| Magazine Feature |

More Than a Memory

Rabbi Avraham Goldhar has built a system that brings mastery of the entire Shas to the everyman

Photos: Simcha connections

ASdaf yomi participants crossed the thousand-blatt mark in the 14th cycle of the global learning program several weeks ago, a spacious banquet hall in Passaic, New Jersey played host to a complimentary event.

At 300 people, the room was full to capacity with standing room only, and the decor was signature Passaic: understated elegance that enhanced but did not distract from the focus of the evening.

On stage, a group of 21 balabatim sat on a two-tiered dais facing the crowd. These guests of honor were to be tested orally — publicly — on the first 1,000 blatt of Shas Bavli, 15 masechtos in all.

In the front row of the audience sat Rabbi Menachem Zupnik, mara d’asra of Passaic’s Beis Torah Utefillah (BTU); Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Appel, rosh kollel of Cheshek Shlomo in Lakewood; and Rabbi Odom Silverstein, a well-known Lakewood sofer and maggid shiur.

The three rabbanim took turns firing questions at the balabatim onstage.

“On what daf in what masechta is the sugya that discusses why Chazal established eiruv tavshilin? Where is the gemara that mentions the halachah of ein sorfin kodshim b’Yom Tov? Which gemara asks about beis din preventing a woman from collecting her kesubah a second time?”

Each question was met with a chorus of responses: “Rosh Hashanah, daf chaf-beis and chaf-vav,” “Shabbos, daf daled,” “Kesubos, daf pei-tes.”

The audience — comprised of friends, family, and chaburah members of those onstage — watched the rapid-fire back and forth in awe.

The test then transitioned to a more formal style, calling on individuals to name three main points of each daf in the first 1,000 blatt of Shas. The rabbanim named random dapim —Taanis, daf vav; Yoma, daf chaf-alef” — and the balabatim raised their hands, rattling off the answers as they were called on: “Taanis, daf vav — the meaning of the words yoreh and malkosh, the halachos related to the second rainfall, and the brachah on rain,” “Yoma, daf chaf-alef — the ten nissim of the Beis Hamikdash, the smoke from the Mizbeiach, and the six different types of fire.”

One participant sipped Gatorade throughout, and others squinted as they called up the shakla v’tarya from a daf they’d learned two years ago. At the end of the intense 35-minute test, they had displayed mastery over a mind-blowing 15 masechtos.

These 21 test-takers, balabatim all, vary in age and occupation. The unlikely group included a nursing home administrator, a professional film producer, a real estate developer, the executive director of a well-known Lakewood high school, an attorney, a cardiologist, and a retired hematology oncologist. Their backgrounds and hometowns vary, as well — many hail from classic yeshivish circles, while others are from decidedly more modern ones.

Yet the common bond uniting the motley group is their commitment to the Zichru curriculum, a revolutionary and ingenious program that empowers learners to actually retain what they’ve learned.

For onlookers that extraordinary evening, the dazzling display of Torah knowledge by “regular balabatim” was awe-inspiring. For the participants, successfully completing a test on such a voluminous amount of Torah elicited sheer joy; for their families, the occasion was one of immense pride.

And for the founder of the innovative Zichru memorization system, Rabbi Avraham Goldhar, who sat next to Rabbi Zupnik during the test and watched his “talmidim” cruise through the answers, the night brought more than inspiration, joy, and pride. It was, more than anything else, an evening of vindication.

The unlikely group includes a nursing home administrator, a professional film producer, a real estate developer, a cardiologist, and many other balabatim. What unites them is their commitment to the Zichru curriculum

The Good Life

Rabbi Avraham Goldhar took a circuitous route to that evening in the Passaic banquet hall. Originally from Toronto, Canada, Rabbi Goldhar grew up in a home that took higher education very seriously and valued Jewish tradition, if not religion per se.

“My dad was a Harvard grad, and my elder brother graduated from MIT,” Rabbi Goldhar recalls, casually name-dropping a couple of prestigious colleges. “As a child, I was enrolled in a Jewish day school, but I found it hard to take the attenuated Jewish studies taught by nonreligious instructors seriously.”

His parents noticed his disinterest and pulled him out of the day school, enrolling him in the local public school instead. For the time being, religious studies were on the backburner.

That changed right before his senior year of high school.

Rabbi Goldhar’s close friend had gone to Israel to visit a brother who was learning in Aish.

“When my friend returned from Israel, he started relating to me what he had heard during his short visit there,” Rabbi Goldhar remembers. “All of a sudden, a whole new world opened up to me — a world of depth, of meaning!”

He started to explore this world further, and after his senior year in high school, the 19-year-old decided to defer college, opting instead to spend a year at Aish HaTorah in Israel. That decision did not go over easily with his cultured, educationally oriented parents.

“When I told them I wanted to defer college for one year, it was a tragedy,” he says. “Why would I give up a good life for kosher? But figuring out what life was all about was better than money.”

And so, on a mission to figure out how a good life is really lived, Goldhar enrolled in the nascent yeshivah.

“When I went to Aish, it was with a mindset to determine if what I had been taught over the previous year was true — and if it was, then what we had grown up with was nothing short of a scandal,” he says.

Rabbi Goldhar enrolled in the yeshivah, drinking in the Torah knowledge he had been denied and learning from the legendary Aish HaTorah rosh yeshivah Rav Noach Weinberg ztz”l. There was the material that Rav Weinberg taught, but there was something else too: the manner in which he gave over information.

“A lot of people remember Rav Noach as a gadol and kiruv pioneer,” Rabbi Goldhar tells me, “but not everyone knows that in addition, he was a great innovator in the area of education.”

Whereas some mekarvim felt that the best way to get guys acculturated to Torah learning was to throw them straight into Gemara, Rav Weinberg utilized a different method, Rabbi Goldhar explains. Guys would learn the basic material to get the big picture first, and Rav Weinberg would give them a framework to understanding everything they were learning before heading into the Gemara.

“He would encourage us to memorize the Taryag Mitzvos according to the count of the Rambam. That experience of understanding the 613 mitzvos codified in an organized way was transformative for me,” says Rabbi Goldhar. “Everything I learned after that had to fit into those 613 mitzvos, one way or another.”

Yet even though he had been given a framework, plowing his way through a mishnah and a daf of Gemara — which involves a lively give-and-take rather than a uniform, codified approach — presented a challenge for the young man.

“After I started learning Gemara, I would see talmidei chachamim who knew Shas, but I couldn’t figure out how they got there. So much of the Gemara seemed fragmented,” Rabbi Goldhar says. “Topics are debated and discussed with no discernable systematic methodology for determining which topic goes where.”

They thought he was crazy, but Rabbi Goldhar was proven right. With the right storage system, everyone can remember and recall their learning

Building a House

Rabbi Goldhar relives discovering the genesis of the methodology that would allow him to organize and retain his learning, and would in the coming decades blossom into the genius behind the Zichru revolution, the transformative method on display that extraordinary evening in Passaic.

His rosh yeshivah, Rav Weinberg, spoke often about simanim, the Torah’s method for truly attaining one’s learning. To facilitate that, he produced a booklet of simanim for Chumash, giving a siman for the Torah’s “paragraphs” — the Masoretic sections between each pesuchah and stumah (“opening” and “closing”) in a written sefer Torah. After dissecting the paragraph, Rav Weinberg would give it a siman, a sign or mnemonic device, to aid in remembering the material.

“For example, each of the six days of Creation has its own parshah. So the siman for day one was ‘light,’ day two, ‘sky,’ day three, ‘vegetation,’ day four, ‘sun, moon,’ all the way to Shabbos,” Rabbi Goldhar explains.

“Rav Weinberg was employing a strategy from Chazal, not innovating his own method: Ein HaTorah nikneis ela b’simanim — the Torah is acquired only with simanim,” he quotes. “In total, we had 668 simanim corresponding to the 668 pesuchos and stumos in the Torah.”

Those simanim were a lifeline for the budding Aish talmid. He realized that that he could neatly categorize the simanim and mentally file other information into each one as well. It streamlined the entire process of retaining information in his memory and retrieving it.

Rabbi Goldhar overstayed his initial one year in Israel, eventually receiving semichah from the preeminent posek and then-menahel ruchani of Aish HaTorah, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits (he is currently the rosh yeshivah there). But even before officially receiving rabbinic credentials, Rabbi Goldhar started teaching others the approach of utilizing simanim to retain information. The young rabbi, it turned out, was onto something.

There were students who “didn’t know Adam from Chavah,” as Rabbi Goldhar puts it, yet seven months later they had retained all of the simanim of Chumash and knew the organization of all 525 perakim of Shas Mishnayos.

Rabbi Goldhar kept at it for seven years, refining his course.

“I developed a niche of mastering material and building one layer one top of the next. The ultimate goal was yes, to impart the knowledge, but perhaps just as importantly, to empower people and show them what they can accomplish by using an organized way of retaining information.”

When he began applying this same system to Gemara, he had arrived at the basis of Zichru.

Rabbi Goldhar sums up the method succinctly: “We like to say that while most people look at memory as getting information out of their head, we look at how it goes into your head.”

The way a person processes information, says Rabbi Goldhar, is the key to retaining it. He’s told the parable a thousand times at this point, but it doesn’t dull his sheer joy and excitement in relaying it again:

“If I were to ask you how many baseballs you can hold in your two hands, you would tell me five — and a guy with big hands, maybe seven or eight,” Rabbi Goldhar explains. “What if I told you I can hold 30 baseballs in one hand without a problem? It’s hard to wrap your head around until I tell you that I’m holding a bag — a vessel or kli, if you will.

“Now, what if I told you that the baseballs in the bag come in a variety of colors, no more than two of the same color. How long would it take you to pick out one specific color? Most people would say ten to fifteen seconds. But that assumes the colors are all mixed together. If I were to sort the baseballs in my bag into sections for the different colors, it would take me just a second or two to get the color I’m looking for.”

The key point, says Rabbi Goldhar, is that when information enters your brain, you shouldn’t throw it on a cluttered pile. Instead, you can file it into neat folders, each easily identifiable by a siman.

“We create internal folders that allow everything to be accessed instantaneously; everything is compartmentalized. In Zichru parlance, there is a siman for each daf that contains the three key points of that daf.”

Every day, participants receive a sheet with the three points of that day’s daf spelled out in great detail, followed by the siman, which includes a short story summarizing the daf’s key points.

As an example, every masechta starts on daf beis. Zichru assigns that daf the siman of bayis — house — and inside that house are the three key points for daf beis. So for daf beis of Maseches Berachos — the very first daf in Shas — the Gemara discusses the proper time for reciting Krias Shema at night, with the first approach proposing that this is at the point in the evening when a Kohein who has immersed in a mikveh becomes tahor for eating terumah. The Gemara then brings six different opinions about the earliest time one can recite the evening Krias Shema, one of those opinions being when a poor man begins his evening meal.

After learning the daf, a Zichru participant opens up his mental folder for Berachos daf beis, which reveals the story filed under the siman bayis. Here goes: “A man rushes into his bayis precisely at tzeis hakochavim (halachic nightfall) to recite the evening Krias Shema, so he can join the Kohein and the poor man who have just sat down in the dining room to eat their terumah and dinner, respectively.”

Each facet of this short, rather whimsical tale alludes to a key point of discussion on the daf. The man rushing into his house at tzeis to recite Krias Shema reminds us of the Gemara’s initial inquiry. The Kohein sitting to eat terumah calls to mind the discussion of his ritual impurity. Finally, the poor man eating dinner indicates the Gemara’s six opinions about the earliest time one can recite Krias Shema.

Some of the simanim are classic (daf daled is a deles, a door), some are a bit more creative (daf tes is a teapot), yet they are all concocted with one goal in mind: to better assimilate and categorize information.

“There’s no greater feeling for a father than coming home and being able to discuss any sugya with his son.” Barry Lebovitz and Rabbi Avraham Goldhar

Bees to Honey

This unique methodology that would eventually gain renown under the Zichru banner was not yet fully fleshed out, and its founder was still in the Holy Land, trying to help recent newcomers to Yiddishkeit understand and absorb vast amounts of material.

After his planned one year in Israel turned into 14, Rabbi Goldhar — who had met his wife in Eretz Yisrael and now had a growing family — moved back to the United States for an opportunity that had opened up in the new Aish New York, settling in Passaic in 1996.

He assumed the role of educational director of the new institution, working alongside executive director Rabbi Yitz Greenman. His new role allowed Rabbi Goldhar to parlay his memorization and retention methodology into a curriculum for a variety of subjects — he had a course on Chumash, on Yamim Tovim, on Jewish history, and on Shas.

“I called it the one-day Sunday school,” he recalls, a reference to the condensed time it took for students to learn the material.

The Aish educational director, and the siman method he employed, was wildly successful.

“Rabbi Goldhar was spectacular — he attracted students like bees to honey,” recalls Rabbi Greenman.

This success prompted Rabbi Goldhar to begin introducing the siman system to the greater community.

He met with principals of some of the most prominent yeshivos on the American Torah scene, including those of New York’s Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, Yeshiva Torah Temimah, and Yeshiva Darchei Torah, all of whom were taken by the innovative system. Rabbi Goldhar began moonlighting in the schools, and when he saw his system worked, he informed Rabbi Greenman that he wanted to quit Aish New York.

“I wanted to focus on bringing the power of simanim to the Jewish world,” Rabbi Goldhar recalls.

Years later, Rabbi Greenman still remembers his reaction: “I said, ‘Reb Avraham, you’re crazy! You have a family, you can’t just give up on a steady parnassah.’ Yet he was insistent that he had a larger calling to bring the power of simanim to the community.”

It took some time to flesh out the exact details of his program, and over the years, Rabbi Greenman tried to convince Rabbi Goldhar to give up and seek a more conventional job, one that would offer him financial security.

“I said Reb Avraham, go become a rav!”

But Rabbi Goldhar wasn’t giving up. He founded the Goldhar Method, which trains students and teachers to process and retain content, a methodology that proved successful in yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs around the country. A Wall Street hedge fund got wind of his system, bringing Rabbi Goldhar on board to train their analysts to integrate the vast amounts of information necessary to make complex, multimillion-dollar investments.

His most promising investment, though, was yet to come.

Defeating Despair

In late 2019, in the months preceding the historic 13th Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi, Rabbi Goldhar was running some errands, including a stop at the Passaic home of his friend Mr. Barry Lebovits. It was a chance meeting, yet one that would completely transform the learning trajectory of thousands of learners around the globe.

Mr. Lebovits had long been familiar with Rabbi Goldhar’s innovative learning methods, and as he was on the verge of completing another cycle of Shas, the longtime maggid of the six a.m. daf yomi shiur at Manhattan’s West Side Jewish Center wanted to bring those methods to his participants.

“With daf yomi, you start to notice a sense of yei’ush [despair] settle in at the end of a machzor [cycle],” Mr. Lebovits says. “There is a sense that retention of the limud and being familiar with the yedios of Shas is just not realistic for the average person. Ultimately the goal is to learn more b’iyun, and the key to iyun is to knowing more yedios, to have an understanding of the different areas of Shas.”

Mr. Lebovits, who joined Agudath Israel of America’s executive board after the 13th Siyum HaShas in MetLife Stadium, saw the excitement the Siyum generated and how people were coalescing around daf yomi. He wanted to leverage that enthusiasm and bring it up a notch.

The two men sat down to formulate a plan that would make Rabbi Goldhar’s methodology applicable for those learning at daf yomi’s breakneck pace.

“On a practical level, we were trying to accomplish three things,” Barry says. “Number one, we wanted to offset the yei’ush people feel and give them tools to actually retain the material — to give daf learners the mindset that by learning daf yomi, you will gain a working knowledge of yedios haShas.

“Number two, we wanted to give people the tools to be involved in the daf the whole day. The daf doesn’t have to end when the shiur ends. If you have some time at a chuppah, chap arein 20 blatt. Sitting in traffic? Chazer some more blatt!

“Number three, we wanted to boost the esteem of lomdei hadaf. There is no greater feeling than a father coming home and being able to discuss any sugya with his son because he has so many yedios haShas at his fingertips.”

Barry makes a bold statement as he relays this last point: “This is eminently achievable for every lomeid daf hayomi.”

Time would prove him right.

What emerged from their meeting was a curriculum turning Rabbi Goldhar’s simanim into a regimen. The program would go something like this: After learning the daf, participants would tune into Rabbi Goldhar’s prerecorded shiur, delivered in traditional Gemara sing-song, giving an efficient chazarah of the three points of the daf. The shiur would then present the trademark Zichru siman on the daf — a cute, sometimes peculiar story incorporating the three key points. That day’s daf would then be followed by a quick review of the simanim of the previous four days and then a pop quiz.

And once the routine is built in, the real magic starts.

“After getting the methodology down pat,” says Rabbi Goldhar, “it takes only about 30 seconds to chazer a daf. So in every minute you can review two blatt, which means you can do 90 blatt in 45 minutes.

“Spending just seven minutes a day on chazarah would allow someone to review 98 blatt in just a week. And if someone is willing to devote a little more time, he can review all of Shas in a month, at 45 minutes a day.

“The numbers,” he concludes, “work in our favor.”

“People who work in sales and marketing often try to identify a void or lack and then explain how their product will fill the gap,” says Rabbi Menachem Zupnik. “With daf yomi, it was well known what was needed — it’s no secret that daf yomi is a very fast-paced limud, and people struggle with retaining the sugyas they’ve covered. And here, Zichru had a solution.”

The need existed, and there was a plan. To make it available en masse, Rabbi Goldhar reached out to Rabbi Moshe Schwed, director of the Orthodox Union’s recently launched All Daf app, to introduce the concept.

Rabbi Schwed loved it.

“This was top quality,” he recounts. “We were excited to partner with Zichru to host their content as we launched All Daf.”

When all the systems were in place, just one question remained: Would people go for it, would they set out to achieve the impossible — to actually remember what they learned?

“Let the world hear that forgetting is no longer the accepted norm!” Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro celebrates the power of Zichru

Learning to Fly

A couple of weeks before Pesach in 2021, an ad for the Zichru program caught the eye of Sheya Seidenfeld, an Alexander chassid from Williamsburg, New York.

“Remember 14 blatt in 14 days,” the ad trumpeted.

Seidenfeld, who runs an advertising agency specializing in pay-per-click for e-commerce retailers, let out a good, hearty laugh.

Me? I’m going to remember what I’m learning? This was like someone telling me I was going to fly! he remembers thinking incredulously.

In a surprisingly candid conversation, the 48-year-old shares his years of struggle.

“Maybe Rav Chaim Kanievsky and the Shas Yidden from Yerushalayim can remember their learning, but nisht inz poshute Yidden,” he remembers thinking.

But at that point, daf yomi had reached Arvei Pesachim, the tenth and final chapter of Maseches Pesachim, which deals heavily in halachos pertaining to Leil HaSeder. The prospect of learning all that material — and retaining it — just in time for Yom Tov was very tempting.

Complicating matters was the fact that the simanim were in English — not the language in which Mr. Seidenfeld was used to learning. He admits to having to look up the definition of numerous simanim to figure out what they were. (While by no means employing a particularly sesquipedalian vocabulary, the simanim concocted by the articulate Rabbi Goldhar proved to be a bit much for the Williamsburg resident.) Yet the prospect of possibly retaining the limud was too tantalizing to just pass up, and Mr. Seidenfeld gave it his all for those 14 days. The program took him straight through to Erev Pesach.

“I was in the middle of arranging both k’zeisim, a process that takes just a few minutes, and I reviewed the entire perek of Arvei Pesachim in my head,” Mr. Seidenfeld recalls. “It was like my own Yetzias Mitzrayim.”

He has stayed with the Zichru program since then, and he says it didn’t merely change his life, as the adage would have it.

“It made me a new person!” he enthuses. “Now I don’t mind waiting at the doctor anymore — I can chazer a half masechta in the waiting room. There is such a joy in knowing the Torah!”

The Williamsburg resident faithfully joins his neighbors in their escape to “the country” every summer weekend. The two-hour ride used to be an arduous journey up the traffic-laden Route 17, spent checking Waze and listening to music. Now the two hours are a source of great pleasure, he tells me.

“Just on the way up, I can chazer Rosh Hashanah, Yoma, Succah — and maybe even Shekalim,” Seidenfeld says. “I’m not learning just ten times more — it’s a least 1,000 times more.”

The program also caught on with lomdim who had years, decades even, of serious, high-level limud HaTorah behind them, yet they’ve used Zichru’s tools to retain a reservoir of yedios HaTorah.

Rabbi Odom Silverstein, who was also a tester at the event, learned in the Yeshiva Gedola of Montreal as a bochur before learning in South Fallsburg under Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel shlita. After spending the better part of two decades in kollel, Rabbi Silverstein embarked on a career as a sofer, and he also switched his limud to daf yomi. He spent hours learning successfully, but the rapid pace of daf yomi left him feeling frustrated at the lack of retention.

He remembers sharing his feelings with a friend who had recently studied for the multistate bar exam using a program that relied heavily on visual aids to help law students retain the often dense material. Rabbi Silverstein wanted to see if such a system would help him remember the sugyas he was learning, and he tried writing up a small synopsis after he learned each daf. The task was taxing though, because it involved too much time.

“You have to sit down after learning, decide which points you want to zero in on, and then write in a way that you can remember it — and only then can you start using that manner,” he says, explaining that the grueling pace of daf yomi didn’t allow him that luxury.

Soon, a well-placed ad brought the Zichru initiative — with Rabbi Goldhar’s simanim — to Rabbi Silverstein’s attention. It was exactly what he needed.

The results were noticeable this past summer, when Rabbi Silverstein was in Yerushulayim, and he took a tour of the Old City. The tour guide, a talmid chacham of note, was going into detailed discussions about the sugyas that were relevant to the locations they visited.

“Every single Gemara that came up, I was able to recall where it was and give you the main points of that sugya,” Rabbi Silverstein remembers.

He eventually joined the Zichru staff, and today, in addition to the key three points of the daf written in English, the daily packet includes the three points written in lashon hakodesh, courtesy of Rabbi Silverstein.

Reaping the Benefits

Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Appel heads Lakewood’s Kollel Cheshek Shlomo, one of the largest and most prestigious kollels in America, opened at the behest of Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita. The kollel is known for its emphasis on high standards of accountability and for covering huge amounts of material — and Rav Appel is astounded at what he has seen Zichru participants achieve.

“My rebbi, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, constantly reiterates a yesod in chinuch: Everyone wants to be big and to do the right thing, but you just have to show people what is possible,” he says. “Zichru showed that it’s possible for balabatim to reach tremendous levels of yedios HaTorah through chazakah and determination. Chazal talk about the importance of Torah learning — but if you look closely, you’ll see that their main emphasis is not only on original learning, but even more focused on retaining and knowing Torah.”

Lakewood’s Rav Yerucham Olshin reiterated that point in his speech at the Passaic event, relating that Chazal warn against forgetting one’s Torah in particularly strong terms and praise chazaras hatalmud as the main reward in learning.

“Baruch Hashem, Zichru came up with a way for us to remember learning,” said the Beth Medrash Govoha Rosh Yeshivah.

A rosh chaburah in Beis Medrash Govoha’s Bais Shalom, which is comprised of extremely learned and veteran talmidei chachamim, told me that the Zichru curriculum helps him connect with Rishonim who often compare gemaras in two different locations.

“You can follow along with Tosafos because you remember the other sugya, and you’re comfortable with it,” he explains.

According to Rabbi Zupnik, who has watched Zichru since its inception, such experiences are not unique.

“I can tell you facts on the ground,” he says. “I saw the people as they joined, people from all different walks of life — a yungerman who knows how to learn well and a baal habayis who never learned seriously — and they all told me how it changed their lives. At the end of Yevamos, I went to a wedding Rabbi Goldhar made, and sat at the Zichru table. The entire table was chazering Yevamos during the meal and between dances.”

And Zichru adherents appreciate what that constant chazarah does for them. Uri Burger of Woodmere, New York, a prime talmid of Rabbi Goldhar, explains, “Zichru is like salt on a steak — it doesn’t replace your ikkar limud, it just enhances and amplifies it.”

His reference to amplifying limud is a recurring theme I’ve heard from many who were in attendance at the Passaic event.

“People think when the Gemara says if you chazer something 100 times it doesn’t compare to someone who chazered 101 times, it’s an exaggeration,” said Rabbi Dovid Winkler, the Rosh Hamosad of Lakewood’s Bnos Bais Yaakov and one of the Zichru test-takers. “But once you understand how to process the information, you realize how it’s emes. Every time you review it becomes more embedded into your mind. Zichru helps you internalize in your mind a format and structure of Shas that you can continue to build upon every time you go back to the Gemara, like an AC filter: every time you chazer, you pick up more and more material. And slowly, the whole picture starts filling out.”

Rabbi Winkler estimates he reviews between 80 and 90 blatt a day. Similarly, Mr. Burger and a Zichru chavrusah connect daily on the railroad home from work. As the wheels rumble over miles of tracks, two Yidden review voluminous amounts of Torah.

“How many blatt do you cover?” I ask.

“Between 50 and 100 blatt a day,” Mr. Burger tells me. “Our record was 130 blatt, but that was in Berachos, which we did about 1,000 times,” he says, with a tone that makes it sound like everyone must have covered Berachos 1,000 times.

Rav Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro, a noted lecturer and rav from North Miami Beach, Florida, spoke at the Passaic event, and he related several stories he’d heard from Zichru participants. There was the learner who appreciated the 45-minute walk to a shalom zachar one Friday night, since it afforded him ample time to chazer Maseches Yevamos — once on the way there, and once on the way back. And there was the man who recounted the time someone approached him on his walk to shul, hoping to engage in friendly conversation, only to have those hopes dashed, because the Zichru participant already had a walking partner: the masechta he was in the middle of chazering. With his trademark passion, Rabbi Shapiro exclaimed, “Let the world hear that forgetting is no longer the accepted norm! It’s possible to remember three points on each daf – and remember Shas.”

That night, as the bechinah got underway, the emcee announced that participants would call out the answers in “Shas Yidden style,” referencing the widely publicized Shas test a group of Yerushalmi kollel yungeleit had recently taken in which they called out the answers in unison. The fact that a similar scene played out on American shores — and not with yungeleit, but with balabatim holding full-time jobs — was beyond description, Rabbi Shapiro related.

“We like to talk about yeridas hadoros, but you see here real growth — levels of true yedias haTorah and commitment to learning that very well could surpass anything we’ve seen from balabatim in the past 100 years,” Rabbi Appel says.

Rabbi Zupnik adds, “Unless you’ve done it, you can’t understand it, because you’re using your mind in a completely different way than you’re used to. But it makes chazarah attainable.”

Rabbi Yitz Greenman, who years before had tried to dissuade Rabbi Goldhar from attempting to go public, was amazed at what had transpired.

“I learned a very deep lesson,” he said. “Never discourage someone from giving up on his dream, as crazy or as impractical as it may sound to you — especially if it’s a dream steeped in ruchniyus.”

Rabbi Goldhar never gave up on his dream. The Zichru participants, who dreamt of the impossible — to retain the material on 1,000 blatt — they didn’t give up.

We can all be big if we dare to dream. That Thursday night in Passaic was the ultimate proof.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 948)

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