From Lakewood to Teaneck—and Beyond

The drive from Lakewood to Teaneck is a long one, and yungeleit usually only attempt it—often somewhat reluctantly—for family get-togethers.

What, then, could have motivated more than a minyan of worthy yungeleit to make the trip for a simchah, in which they were unrelated to and barely even acquainted with the hosts?

An unusual occurrence, perhaps—but not any more unusual than the nature of the simchah itself. The R. family, originally of El Paso, Texas, today boasts three distinct branches on their growing family tree. Zvi, a resident of Har Nof, learns in the kollel of Yeshiva Torah Ohr; Marvin, another son, opted to remain in El Paso; and their only sister is raising her growing family in Teaneck.

Not a likely combination at all. If you were to ask their respective communities how they would feel about coming together for an evening of togetherness, the reaction would likely be blank stares of incredulity. But, despite the apparent incongruity, they were all there January 6th: Yiddenfrom Yerushalayim, El Paso, Boston, Dallas, Cleveland, St. Louis, Worcester, and the greater metropolitan area, all gathered together in Teaneck, New Jersey for the siyum of a lifetime.

Zvi was the catalyst for the entire idea: the completion of the entire Shas Bavli, l’illuy nishmas his father, in time for the first yahrtzeit. There was no way that one man could complete the requisite learning on his own, however.

Enter Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah, the Lakewood-based organization that connects families with talmidei chachamim capable of learning on their behalves. When Zvi contacted Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah, he knew that he was in good hands. His brother and sister shared his enthusiasm, and served as full partners in the entire endeavor.

On the occasion of the first yahrtzeit, the entire extended family and friends—over one hundred people in all—gathered together in Teaneck for the siyum haShas.

Considering the circumstances, how could the yungeleit who had completed much of the learning be absent? As Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger explained, “This (is a celebration) filled with values, and it has to be celebrated. Essentially, this is a Yissachar/Zevulun partnership, supporting families who are dedicated to learning. It makes this a particularly rich, elaborate mitzvah. Welcomingtalmidei chachamim makes a seudah into a seudah gedolah.”

And a seudah gedolah it was. From the emotional hadran, to the heartfelt kaddish, to the emotion-filled speeches, the evening was a testimony to the beauties of a Jewish family, united to honor their father in the very best way: through limud HaTorah.

Discussing the representatives of Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah who had learned all year on her husband’s behalf, Mrs. R. shared, “I admire you, and give you a high yasher koach.”

Zvi expressed the feelings of his siblings in his heartfelt address. “The truth is, from our perspective, we deserve no accolades. To say we have done anything out of the ordinary is an affront to the Torah’s view of kibud av v’eim.” After recounting the Gemara describing the tremendous kibud eim of Rebbi Tarfon, which the chachamim deemed to be nevertheless incomplete, he concluded, “This whole celebration is only a small fraction of what we owe to you.”

Chaim Yisrael Yitzchak ben Eliezer Yonah z’l spent the last fifteen years of his life in a wheelchair. Never complaining, always smiling, he embodied the essence of faith. In his son Zvi’s words: “It takes a big person to accept tragedies. It takes an even bigger person to turn a tragedy into a blessing.”

For fifteen years, Zvi’s father turned tragedies into blessings. Now, a year after his passing, his children carry on his legacy. Despite their obvious mourning for their father, the R. family took the step to rise beyond, lavishing their father with the eternal gift of limud haTorah, with love.

As the music played and the crowd circled the dance floor, the barriers fell away, and the crowd of yeshivish and modern and frum and not-yet-frum melded into one huge family: klal Yisrael united in celebration of the Torah. Ki heim chayeinu, the scene seemed to proclaim. This—the Torah—is our life, the life that takes us beyond all death.

Indeed, the evening was a tribute and a zechus for the neshamah of Chaim Yisrael Yitzchak ben Eliezer Yonah. Gazing around the room, at the sight of children joined together bringing honor to their earthly father and their Heavenly One, one couldn’t help but think that surely, the family will soon be completely reunited with the coming of the Geulah.