Where does the Torah world in the United States go to discuss its challenges, find solutions, and forge a path forward? The annual Agudah Convention.
This year’s convention, which began last night in the Crowne Plaza Stamford, was attended by over a thousand people, and almost ten thousand more watched on the livestream broadcast. This year’s convention theme, “Moving Forward,” was the common thread of the evening: Moving forward with frank discussions of some of the most crucial issues facing Klal Yisroel, moving forward with direction from our Gedolim, and moving forward with solutions from presenters and participants alike.
Among the many sessions, and emblematic of the focus on identifying Klal Yisroel’s problems and enumerating answers to them, Rabbi Benzion Kokis, Rabbi Paysach Krohn, and Shaya Ostrov discussed before an attentive audience “Shidduch Coaching: An Idea Whose Time Has Come.” What was once considered a rarity – coaching our young men and women on the path towards marriage – has now become commonplace.
Other sessions, on topics including anti-Semitism, connecting with Hashem, the state of mental health in the frum world, and audience submitted Q & A, were filled by people avidly interested in hearing the Torah perspective on these critical subjects.
Also notable this year – and a symbol of Agudah’s engagement with the needs of the tzibbur – was the two-day exclusive mental health track for 130 professionals. Addressed by distinguished Rabbonim and recognized mental health professionals, the completely sold-out event gave participants a chance to seek guidance from a Torah perspective, and to have an opportunity to network with colleagues.
Thursday night’s keynote session brought close to 1,200 people together in the hotel’s International Ballroom to hear from Gedolei Torah. Sruly Bornstein, the convention’s co-chairman and the chairman of the evening, introduced the speakers, noting that Moving Forward means attempting to do what one might otherwise think is impossible.
HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, the first keynote speaker, said that the last Siyum HaShas sparked many people to do more Torah learning. “A person always has to continue to strive for more,” he said. We have to think ahead, he noted, to make sure that we use the opportunity to increase our learning. Consistent with that message, the Agudah presented the new Chavrei Hasiyum program, which will encourage kehillos and individuals to take part in a program that will have them be mesayem mesechtos in conjunction with the upcoming Global Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi. (More information about the Chavrei HaSiyum program is available at http://www.chavreihasiyum.org.)
Echoing that message, HaRav Yeruchum Olshin encouraged everyone attending to move forward by growing in Torah learning: “The only way we can shteig, the only way we can grow, is through Torah!” Indeed, said HaRav Yisroel Reisman, a person’s learning keeps him fresh. When chazal told us to learn areas of Torah that we find interesting, he said, it’s not intended as an easy way out. “It’s an obligation, a person has to find a makom shelibo chofeitz, he has to find a place of hischadshus in his learning.”
HaRav Binyomin Eisenberger emphasized that an individual’s learning sedorim must be a chok for them – not to be interrupted or cancelled for anything. “This is my pikuach nefesh,” he said, meaning that one’s regular learning sessions are what protects his soul.
Appropriately, Agudah’s activity working on threats to Klal Yisroel’s spiritual integrity was also addressed. Given the recent “blue wave” in New York and New Jersey, the session about promoting for our values and hashkafic priorities in a progressive political environment was attended by an entranced assemblage. As Rabbi Avi Schnall, one of the session’s moderators, says, “One of Agudah’s roles is to protect Klal Yisroel from external challenges. We can do it reactively, but that puts us at a disadvantage. The session participants – presenters and audience – came with a proactive energy which, I am sure, will lead to specific achievable goals over the next year.”
The Agudah Convention continues through Sunday afternoon. All Friday, Motzoei Shabbos, and Sunday sessions are open to the public. For a full program and other convention information, see https://www.agudahconvention.org/. The Agudah Convention will also be livestreamed, available at https://www.agudahconvention.org/live.