June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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Got Any Time for Torah?

Take your daily dose with TorahAnytime.

As a series of complex challenges unfolded in her life, Shira felt herself beginning to drown. She lay awake late one night until the wee hours of the morning—unable to surrender to sleep, with her mind full of morbid thoughts about the future. As she wrestled with these dejected feelings, suddenly, her phone pinged … It was a WhatsApp message from TorahAnytime’s Daily Dose. Since she had nothing better to do at that impossible hour of the night, she pressed on it and a two-minute clip from Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, zt”l, filled the screen … As if he knew exactly what was going on in her life right now, he began: “I want to read you the best line I have ever heard in my life. ‘Sometimes when you are in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried—but actually you’ve been planted.’”

Shira couldn’t believe her ears—the stark, succinct simplicity of the message that she had just heard instantly changed her perspective of the current events in her life and raised her spirit immeasurably. Slowly but surely, she drifted off to sleep with a slight smile on her face.

Amazingly, the timely chizuk of TorahAnytime had saved Shira’s day or her night—to be more precise—as well as her whole future outlook. This scenario is one of many that repeats itself daily across the world, due to the ingenuity and genius of the Bukharian-born Kolyakov brothers, Shimon and Rubin, from Queens, who are the joint founders of the incredible TorahAnytime organization.

The Kolyakov family immigrated to the United States from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, back in 1979. With little Jewish affiliation due to former Communist influences, at the time, both Shimon and Rubin were sent by their parents to the local public school. The highlight of their school week was the Queens Jewish Education Program (JEP) that gave them an hour of Jewish studies a week. Later on, this propelled Shimon to switch to the Yeshiva Institute run by Rabbi Zalman Deutscher, a kiruv-style yeshiva suited especially for public school kids. Although Shimon continued on to a public high school, the seeds for future Torah studies were planted. After having experienced his own roundabout journey to Torah and Yiddishkeit and influencing others—including his own younger brother, Rubin—along the way, it seemed that he was destined to lead others towards Torah.

Enter TorahAnytime.

The brainchild that is today’s TorahAnytime began over 18 years ago, in the back of Shimon’s computer repair shop. In 2003, after heaven-sent inspiration, Shimon began to record various lectures and shiurim, starting with those in his own neighborhood shul of Beit Gavriel located in Forest Hills. After experiencing their impact on his own personal growth, he strongly felt that capturing the content of these classes was something Hashem wanted him to do. After receiving a camera from his parents upon his marriage at 24, he kept up the momentum by videoing a handful of lectures whenever he could.

Others began to request copies of these recordings when they or another family member couldn’t attend the actual class, so Shimon then purchased a DVD maker, put the file of the recorded shiur on multiple DVDs, and duly gave them out to people. Often recipients would tentatively suggest that he post these shiurim up on an internet website, to which Shimon would reply, “That’s a great idea! I don’t know how to do it!”

Thankfully, Rubin Kolyakov—Shimon’s younger brother by six years—is very technologically savvy, and since he is especially gifted in the IT field, he came to Shimon’s aid. He was working in the technical department of Touro College at the time and because of the knowledge and expertise he had gained from his workplace, he nudged Shimon to lend him his binder of DVD recordings so that he could experiment with manually putting them up on a public computer website.

By the end of 2005, the Kolyakov.org site— an obvious play on their family’s surname which means “voice of Yakov”—was born, displaying audio and video recordings for open use, albeit still in quite a primitive and basic manner (with just file downloads, as no livestreaming was yet available). The website subsequently got an official boost to its launch in early March 2006, when Rubin received the first ever made hard-drive camcorder as a birthday gift from his parents! This meant that the Kolyakov brothers could upload files online in a more efficient way (obviating the need for tapes or discs) and was a real boon to the project.

A year later, in 2007-2008, the TorahAnytime staff grew to include Yosef Davis, who became its dedicated executive director, and whom the Kolyakovs fondly refer to as their “third brother” in the operation. After that, Meir Sommers was brought in as director of operations; and together with his assistant, Rachamim Segev, they record and upload all the classes and coordinate any organizations that TorahAnytime works with, as well as check the audio and video quality of each lecture. Known as the “Director of Getting Things Done,” Moshe Sofer also contributes towards helping Torah Anytime excel, along with the board’s Chesky Kaufteil, who has much valuable multimedia expertise.

With Hashem’s help and that of the team, TorahAnytime has evolved over the years from a website to a mobile app to a phone system (for those without internet or smartphones), as well as the weekly “Torah Anytimes” newsletter composed by the talented staff writer Elan Perchik, and many other platforms still in the works.

Word of mouth about this incredible resource quickly spread and the numbers of its worldwide users grew exponentially. By the end of 2006, the site—now officially called TorahAnytime.com—had almost 10,000 visitors and continued to flourish rapidly to around 300,000 users in 2015, and then to a whopping million-plus users in 2020. Indeed, when COVID first struck, the demand for the site was so immense (up to 50,000 users a day) that it kept crashing. This was the impetus for the TorahAnytime team to implement a rapid site upgrade, as well as the quick launch of the mobile app. The pandemic propelled the team to new heights in terms of its usage and innovation, since extra staff and software developers had to be hired to meet these increasing needs.

In line with the needs of this generation’s limited attention span and propensity towards WhatsApp and social media, TorahAnytime recently launched the “Daily Dose”—a platform that sends out short, powerful clips with life-changing messages from their very best speakers. These can be received either by WhatsApp, email or the TorahAnytime Daily Dose mobile app, as well as the Daily Dose dial-in hotline. The Kolyakov brothers have been overwhelmed by the public response and feedback from those (close to 30,000 people)—like Shira—whose lives have been turned around by a “Daily Dose” boost.

Today, TorahAnytime has grown beyond the Kolyakovs’ wildest expectations, with the site displaying over 170,000 Torah lectures, with an incredible choice of more than 1,000 speakers. The secret to their success, perhaps, lies in the fact that the brothers, both Shimon and Rubin, literally “live and breathe” TorahAnytime 24/7, even on Shabbat—it is in their discussions and their dreams. (Though, they are quick to emphasize that really it is only Hashem Who made it all happen.) Indeed, although they have already accomplished so much, they acknowledge that this is only the beginning and that there is far more to come for TorahAnytime.

So watch this space—or screen, rather—because with TorahAnytime, it’s time for Torah “anytime”!

By Shifra Ebbing

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