The Backbone of Every Dirshu Family

Highlights from the Unique Women’s Program at the Dirshu Shabbos

ה׳ באדר ב׳ תשפ״ד – Mar 15, 2024

By Gitty Baum

“I thought I was alone. None of my extended family members understood why my husband had to leave my sister’s chasunah so early! They thought we were crazy! I tried explaining to them that his every minute is calculated around learning and chazering the Daf? They simply cannot understand how Dirshu has transformed our lives. How can I explain that even my children cheer Totty on during the week of his test?” Mrs. R* had tears in her eyes as she described why Shabbos Dirshu has become a highlight of her life. “When I came here the first time, I discovered that I was NOT alone! There were so many other wives whose husbands were finishing Shas with Dirshu and who planned their every move around the Dirshu schedule. There were so many other wives whose husbands left simchos early or came late for the simple reason that it conflicted with their learning. There were so many other wives who, willingly and happily, encourage their husbands to go out to learn even if it means having minimal or no help from them on the home front… It was amazing to discover that I am not alone!”

During our conversation while overlooking what was ostensibly a regular hotel lobby, it hit me that at this Shabbos Dirshu, this oasis of Torah, the lobby was anything but regular. From our perch on the third floor with a panoramic view of the lobby, the sight that met our eyes at 4:20 on Shabbos afternoon was breathtaking. It was just before Mincha, after hours of learning, speeches, davening and seudos, a time when many Yidden take the opportunity to relax and enjoy some down time.

On this Shabbos, however, the men’s side of the lobby, the men’s tearoom, was full of men sitting and standing, seforim open before them, gesticulating, discussing, arguing. Yes, they were taking advantage of their “down time” to grab another minute, another second of learning and chazering!

It is this devotion to learning that was celebrated at the recent Shabbos Dirshu and it was the effort of the wives who fully support and encourage (cheerlead…) their husbands’ learning that was applauded!

His Torah is Your Torah!

The Friday afternoon hubbub of couples arriving at the Armon Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, slowly segued into a quieter oasis of calm. Crowds of women, heads bowed, hands covering their faces stood facing the hundreds of flickering flames, whispering heartfelt tefillos as they welcomed the Shabbos Malka. Many remained there, transfixed, eyes glued to the flames, unwilling to break the spell of greeting Shabbos.

Slowly, they began to meet friends, relatives or familiar Dirshu faces as they headed to the women’s Kabbolas Shabbos program, as Mrs. Miryam Swerdloff rose to welcome everyone.

With a refreshing combination of inspiration and humor, Mrs. Swerdloff introduced the theme of the exclusive women’s program of Sheli V’Shelachem Shelah Hi – His Torah is Your Torah.

“Do you know what is the difference between a bayis, a home and a Mikdash? Do you know what makes a bayis into a Mikdash? The gematria of bayis is 412 and the gematria of Mikdash is 444. The difference between 412 and 444 is 32. 32 is the gematria of lev, of heart! It is the heart of the woman that raises the home from a bayis to a Mikdash. You,” Mrs. Swerdloff’s gaze scanned the room, “every single one of you ladies are the heart of your home!! You and only you!

“My mother, no matter what was going on in her life, infused our home with song. She was always singing. If I would come home and hear her singing a lively, upbeat tune, I knew that everything was great in the world. If I would come home and hear her singing, ‘Keili, keili…’, oy! I knew it was trouble and yet… she was still singing!”

Her warm, vibrant message set the stage for the assembled to raise their voices in song, led by the renowned Chayala Neuhaus. Emotional, rousing songs of yearning paved the way to a heartfelt Kabbolas Shabbos led by Mrs. Hindy Ausch and her handpicked troupe of young girls whose sweet voices seemed to pierce the very heavens.

Even the Most High-Powered CEO is Replaceable… But A Yiddishe Mamme is NOT!

As the Shabbos progressed, each speaker built on the theme, highlighting the wife and mother’s status as the irreplaceable, one and only kohen gadol in their home, the power of a mother and wife to shape and mold their homes and families. Yes, a person might be a high-powered professional… but she is replaceable. A person might be the CEO of a well-known, successful firm… but she is replaceable. There is only one place where a woman is not replaceable and that is in her home!

Rebbetzin Rochel Lubin shared a powerful story about a relative who had left Yeshivas Brisk to live in Tzefas. A talented guitar player, he currently works with kids at risk.

“One day,” Rebbetzin Lubin related, “I asked this relative, ‘What made you stay frum and ehrliche?’ His breathtaking answer shows the lasting power and influence of a mother,” Rebbetzin Lubin continued.

“Do you know what he told me? He told me, ‘When I was in Brisk, I knew I was not the pride of my parents. I knew I was viewed as the ‘weirdo’. But every Erev Shabbos,’ he continued, ‘I would receive a care package with fresh baked challah from my mother accompanied by a note addressed to beni bechiri – my son, my chosen! She sent her love to me, her son, who she loved just the way I was!’”

From Brazil to Belz

On Shabbos morning, following a lavish breakfast and kiddush, the women were “taken on a journey” by Esther Alkabetz. With a remarkable blend of confidence, poise and humor she shared her personal story – a breathtaking story of how her mother imbued her with the backbone to set a goal and achieve it and filled her with the deep, unquenchable desire to become part of the Jewish Nation and taught her to believe in the power of tefillah!

She poignantly described an episode from when she was a child of about seven. A classmate stood in front of an entire group of girls, mocking her, listing all her negative attributes and ending with the nasty comment of, “So now, you are going to go cry to your mommy, huh?!”

Mortified, Esther pulled on all her reserves of strength, all the subliminal messages transmitted by her loving, encouraging mother over the years. She convinced herself, “I am NOT going to cry! I am going to win!”

Facing her tormentor, the young child replied, “I am so happy that I was able to mirror all your negative thoughts about yourself. Next time, however, rather than embarrass yourself, perhaps we can have this discussion in private?”

With that, she walked away… and continued on her journey to become a Yid at all costs together with her mother and an abundance of tefillah!

Maintaining Balance

In addition to the delightful array of speeches and song, Shabbos Dirshu celebrated Klal Yisrael’s most important “power source”, our wives and mothers by spoiling them in all realms –  tantalizing aromas, delicious and munificent seudos, a 24-hour tearoom and even babysitting services, truly an all-encompassing, rejuvenating experience!

Towards the end of Shabbos, there was a fascinating panel featuring Mrs. Tehila Gailer, Mrs. Chany Feldbrand, and Mrs. Miryam Swerdloff on the topic of Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha.

One of the questions that really struck a chord was the question of how to balance feeling the pain and suffering of Acheinu Bnei Yisrael in these turbulent times while imbuing our homes with simcha and menuchas hanefesh.

With great emotion, Mrs. Feldbrand shared a story of a dear friend whose father tragically passed away on the day of her son’s aufruf. The levaya was the next day, Sunday morning and the chasuna was held later that same day!

Just the thought of going from such depths of sadness to such heights of simcha in one day is unimaginable! She explained with another story from Rabbi Rubashkin that happened while he was in ‘a place called prison’. Like all prisoners, the Jews were permitted to enjoy religious rights. Unfortunately, there was also a group of black Israelites who wanted to cash in on the Jewish holidays. To make a long story short, they pushed their way into every Jewish holiday until it came to Simchas Torah. On Simchas Torah, the Yidden were dancing with uninhibited joy and one-by-one, the black Israelites left. Rabbi Rubashkin explained, “Only a Jew can dance in prison!”

Mrs. Feldbrand continued, “Did you ever wonder why there were two sets of luchos – the broken ones and the complete ones – in the aron kodesh?! It was because they represent the Yiddishe hartz. A Yiddishe hartz can be tzubrochen and complete at the same time. A Yid is crowned with gevurah as we say in the brachos, Ozer Yisrael b’gevurah. Only a Yid is empowered to feel joy and sadness simultaneously!”

With meticulously crafted, clear and pointed meshalim, Mrs. Tehila Gailer highlighted both the power of Torah to uphold the world and the power of a mother to impact and shape the lives and sheifos of her children and to inject simcha and menuchas hanefesh into the home. She also depicted the concept that we bring simcha into our homes when we “sim mo’ach”, when we put our minds into bringing Hashem into our lives and homes. “We are now in the month of Adaraleph, Hashem, [the alufo (aleph) shel olam,] dar – lives here! If we think about Hashem and bring Him into our homes, we will be b’simcha!”

A Dirshu Miracle

The pinnacle of the Shabbos, however, was the melave malka held at the nearby Mariott Hotel. The melave malka took place at the same time as the men’s siyum in the Armon and at several points throughout the night, the women were treated to hook-ups of the siyum to watch and celebrate theirs and their husbands’ accomplishments. When Rav Dovid Hofstedter was introduced and the entire assemblage rose to dance, many women did the same, dancing with unbridled joy around their tables.

The powerful words of Mrs. Feldbrand took the assembled on the most recent medical journey of Rav Avrohom Dovid Weisz, who has been plagued with ALS for the past nineteen years and who, despite being more malach than person at this point, despite having practically no use of any of his body parts manages to finish Shas with Dirshu, taking the tests painfully, meticulously, over many hours by using his eyes. The most recent journey began around Sukkos when an infection was ravaging his body. The doctors literally gave up all hope… but not Mrs. Weisz. “Dr. Scully, the child who I was expecting when my husband was diagnosed is just beginning to embark on shidduchim. We cannot give up now!”

Mrs. Weisz rent the heavens and called everyone she could think of for brachos. One of the people she called was Rabbi Shalom Boruch Kaufman, one of her husband’s chavrusas who lives in South Fallsburg. Rabbi Kaufman hung up and later that night went to daven before the aron kodesh. While davening, he begged Hashem for a message, “What can I do as a zechus for a refuah for this living sefer Torah?”

When he finished davening, his eyes fell on a brochure advertising Amud HaYomi. He didn’t know how or when he could fit it in! But that was the message! That Shabbos he was joined by the shamash and they started!

On motzaei Shabbos, the doctor called Mrs. Weisz and told her that instead of golfing, he spent the entire weekend researching and he may have come up with a solution…

After asking a shailah, Mrs. Weisz agreed to the doctor’s idea and a short time later, the infection was gone! A real Dirshu nes!

The Finale: A Women’s Siyum?!

The melave malka was a remarkable blend of music, heartfelt songs by both Mrs. Ausch and her troupe and Mrs. Chayala Neuhaus combined with inspirational (and humorous) speeches.

Especially moving was the presentation made by Mrs. Suri Jaroslowitz, known throughout the world as the “challah lady”. Mrs. Jaroslowitz has made it her business to remind women of the sanctity of this very precious mitzvah, a mitzvah that is uniquely for women. Her descriptions of people putting their heart and soul into the performance of the mtizvah of hafrashas challah when they are in desperate need of a yeshua followed by the actual yeshua had the audience alternating between laughing and crying.

“Ladies,” she exclaimed, “this is YOUR mitzvah! The gematria of zo hih mitzvas hachallah is 613. By being mafrish challah, you are being mekayem all 613 mitzvos. That is your siyum!”

She then called on Mrs. Hofstedter to be mafrish challah, to make a siyum for the entire assemblage and she begged everyone to think of someone who needs a yeshua and concentrate on that person while answering with a loud enthusiastic amen! While Mrs. Hofstedter was making her way up, Mrs. Jaroslowitz reminded the crowd that the gematria of amen is malach and with every amen a malach is created. “Let’s create an entire crowd of malachim, now, together!”

A clearly emotional Mrs. Hofstedter then “made the siyum”. A truly fitting siyum to a remarkably uplifting Shabbos!