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Learn Well, Be Proud: The Dirshu Revolution

Yisroel Besser

Few organizations have had as much impact on so many lives as Dirshu, whose Torah learning programs have inspired and empowered thousands of Yidden from Americato Australiato Eretz Yisrael. Yet the idea behind Dirshu started with just one man, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, who 15 years ago saw a need for a framework for serious Torah learning for balabatim — and when he couldn’t find it, decided to create one himself.

Monday, May 13, 2013

dirshuThere is an undeniable ripple of tension in the air, but it’s a happy tension, like a campaign headquarters on election night. And if there is a single code word between the men arriving at the spacious shul, it is this: a whispered “Hatzlachah.”

As the men accept the sheaves of paper, there are all sorts of last-minute rituals. Many close their eyes for a minute or two, mentally running through the scores of blatt Gemara they will need to know. Others are downright breezy, bantering and smiling as if to assert their calm. One man steps out just before the examination begins to call his wife, eager to receive her good wishes.

“Her encouragement has brought me here,” he explains, “and her brachos will no doubt help me succeed.”

Kinyan Shas is more than an ambitious name: it’s a clear and definite mission. The participants filling up the tables at this BoroParkshul will answer questions on all they’ve learned thus far in the current cycle. The test is cumulative, calling for expertise in all of Brachos, Shabbos and a fair amount of Eiruvin; to the credit of a great nation, this Dirshu program has thousands of participants.

And just as a gifted coach will raise the bar for the young athlete between rounds, calling forth a bit more stamina and strength, the tests are always new. Those who completed Shas on the first cycle are now expected to learn Shas with Tosafos.


Bring on the Test

While the shul fills up, the proctor, Rabbi Meyer Rottenberg, seats the participants with the authority of a maitre d’, ensuring that everyone has space. At one point, he runs out of exams — the size of the crowd has surprised even him — and he dispatches an assistant to the corner copy store to make more copies.

Like a crowd awaiting pizza on Motzaei Pesach, the people are restless, eager for their tests. One man wears a shtreimel; he is in the middle of sheva brachos for his child, but “the bechinah is the bechinah.” Some things won’t wait.

Then the exam begins. Although there is no flashing neon sign outside the shul to advertise what’s taking place inside, somehow passersby seem to sense it. They are pulled inside to witness hundreds of Yidden filling a room, leaning forward intently, pens flying across an expanse of white paper: the sight of Shas being acquired.

Several distinguished rabbanim step in for a peek, among them a prominent rebbe, Rav Shraga Hager of Kossov. He studies the crowd and asks what the bechinah is on. The proctor explains and the Rebbe is visibly impressed. “Amazing,” says the Rebbe, in English. “That takes courage!”

When the participants complete the test, they hand it to Rabbi Rottenberg, who places each one, clearly marked with the participant’s ID number, in the large, white FedEx box that will go directly to Dirshu’sLakewoodheadquarters for processing.

Many of the people in this room credit this program — and the organization behind it — with changing their lives. “When I get the test back,” says a short fellow with a curly red beard, an insurance salesman by day, “regardless if I pass or fail, I will hang it on my refrigerator. I want my kids to see that a person should seize the opportunities around him and he can pull himself out of anything. I did it.”


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