Dirshu holds Torah programs across the globe

Dirshu allows over 150,000 people to study Torah over the world. From December 2019, the organization planned 11 Siyum HaShas from Israel, to France, to South Africa, to England.

The Dirshu siyum at Yad Eliyahu  (photo credit: MENACHEM ADELMAN)
The Dirshu siyum at Yad Eliyahu
(photo credit: MENACHEM ADELMAN)
Dirshu, the largest Torah organization in the world is one of the most well-organized operations in the Jewish community, spanning multiple continents and shining the light of Torah across the globe. More than 150,000 people study with Dirshu, and the educational program has effectively been responsible for bringing Jewish education to the levels it was at before the Holocaust. This has been a feat of epic proportions that nobody could have ever imagined possible. But the vision of its Nasi and founder Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter some 20-years ago, helps one understand how this momentous accomplishment has been achieved.
The son of Holocaust survivors, Rabbi Hofstedter was eager to change the state of Jewish education across the world. He instituted an academic curriculum that has been universally applied in many yeshivas across the globe. In fact, not only could it be used at yeshivas, but it could be used by anyone who wanted to study with the program including study groups both led by rabbis or those who had a strong degree of Jewish knowledge prior to beginning the program. Students studying with the Dirshu program are encouraged to take rigorous tests at certain demarcations of learning. Stipends are given to students with high scores which gives students an extra incentive to study to the best of their ability.
Dirshu planned 11 Siyum HaShas, from December 2019 through March 2020, monumental celebrations for observant Jews across the world to celebrate the completion of the cycle of the Talmud. These siyumim span the continents from Israel to England, from Paris to South Africa. In fact, the siyum planned for February 9 at the Prudential Center in New Jersey sold out so quickly Dirshu subsequently added two additional simultaneous locations at NJPAC and Newark Symphony Hall, also in New Jersey.
The students who attend these siyumim are of all ages from 13 to over 90 years of age and put in a tremendous amount of effort into their studies which make these events extremely meaningful celebrations.
To the outside world, both Jewish and non-Jewish, the Haredi world, which Dirshu is a part of, is a mystery. Because of both their dress and anti-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) propaganda that has been perpetuated by some in the mainstream, some outward observers may think of the haredi world and its members, as being unsophisticated, disorganized and incohesive. Dirshu, as the remarkably well-organized operation it is, effectively lays to rest this and other misconceptions others might have about the alleged primitive nature of members of the community.
Because of the political climate in Israel, some think of the ultra-Orthodox world as being divided. Dirshu proves it is not. Everyone from Modern Orthodox to Orthodox to haredi study with their program. Where they unite is over study of God’s word and the rabbis’ interpretation of those words.
Unfortunately, observant Jews have been the target of vicious attacks over the past year across the world. In 2018 and 2019 in the United States, Jews were killed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Poway, California, while attending Shabbat services and recently at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey. In Brooklyn, Jews have been savagely attacked on the streets, some while walking to or from prayer services.
In France an eight-year-old and 15-year-old were attacked last year. Tragically, also in France, a 65-year-old woman was killed and just recently in London a rabbi was attacked. In fact, if you Google the words “Attacks on religious Jews” you will find a series of articles on the alarming amount of attacks across the world.
However, although the Dirshu community is very concerned over the recent increase in antisemitic attacks, is does not deter them from pursuing their celebrations. Torah learning is the tie that binds one Jew to another. And when a student has studied and taken tests on the entire Talmud, that is something worthy of a celebration. That is why Dirshu has had their representatives around the world assembling these historical siyumim, which will have speakers, orchestras, choirs and even professional dancers. In fact, it has taken an extraordinary amount of organization to assemble the various siyumim that will be taking place. Dirshu has representatives all over the world and those representatives work with a team on the ground making sure that these programs will go on without a hitch.
When you observe Dirshu students studying, there is a sort of magic in the air; a positive energy that is difficult to explain. This energy drives men of all ages to make time in their busy days to study with the program. There is also an egalitarian aspect to the program in that a baker can study in the same group as a cardiologist or a CEO of a company. As long as someone has knowledge of Hebrew and Torah, they can handle the program.
Rabbi Baruch Abramovitz – who heads their program in Montreal – says when first introduced to the program he liked that he could study at an adult level with people from all walks of life. He said, “Dirshu is the umbrella under with we gather and learn from one another.” He added that the atmosphere among the participants is warm and mutually respectful. According to Abramovitz, friendships are gained through the program, and they attend each other’s smachot (personal celebrations). He likes how everyone, no matter what knowledge they had prior to joining Dirshu, is accepted equally.
If you look up the word renaissance in the dictionary, one of the definitions is a “revival of or renewed interest in something.” That is exactly what is going on with Dirshu. It is a Jewish renaissance. When you speak to people who study with Dirshu their voice changes. It sounds as if they are talking about the love they have for a spouse or a child. They tell you that the program has changed their lives in miraculous ways.
Although originally started as an academic program, Dirshu has had enormous influence on family dynamics. Life is stressful. Men often work long hours. Although children provide tremendous joy, sometimes, family life with its normal commotion, illness and sometimes tragedies, make both men and women often feel they need an outlet and a hobby.
Some men play sports others prefer academic pursuits. The study of Torah and Talmud with all its complexities is the ultimate academic pursuit. It makes the mind grow. Debating with a study partner causes one to think on their feet. Some studies have shown that using your mind in a challenging way may prevent cognitive decline so for those seniors who study, they not only are performing mitzvot (God’s commandments), but also are physiologically helping themselves.
Meir, one of Dirshu’s tens of thousands of participants in the New York area, said of the Dirshu program, “Once I started, I got hooked.” He likes the tests because he says when you study Talmud there is so much information, so the tests are a good measuring stick to see if you are retaining the information like you should. In fact, he said when he does well on the tests, he feels that his work was a good investment in time, but even when he does not do well, is happy too because it shows him the areas he needs to work on.
Success is usually measured in our society by how much one earns. When someone works at a blue-collar job that does not provide a large salary, sometimes their self-confidence is compromised. Even if one works as a teacher and their reward is seeing their students excel, if their salary is small their self-esteem can also be affected but studying with Dirshu seems to change how people look at themselves. A Sephardic young man from Brooklyn said that studying with Dirshu has given him confidence he did not have before. He is now ready to take on challenges in other areas of his life that he couldn’t have ever imagined possible, until having been introduced to Dirshu.
Dirshu students taking the tests in Boro Park, Brooklyn
Dirshu students taking the tests in Boro Park, Brooklyn
The tests Dirshu administers to its students are quite rigorous. The men who study with the program have to become excellent at time management and discipline. A middle-aged man who is in a small kollel in New York said he not only likes teaching others Talmud but also tries to be a role model in terms of study habits. He said, “I try to set a good example. It gives the students something to strive for.”
A retailer whose busiest work day of the week is Sunday told me the tests are administered on Sunday nights, which for him is extremely difficult. He is tired and, moreover, cannot sneak in any last-minute studying during the day. However, that does not deter him from taking them. He studies in the morning and at night, and on Shabbat reviews what he studied the week before so he is prepared for Sunday night.
As I spoke to these various men, I wondered how their wives felt about all this studying and whether they felt neglected. But nothing could be further from the truth. In every instance they said their wives supported their academic achievements. Not only were their wives proud, they said, but so were their children! It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that Dirshu has been responsible for redefining the future of world Jewry for the better. Through the 150,000-plus lives it has touched to date, and continues to affect for the better, the organization has had a monumental impact on our people and our community. One that our grandparents in the Shoah could have ever imagined possible.