course, were busy studying. Each attendee was met with a copy of a beautifully published chazara book at their seat along with a postcard. The postcard was not intended to solicit funds; rather, it beseeched audience members to bring Zichru to their communities. Whether it would involve bringing a Zichru event to their neighborhood or hosting a Whatsapp group, each person was asked to do something to raise awareness.
Unlike a typical dinner, the dais was empty. These seats were reserved for the individuals who would soon be tested. As someone who is new to Zichru myself, I was awed and humbled by the fact that people I was schmoozing with in the audience were actually at the forefront of this wonderful initiative!
The program began with words of chizuk from Rav Yeruchum Olshin, a rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha. He cautioned the audience that forgetfulness of the Torah is one of the worst things to befall klal Yisroel. So how do we rectify this? Chazarah! As Yosef was consigned to serving Potiphar in Mitzrayim, he did not resign himself to his fate; rather, he reviewed and reviewed his Torah. All this was so that he would not forget it. The yetzer hara would like for us to forget Torah: “forget!” We counter with “Zichru!” This organization helps Yidden remember their learning. By remembering and not forgetting the Torah, we, like Yosef, should have a dveykus in Torah, in Passaic and around the world. In this zechus, we should see the geulah soon.
Rabbi Barry Lebovits, a co-founder of Zichru, related a story that illustrates how Zichru participants are in acquiring and remembering their learning. Rav Chaim Kanievsky declined to attend the sheva brachot for one of his sons: “I am a baal chov; I have an obligation! There is a debt to repay!” Upon hearing this, people went over to Rav Chaim’s chavruta and stated: “The Rav is in debt! He cannot even attend his own son’s sheva brachos due to the large amount of debt he is in! Let’s get some money together for him!” The chavruta smiled and averred that this was not monetary debt but limud debt. Rav Chaim was “behind” on learning because he attended his son’s wedding and first sheva brachot. He thus was obligated to make up for this lost time.
“We are three years into Zichru,” Rabbi Lebovits noted. “The only way to be successful, though, is to view our daily review as a daily obligation. This will get us to the next 1,000 daffim.”
The test takers then went up to the dais where they were asked to cite the source or sources for various points in their learning. For example, “Where is this Gemara?” “Where is the Gemara discussing how much rain is required to allow one to leave the sukkah?”The answer? Sukkah 29. “Tell me what is on this and this Daf?” One that came up was Shabbos 74, which discusses Halachot of borer and the skill of the women weaving off the animals. Then were the more impressive, “Tell me in which places this inyan is discussed and in what context.” The audience clapped as the participants not only cited the page but also the context. Examples included: “Where is ‘chavot rami’ discussed and what is the context?” Sukkah 22 with sukkah meduvleles, and Eruvin 9 with the korah shaylas.”
In order to encourage audience participation, each attendee received a sheet with the material the participants were tested on so they could write down the answers that were given in rapid fire fashion. The sheets were then placed into a raffle for a set of Shas. The pleasure, joy and nachas was shared by all.
The adrenaline continued after the testing was over as everyone danced around the ballroom, an honor to those who remember Hashem’s Torah. “Ashreinu talmidei chachomim.” You could not find a seat in the filled house. Circles weaved in and out of each other as young and old alike, Chasid and Litvak, Ashkenaz and Sefardi, young and old, united in song and dance.
When the music ended, the olam was greeted to a surprise: a video demonstration showed the new Zichru app, which is now available for iOS and soon to be available in the Google Play store. This impressive state-of-the-art app (which complements the fresh out of the oven Zichru.com website, includes audio recordings of relevant pointers which you can jump right into. You can listen to the shiur and have all the memorization tools alongside them. Sim-animations, illustrations, PDFs and illustrations are included. Users are engaged in the blatt and are helped in remembering what they learn. No matter how you learn that line of Gemara: b’iyun or b’kius, you have the points you need. This is the perfect gateway app for Zichru. Daily quizzes will keep you on your toes and increase your fluency. The app is a gamechanger for limud haTorah.
In an incident which really spoke to the achdus and energy of the room, an anonymous attendee offered $1,800 to be raffled off to one of the test takers. This selfless display of gratitude will not soon be forgotten. Each person in the room added to the overall profound impact the evening had on all.
Zichru co-founder Rabbi Avraham Goldhar then spoke to the wonders of Zichru by stating that “This is not a quantitative or qualitative difference in terms of where we want to get to in our learning; rather, this is a quantum leap! ‘Where will we be? Where will we get to?’ We will know when we get closer to the next 1,000 daffim.”
Finally, Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro, the keynote speaker, rose to address the audience. He humbly noted that he was hesitant to speak at first but finally jumped in. In his remarks, Rabbi Shapiro related the story of an underground Gemara shiur in Soviet Russia in which an elderly man was sitting at the front and younger people asked him, respectfully, to give up his seat for them; they felt they could grasp the learning better and should sit in the front row. It was a tiny room, there were no microphones and what could this old man possibly retain? Let the “young guys” who know the Gemara well sit closer! The old man was adamant: “No!” He then showed them his bruised arms, welts and all, ugly sores unhealed by time.
This old man was but a young man who, decades before, was sitting innocently with a coffee outside a café when the Czar’s White Army and the Communist Red Army were fighting each other. Suddenly, the enemies pounced upon his town; they grabbed poles and smashed whatever or whoever was in sight. The opposition was guilty in their view. To his horror, the enemies pounced on this man as well. Guarding his head and face with his hands, the man yelled: “Stop! What do you want from me? I’m not with them. I’m merely sitting here.” With blood in their eyes, the Communists yelled: “If you’re sitting with them, you are part of them.” They continued beating him.
The old man then turned to the young men in the small lecture room and said, “It is true; I may not be able to retain what you can, but by being here, I am one of you!” When we sit in a siyum it is as if we made a siyum ourselves. This kavod haTorah was something Rabbi Shapiro wanted to be a part. And it was for this reason he consented to addressing the audience that evening.
A lot of awareness was raised over the evening for Zichru. As Nesanel Yankelev, a participant who himself runs an unofficial Zichru supplement group stated: “It was truly inspirational seeing regular people, not learning full time, be able to say over what’s on Shabbos 74, what’s on Kesubos 11, at random, and I am convinced it’s possible to maintain this level of bekius for the rest of Shas, for regular baalei batim! Being a part of this event really gave me chizuk to continue with the program and gave me a tremendous sense of camaraderie with my fellow Zichru enthusiasts.”
Zichru boosts what you are already learning through unique memorization tools, the support of your peers and providing further support and encouragement to learn. As the evening demonstrated, we can all take part in this initiative.