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A Daf a Day Forever

You can never be in a warmer environment than a place where a hundred thousand Jews will be dancing together, sharing the joy in our eternal treasure.

ome of the jobs I do are annual, but there’s only one event that I do every 2,711 days, and that, of course, is the Siyum HaShas. Coming up will im yirtzeh Hashem be the 13th siyum, and the fourth one for which I will be coordinating the music segments.

In the summer of 1997, before the tenth siyum, I received a phone call from Agudath Israel to set up a meeting with Rabbi Moshe Sherer ztz”l. Years before, following the eighth siyum at the end of 1982, Rabbi Sherer, always a forward thinker, boldly announced that he wished to book Madison Square Garden for the next one. But people were skeptical: The eighth siyum had attracted a nice-sized crowd of 5,000, but the Garden, which seats 20,000? Rabbi Sherer went ahead anyway and paid a nonrefundable deposit two years in advance — and tickets were sold out for the ninth siyum in April 1990 weeks before the event.

There would be a repeat performance for the tenth siyum, but double: It would take place in two venues, Madison Square Garden and Nassau Coliseum, both of which hold 20,000. I was thrilled to be a part of it.

During that siyum, Reb Abish Brodt ignited the already excited crowd, who burst into impromptu dancing in the aisles. Now, the siyum program is calculated down to the very last minute, so it was a really special feeling when, toward the end of the dance set, I got a message from the organizers: “Keep the dancing going!”

I remember Yisrael Williger managed to sing his “Avinu Av Harachaman” both at Nassau Coliseum and at the Garden, thanks to a skillful driver and meticulous planning. Shabsi Parnes played keyboard at MSG while C. M. Schwartz played at the Coliseum.

We were so excited after that tenth siyum that Suki and I, together with Reb Abish Brodt, decided to record a special CD called Siyum: A Musical Celebration, the highlight of which was a medley of songs that were composed by Rav Meir Shapiro ztz”l, the founder of Daf Yomi, which he began on Rosh Hashanah of 5684/1923. What many don’t know is that Rav Meir was also a baal menagen and composed dozens of songs, many of which have endured until today, and are as popular as ever — and most people have no idea they were written by Rav Meir himself. We included the songs “Utzu Eitzah Vesufar,” “Becha Batchu Avoseinu,” “Ashrei Ish Shelo Yishkacheka,” “Yibaneh Hamikdash” (the one that goes “ir Tzion, Tzion temalei… gevalt, gevalt, gevalt…”), and several others.

Moving on seven and a half years later, the 11th Siyum HaShas in March 2005 was held in three locations: Madison Square Garden, the Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey, and the Jacob Javitz Center.

A few months prior to the siyum, we had spoken to Chazzan Helfgot, who wanted very much to sing, joining Abish Brodt and Shloime Daskal. However, he had already committed to a job the following night in Lublin, the seat of the original Daf Yomi. His flight was the last one out, leaving from JFK at 10 p.m. We figured if the program ran on schedule, he’d be able to sing at the siyum and also make the flight. But as the evening progressed, things were taking longer than scheduled, and as Helfgot’s part was toward the end of the program, it wasn’t looking good. Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin of Agudah got on the phone and called his connections at the NYPD, but they informed him that a police escort must be ordered 24 hours in advance. Only the police commissioner had the power to order one on the spot. Believe it or not, the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, was at the event overseeing the security. Rabbi Gertzulin asked him to arrange for the escort, but he explained that it’s not generally done.

Rabbi Gertzulin countered with, “What if it was Pavarotti?”

To which the commissioner replied, “If it was Pavarotti, we would drive him onto the tarmac.”

Rabbi Gertzulin informed him that Chazzan Helfgot is our Pavarotti. Five minutes later, not only was there a police escort, but the car actually drove up the Madison Square Garden ramp to get the chazzan to the airport.

Next came the unbelievable 12th Siyum HaShas, which took place at MetLife Stadium in August 2012 with a whopping 100,000 people. Although it was summer, it was pouring all day. But G-d had His plans — with just 15 minutes to spare, the rain just…  stopped. People have commented about this year’s siyum being outdoors as well, but in January and not August — when a storm is no summer drizzle. To them I want to say, you can never be in a warmer environment than a place where a hundred thousand Jews will be dancing together, sharing the joy in our eternal treasure.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 785)

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