Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
Rabbi Yisrael Meir LauEli Eitkin

Hundreds of children participated in the largest initiative of its kind in the world. Learning to Remember is an Israeli initiative run by the Our Descendants and Us organization with the aim of studying 6.25 million verses of Mishna.

The conclusion of the Mishna study (siyum) was held on Tuesday, just before Shavuot, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, at a magnificent ceremony, coined Na’aseh VeNishmah (We Will Do and We Will Hear), in partnership with Yad Vashem’s haredi wing.

The ceremony took place in the Safra Hall at Yad Vashem, where a Chatan Mishna was chosen, together with his deputies. The study was held in memory of, and for the transcendence of the souls of our six million precious brothers, whose leaders were great giants of Torah and holiness, murdered in the sanctity of God’s name, and also in memory of the quarter million holy people from the allied nations and underground armies who sacrificed their lives in the war against the Nazis. The concluding ceremony was held on the 78th anniversary of the day of liberation and rescue of the surviving refugees in Europe.

It was an especially impressive and moving ceremony, led by the Eminent Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council; Minister of Labour, Rabbi Yoav Ben-Tzur; Dani Dayan, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate; and the project founder, Dr Gabriel German Zakharyayev, who attended with a delegation designated in coordination with President Yitzhak Herzog, which was led by the director of the World Stamagi Foundation, Mr David Mordechaiyev, and the director of Stamagi Israel, Mr Robert Abramov.

Following are some particularly emotional moments from the event: While reciting the final Mishna that concluded all six books - Lechol neshama yesh Mishna - each child held a picture of a child murdered in the Holocaust; the song, Kad Yatvin Yisrael, was sung by the children in Russian: Kadjda saberutza yevreyai i budyet ich radastyu Torah. The children finished with the sweet sounds of the song, VeAhavta Al Tasur, as Dr Zakharyayev received beautifully designed medallions each representing a book of the Mishna. The medallions, in fact, represented the millions of mishnas and hours devoted to the study to his credit, and in the merit of his mother, Tehila, and his family.

The ceremony commenced with the Mincha prayer and the recitation of special Psalms for the 78th anniversary of the Day of Liberation and Rescue. The main address was delivered by the Eminent Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who said that “Study from the mouths of infants, especially during Israel’s darkest days, is a sign and a symbol of the eternity of the Torah Nation and the guarantee of our continued existence as the nation of G-d forever and ever. ‘From the mouths of those in labour and those who nurse comes the foundation of strength’ - and there is no strength but the Torah, and only the Torah has the ability ‘to cripple the enemy and take revenge.’ You, the children of the Mishna, are our vengeance against the Nazis.“ Rabbi Lau praised Dr Zakharyayev for his initiative and the establishment of the huge Mishna project.

Following the children’s moving rendition of songs attributed to Shmulik Weinrich and Yanky Ekshtein, together with a slide presentation on the annihilation of European Jewry, Dr Zakharyayev was given the honor of lighting candles in memory of the Holocaust martyrs and in honor of the Torah study. During the candle lighting the children received an explanation of the song, Ani Ma’amin, which was playing in the background. Of of the many incredible stories of the Holocaust is the story of the song, Ani Ma’amin: One of the composers was the chassid, Reb Azriel David Fastag, from the Modzitz line of Chassidim. He wrote the song on the death train to Treblinka. The hall was suffused with darkness as hundreds of children rose, each with an electronic candle in his hand, which flickered as the air filled with the voice of world-renowned Cantor David Weinbach and the mournful notes of El maleh rachamim…k’zohar harakia mazhirim….

Chairman of Our Descendants and Us, Rabbi Eliezer Yutkovsky, who presided over the ceremony, read a special letter received from the Rosh Yeshiva, the Rabbi Aaron Yehuda Leib Shteinman, which began by saying, “I was glad to hear that the organization, Our Descendants and Us, is increasing its ranks with more soldiers of Torah through the study of mishnas, in memory of and for the transcendence of the souls of the holy martyrs of the Holocaust, as part of the Mevakshei Torah organization, thanks to the initiative of Dr Gabriel German Zakharyayev, which I can only praise as a priceless act. In the great merit of this Torah study, the students and teachers will benefit spiritually and materially for the overall good.”

Rabbi Yutkovsky added that “one of the visionaries who took the ashes from which Judaism emerged and had shaken off, and transformed them to gold, is the great and cherished supporter of Torah, Dr Gabriel German Zakharyayev who has merged the past with the future, and mourning with the joy of Torah. This year we are blessed to have 40 branches, thank God, where approximately 1,850 students learn every evening. Next year, thanks to you, and with G-d’s help, we shall open additional branches, as we grow from strength to strength.” Dr Zakharyayev was especially moved as he thanked the students for the privilege of taking part in the Mishna study with them, the children of Israel: “It is your Torah that provides the nation of Israel with strength, and it is the power of Torah that will allow me to visit the students and participate in future Torah study, too, increasing and exalting Torah.”

After a riveting quiz, the educational supervisor of Our Descendants and Us, Rabbi Mordechai Bloy, had the honor of announcing the winners in excellence for perseverance. David She’ar Yashuv from Rehovot was chosen as the Chatan Mishna, and his deputies were Shmuel Pheuffer, Yisrael Himmelfarb, Shmuel Monsengo, and Michael Rubinstein from Brachfeld, Modiin Illit. All were awarded ornate sets of the six books of the Babylonian Mishna as prizes for excellent performance. Rabbi Bloy addressed all present: “We have been privileged to witness a spectacular performance of the students demonstrating their immense knowledge. During the course of the year, we held tests at quarter-year intervals and distributed prizes to encourage excellence. This evening we are awarding prizes for the special perseverance of many of the students in their studies.”

The event closed with the distribution of sets of Mishnas to all the students by Dr Zakharyayev, his colleagues, Mr Yisrael Dubrosky and Mr David Mordechaiyev, and the rabbis, followed by the children and rabbis, teachers and Russian guests engaging in energetic dancing across the floor.