Siyum caps off Jewish learning project

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

The St. Louis Kollel held a spirited evening of prayer, song and celebration, at the Jewish Unity Live Siyum on Sunday night.

A sold-out crowd of over 350 people were on hand at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus for the event, celebrating Jewish learning and raising money for the St. Louis Kollel, a “think-tank” of 12 rabbis who study Torah, and offer educational opportunities for the community.

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The Siyum, or “completion,” capped off the Jewish Unity Live project, in which Jewish families or individuals signed up to complete a Jewish course or text. Over 450 people participated locally in the project. Nationally, Kollels across the country sought 10,000 participants overall.

On Sunday night, Dr. Michael Harris, a member of Kollel’s board of directors, and a participant in the Jewish Unity Live project, was one of the participants who read the final lines of his chosen text on stage.

Harris read the Talmudic tractate Shabbos, and afterwards, he said Kaddish achar Hakk’vura, the traditional blessing recited at the completion of a Jewish text.

Harris said the experience of participating in Jewish Unity Live had given him a profound appreciation for the Kollel’s rabbis.

“I want to thank all the members of Kollel, who have inspired me and provided incredible meaning in my pursuit of Torah,” he said.

The celebration reached a fever pitch as featured musical artist Elli Kranzler, the Shliach Tzibbur at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York, performed traditional and original songs with a band of local musicians.

Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt, dean of the Kollel, said Kranzler’s “soulful voice” was instrumental “in helping to break the shackles of our physical world, providing an environment to absorb and be elevated by the holy words of the Torah.”

Members of the audience clapped and sang, and at one point, a large group joined the band on stage, dancing in a circle around Kranzler.

While Kranzler’s musical talents were showcased, the spotlight shone most brightly on St. Louis Kollel’s associate dean, Rabbi Sroy Levitansky, and his wife, Chumi, who were honored for their 10 years of service at the Kollel.

Rabbi Greenblatt recalled the story of the angels giving the Jews two crowns, one for na’aseh and one for nishmah after their acceptance of the Torah.

“Rabbi Sroy and Chumi Levitansky are responsible for many hundreds of na’aseh and nishmah crowns that are donned by so many members of the St. Louis Jewish community,” Greenblatt said.

“Indeed, the word ‘crown’ is most appropriate in any characterization of the Levitanskys. These are two regal individuals. Their home is one of royalty. Not only do they teach Torah on every imaginable level of scholarship, but they create an atmosphere in which Torah is appreciated and loved.”

Greenblatt said he saw strong potential in Rabbi Levitansky early on.

“The contribution Rabbi Levitansky has made to the vibrancy of the St. Louis Kollel is indescribable. After starting at the Kollel as a young man in his twenties, just some 10 years ago, it quickly became evident to me and others that he possessed rare leadership abilities,” he said.

Rabbi Levitansky has excelled at developing programs that have reached out to the community, including college students, Jewish singles and newly married couples, seniors, and working professionals.

“He has successfully blended social gatherings and uplifting spiritual experiences in a way in which Torah becomes alive and appealing,” Greenblatt said.

He had strong words of praise for Chumi Levitansky, who is principal at the Torah Prep Girls’ School, as well.

“I could spend the rest of my remarks extolling the beauty of her home and her tremendous capacity for chesed. You see, chesed is not merely acts of kindness, it’s the amalgamation of a keen perception of another’s needs, and the undertaking to fill those needs. Chumi excels at both,” Greenblatt said.

“She really does everything with a sense of humility and true caring.”

Rabbi Levitansky said that while he was grateful to be honored, he attributed any success he has had to his family, to the other rabbis at the Kollel, and particularly to his wife, Chumi.

Levitansky said that when he thinks back to his grandfather’s generation, and the terrible losses that European Jewry endured during the Holocaust, he is gratified to see that the tradition of Torah scholarship has carried on — particularly in America, where Torah study was not always so widespread.

“When I think of the state of American Jewry 60 years ago, America was a land that had many Jews, but not much serious Judaism…a land where the greatest Kollel visionary, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, of blessed memory, dreamed of a day when his great yeshiva would boast 100 scholars. Yet today, 4,500 scholars study at his hallowed institution, the Lakewood Yeshiva,” Levitansky said.

“And as I look at what Judaism looks like today, I see its vibrancy and I need no other proof of the existence of God and the eternal vibrancy of our people,” he said.