The Alter Convention in New York| February 14, 2023
For some four decades, Slabodka yeshivah alumni held an annual convention on or near 29 Shevat
Title: The Alter Convention in New York
Location: New York City
DocumentInvitations to Slabodka Alumni Events
“The goal is to strengthen among the alumni the spirit and impact experienced during their time in the yeshivah, to establish a stable basis for the yeshivah’s continued support and growth, and to inspire and develop a sense of friendship and brotherhood among the alumni as it was during the time spent in Slabodka.”
—Slabodka alumni association
For some four decades, Slabodka yeshivah alumni held an annual convention on or near 29 Shevat, the yahrtzeit of their great mentor, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, known as the Alter of Slabodka. The Slabodka alumni association was a loose grouping of communal rabbis, educators, and laymen across the United States who had spent their formative years in Slabodka as students of the Alter and wished to perpetuate his legacy and maintain a connection to his beloved institution. The gatherings were generally held on the Lower East Side, in the Broadway Central Hotel, the Broadway Mansion, or the Adas Yisrael shul.
Alumni received formal invitations to the two-day event and were requested to RSVP. The program consisted of a mussar discourse in the spirit of Slabodka, a study session, a shiur delivered by one of the visiting Slabodka roshei yeshivah or a guest speaker, additional speeches, and often reminiscences of bygone times at the yeshivah basking in the Alter’s light. It often concluded with a roundtable discussion of alumni affairs and a catered banquet.
Although the annual convention undeniably presented a fundraising opportunity, it seems to have primarily been a venue to nurture the Slabodka mussar legacy through the fraternity of the Alter’s talmidim. The observance of the Alter’s yahrtzeit, the priority given to mussar discourses and shiurim, and the nature of it being a two-day event, all indicate that the primary purpose was spiritual. The 1950 invitation, signed by Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rav Chaim Elazary as heads of the alumni association, stated:
On the day of his yahrtzeit his students worldwide have the custom to gather for introspection and to derive chizuk from the light of Torah and Mussar with which he ennobled us for so many years… These annual gatherings provide us with the opportunity to break away from our temporal existence with its accompanying noise and distractions, and to engage with ourselves in spiritual pursuits and study of Torah, while the unified atmosphere among friends strengthens our close relationship.
The Alter yahrtzeit gatherings continued for over a half a century, with the dwindling group of aged talmidim still coming together in the late 1970s. The 1930s invitations were often signed by Rav Moshe Don Sheinkopf, then serving as rabbi of Waterbury, Connecticut, and occasionally by Rav Dovid Leibowitz, who established the well-known Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yisrael Meir HaKohein” (or simply Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, alternatively “the Rabbinical Seminary of America”).
In 1942, the gathering was dedicated to mourning the recent untimely passing of two prestigious members of the alumni association, Rav Leibowitz and Rav Sheftel Kramer. Unbeknownst to the organizers, most of the student body and faculty of their beloved yeshivah in Slabodka had been murdered the previous summer in the Holocaust. The 1943 invitation notes the “difficult times we are facing,” and the gatherings through the remainder of the war assumed a similar somber tone.
In a marked departure from the invitation’s usual laconic language, the 1949 letter is uncharacteristically exuberant, celebrating both the establishment of the State of Israel as well as the founding of the Slabodka yeshivah in Bnei Brak by the Alter’s son-in-law Rav Isaac Sher, along with his son-in-law Rav Mordechai Shulman. The highlight of that year’s gathering was a shiur delivered by the Alter’s son and Mir rosh yeshivah Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel, who was in the country at the time.
A Half Century of Gadlus Ha’adam
The Alter’s 50th yahrtzeit in 1977 saw a change in venue, with the Rabbinical Seminary of America, headed by Rav Henoch Leibowitz (Rav Dovid’s son and successor) in Forest Hills, hosting the festivities. The alumni letter signed by Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rav Yosef Tzvi Ahronson emphasized the historic nature of the gathering, and that “gedolei Yisrael and the roshei yeshivah of Slabodka–Bnei Brak will be in attendance.” A footnote added that a bus would be provided for Boro Park residents for the commute to Queens, with stops along 51st Street at 18th, 16th, 14th, 13th, 12th Avenues and Fort Hamilton Parkway.
The Alter of Chevron
While the American gatherings were run by the Slabodka yeshivah in Lithuania and later in Bnei Brak, the yahrtzeit meetings in Israel were organized by the Alter’s yeshivah he had established in Chevron, which transferred to Yerushalayim following the 1929 massacre. Chevron rosh yeshivah Rav Yechezkel Sarna, along with Rav Yisroel Zissel Dvoretz, were the chief organizers in the early years; later on Rav Dov Katz and Chevron mashgiach Rav Meir Chodosh played prominent roles as well. Like its American counterpart, the Alter yahrtzeit gathering in Israel continued for decades and was dedicated to the dissemination of the Alter’s mussar and the perpetuation of his legacy.
This week's column is dedicated in memory of the Slabodka Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Mordechai Schulman, whose 41st Yahrtzeit will be marked this Thursday, 27 Shevat.
If you have documents or photos related to such events, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 949)
Oops! We could not locate your form.