By Shmuel Landesman
As is well known, at the first Knessiah Gedolah of Agudas Yisrael, which took place in Vienna, Austria, the legendary Gadol, Rav Meir Schapiro zt”l, proposed in Yiddish the concept of Daf Yomi. It caught on from the start, in 1923, when the Rebbe of one of the largest Chassidus in the world, in the country with the largest frum population in the world, let it be known that he was learning Daf Yomi. HaRav Avraham Mordechai Alter ZYA, the Gerrer Rebbe in Poland, ensured the success of the Daf Yomi program. Before the Holocaust, approximately 250,000 Jews learned Daf Yomi, almost all in Yiddish in Eastern Europe. Then came Darkness.
Never could anyone have imagined that on Tu B’shevat, 2015, the Syrian Jewish community in Panama would make a siyum on Gemarah Yevamos, learned through the daf yomi program, and the Moroccan Jewish community in Cote St. Luc, Quebec would make a siyum on all of Shas, also learned through the Daf Yomi program. Both events were co-sponsored by the Daf Yomi Commission of Agudas Yisrael of America.
On Tu B’shvat, 156 Jews in Panama City were mesayem (completed) Gemara Yevamos. That is not a misprint. It really was 156. There are only approximately 13 or 14,000 Jews living in the country of Panama out of a total population of 4 million. 85% of the Jews are Sephardic, almost all from Aleppo, Syria. They support 11 daily Daf Yomi shiurim and 19 kosher restaurants. The Panamanian Jewish intermarriage rate is less than 1%. One out of four are Shomer Shabbat.
Ezra Cohen, Director of Daf Yomi in Panama, is the dynamo behind this Daf Yomi success. A decade ago there was no Daf Yomi program in Panama. Mr Cohen frequently listened to Rabbi Eli Mansour’s shiurim on CD. He heard his fellow Chalabim (Jew of Aleppo Syrian descent) talk about Daf Yomi, so, Mr Cohen decided to try it out. He and his friends figured it would peter out after a couple of months. To their amazement, they were able to stick with it. Three years ago, a dozen Panamanian Jews finished all of shas through the Daf Yomi cycle! It has since really taken off. They now have, in Panama City, six Daf Yomi shiurim in the morning and five in the evening. 10 are taught in Spanish and one in Hebrew. Almost none of the Daf Yomi learners has a yeshiva background.
If the maggid shiur cannot come, the Daf Yomi learners have a Spanish language Daf Yomi app on all of shas to fill in. This app was created by Ta Shma, an Israeli organization dedicated to spreading Torah among Spanish speaking Jews. Ta Shma is in the midst of translating, in book form, all of shas in Spanish, including Rashi and most Tosefos. They are also preparing instruction manuals in Spanish for Daf Yomi maggidei shiur.
The siyum last week was held in Congregation Shevet Achim (Rav Avraham Silvera) in Panama City. 175 Jews attended. Ezra Cohen was the Master of Ceremonies. Mr Marco Kassab, popular Daf Yomi maggid shiur, made the siyum in Spanish. Rabbi Eliyohu Simcha Bamberger, Agudath Israel of America’s indefatigable Spanish speaking Daf Yomi coordinator spoke. The main drasha was delivered by Rabbi David Ozeri, Rav, Yad Yosef Torah Center, Brooklyn; a noted educator and inspirational speaker who travelled to Panama to address the mesaymim. He truly inspired all those present with his fiery words.
Rabbi Yitzchak Turgeman started teaching Daf Yomi seven and a half years ago at the Cote St Luc (Montreal) Kollel Avreichim based in Congregation Shuvah Yisrael (Rabbi Yehuda Benoliel). The community consists of first or second generation immigrants from Morocco. Last week, seven made a siyum on Gemarah Yevamos and three finished all of shas. Rabbi Tugerman is the only one yeshiva educated. He delivers the Daf Yomi shiur at 6 am in English. The frigid Montreal winters doesn’t scare off the committed Daf Yomi learners. They have even come out in -22 degrees fahrenheit weather (not counting the wind chill).
The siyum program on Tu Beshvat consisted of divrei berachah from the Marah D’atrah (Rabbi Benoliel), Gad Pitom who sponsored the siyum in memory of his father and Rabbi Tujerman who then made the siyum. The guest speaker was Rabbi Yaakov Reisman, Rav, Agudath Israel of Long Island, who elmade the trip to Montreal for this Siyum HaShas. His heartfelt message of Chizuk was well received by the participants.
Equally impressive, the Daf Yomi group (chaburah) at Congregation Etz Chaim in West Hempstead, NY, led by Rabbi Avraham Sebrow, completed all of shas last week when they were mesayem (completed) Gemara Yevamos. Also last week, the lunchtime Daf Yomi shiur at Agudath Israel headquarters at 42 Broadway in Manhattan, taught by Rabbi Mechel Schiffenbauer, made a siyum on Gemara Yevamos.
At the siyumim in Panama and Cote St Luc, the Simcha shel Mitzvah, the temimus (wholesomeness/sincerity) of the baalei batim and these examples of the Renaissance of Torah learning among the kehilot of the Eidot haMizrach are difficult to explain in words. The writer recommends watching the videos of the siyumim. Your eyes will probably tear up. Mine did.