The guests arrived throughout the day, travelling from near and far, as they converged on the Crown Plaza in Stamford, Connecticut for the annual parlay of Agudath Israel of America. The guests, which include foremost the Gedolei Yisrael who stand at the helm of the Agudah, as well as Rabbanim, askanim, lay leaders and regular Yidden gathered for a weekend of listening, networking, and overall chizuk as the issues of the day were discussed along with possible solutions for the challenges we face.
The theme of the convention suggests the inclusive nature of the gathering, the convergence of the personal trials and triumphs of the individuals which combine to make up the tzibbur. As the convention got underway, the unity of the attendees was apparent as Yidden from diverse backgrounds set about joining with each other to share the responsibility of resolving the vexing issues we face.
The guests filled the rooms of the two concurrent session preceding the evenings keynote session, choosing between one titled Leadership Lounge: Successfully Walking the Tightrope Between Life, Work and Family, and a second session titled Aging Parents: Important Issues Parents and Children Must Know.
In the first session, hosted by Chayim Aruchim, the panelists dealt with some of the issues which confront the children of aging parents. HaRav Yisroel Mantel, shlita, Rav of Khal Adas Yeshurun in Washington Heights, presented the responsibilities of the child to the parent. He stressed how many in the medical field are not on the same page with the morals and ideals of the frum community, and how it is incumbent upon the family to be physically present and speak up for their parents in their time of need. HaRav Ari Marburger of Meisharim Beis Din gave an overview of the need and ways to avoid disagreements concerning the inheritance of the estate.
The panelists of the second session were individuals who are involved in servicing the klal in various capacities. The presenters included Rabbi Zvi Soroka, a longtime rebbi; Mr. Howard Tzvi Friedman, a community askan who served as the President and then Chairman of the Board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); and Naftali Miller, currently the director of development for Agudath Israel and who previously served as director of development at Yeshiva Derech Chaim and co-founder of Chasdei Lev. The forum discussed the difficulty of balancing multiple obligations in a manner which satisfies the needs of all involved.
The evenings Keynote Session, chaired by Ronnie Wilheim, featured major addresses by HaRav Malkiel Kotler, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah; HaRav Yaakov Bender, shlita of Yeshiva Darchei Torah; and HaRav Yoir Adler, Rav of Bais Medrash Shoavei Mayim of Toronto.
In keeping with the theme of the convention, the Roshei Yeshiva focused on Writing Your Next Chapter, i.e. how each individual can strive to enhance their own avodas Hashem. Rav Kotler explained that when Avraham Avinu provided the Malachim with food and drink, it was an unnecessary chessed-kindness, since they did not really need the food. Nevertheless, for each act that he performed, Klal Yisrael merited a tremendous reward. For the bread, they received the mon, for the water, they received the be’er mayim. This is because the world, and the world of Klal Yisrael, must be built on chessed. Through the mesiras nefesh by the Akeidah on Har Hamoriah, we merited to have horaah, the rulings of the Sanhedrin. The power that Klal Yisrael has to accomplish what we do is a result of the maaseh avos, the actions of the Avos.
Rav Kotler went on to explain that we were empowered to do acts which have the ability to bring Mashiach. This can be accomplished when people learn Torah and fulfill the mitzvos with the proper intentions.
The Rosh Yeshiva explained that the story which we are writing for the future is dependent on the amount of dedication one has to avodas Hashem. He told how he had a discussion with a Yid who learned much of Shas one hundred and one times. When he asked him what the difference was between the 100th and the 101st time, the reply was the additional time was the hardest. Rav Kotler explained that if the goal is limited, then one is not completely devoted to Torah. When a person goes beyond the set goal, then it shows the complete devotion one has to Torah and mitzvos. Our responsibility when writing the next chapters of the Story of Klal Yisrael requires us to perform our obligations with complete mesirus which we inherited from our avos, thereby allowing us to complete our sojourn in galus and bring about Mashiach.
Additional addresses by the keynote speakers stressed the ability and need for individuals to contribute to the ongoing mission of Klal Yisrael.
With the conclusion of the Keynote Session, the guests have a choice of attending a latenight session with HaRav Elya Brudny, shlita, of Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn and Harav Aaron Lopiansky, shlita, of Yeshiva of Greater Washington. For the past few years, this session has proved to be one of the most popular for the guests, who can submit their questions and hear how the Roshei Yeshiva dispense their daas Torah on these pertinent issues.