Revealing the Soul of a Community

It was after midnight last Thursday night when my cellphone rang.

It was a friend who had helped organize the asifah that had taken place earlier that evening in the Ateres Chayah hall in Boro Park. He apologized for calling so late, but felt he had to share his emotions with someone.

“We underestimated Boro Park,” he told me.

Indeed, we all did.

When it was first announced that an asifah for men had been called to talk about tznius, not only the traditional cynics were highly skeptical; even individuals whose opinions I usually find to be reasonable expressed deep doubts about its whether it would be a success.

‘This isn’t a topic that talks to people,” they insisted.

“How many people will agree to give up their regular Thursday night routine — whether it is a chavrusa, a shiur, or shopping for Shabbos, and listen to speeches about this topic,” they wondered.

Unlike dinners for tzedakah causes, no food would be served;no musical entertainment was planned, either.

Harav Efraim Wachsman, Rosh Yeshivah, Meor Yitzchak, is a much-sought-after speaker, but as usual, he insisted that the fact that he had agreed to address the event not be publicized in advance.

Even after the spiritual leaders of most of the kehillos in Boro Park had called on their followers to attend, the skeptics continued to doubt.

“The days of blindly attending an event because of a kol korei are over,” they claimed. “Especially in such bitterly cold weather.”

Then there were those who were worried what the speakers would say about the women of our community, many of whom would be listening via a telephone hookup. Still others felt that the very notion of such a gathering was demeaning to our mothers, our wives and our daughters.

On Thursday night all these myths were demolished.

The organizers had rented out the main wedding hall of Ateres Chaya, as well as all the side rooms. The administration of Bais Rochel had graciously donated use of the huge auditorium on the fourth floor, themselves wondering whether they would be able to fill it.

Less than an hour after the three-hour event had begun, the premises were filled to capacity. Each of the several thousand chairs that had been prepared was filled, with large crowds forced to stand. Rightfully concerned about the safety of the assembled, security personnel were forced to close the entrances to all the halls, leaving hundreds of latecomers stranded outside, shivering in the extreme cold.

Contrary to what some had feared, the Rabbanim who spoke heaped only praise on the women of our community. A lack of knowledge and awareness — particularly on the part of the husbands and fathers — was to blame, they stressed. The masses who gathered listened intently, hour after hour, and received much-needed chizuk, heard powerful stories, and learned in detail that what some mistakenly consider to be chumros is basic halachah.

The tone throughout the night was one of deep respect and genuine admiration, of stressing the positive and the practical. And it was electrifying as well. It was about having pride in our mesorah and an unflinching dedication to halachah.

It was clear to all present that the thousands of Torah-observant residents of Boro Park are eager to do what is right, and determined to follow the directives of our Rabbanim. It was a night when the cynics and the skeptics were roundly defeated, and the lofty soul of our beautiful community was on full display.

We can only hope that other communities will follow with such gatherings of their own.