Hadran Alach—We will return to you

by | Aug 11, 2022 | Other News

Toras Chaim students and principal completing the final words of the Gemara: Tzviki Schwartz, Shaya Danziger, Yehudah Litt, Rabbi Yonah Lazar, Ely Haber, and Shlomo Schonfeld.

No one likes to say goodbye. Teachers like to keep students connected. Learners like to keep the material in focus. Jews want to keep the traditions alive.

“Hadran Alach”—We shall return to you; the opening words of a special tefillah (prayer) recited upon completing a full masechet (tractate) of Talmud study.

As the 5782/2021–22 school year drew to a close, Toras Chaim’s seventh and eighth grade boys had much to celebrate. On top of their full days of studies, with Judaic classes in the morning, General Studies in the afternoon, and additional learning sessions each evening, the boys mastered an additional extra-curricular section of the Talmud. They completed Masechet Tamid, comprised of more than 4,500 Hebrew and Aramaic words.

Together with their principal, Rabbi Yonah Lazar, the boys learned and reviewed Masechet Tamid, a Gemara section that details the daily morning procedures in the Beit Hamikdash, may it be speedily rebuilt.

Upon completing the learning, the occasion was marked in a unique location.

In 1918, Jewish immigrants built the first shul in Portsmouth, Chevra Tehillim. Over the decades, as the Jewish community shifted toward Norfolk, membership dwindled and Chevra Tehillim closed its doors in the 1980s. Now, the Jewish Museum and Cultural Center occupies the former shul location, giving visitors a chance to learn about Jewish Portsmouth of old.

How important it was, thought Rabbi Lazar, for his students to understand that Portsmouth’s Judaism did not begin with their school, and for the community at large to be cognizant that Torah study continues daily in Portsmouth, long after Chevra Tehillim closed.

Celebrating the class’s learning at JMCC, the former shul, might bring the lessons together.

Barbara Rossen, the Center’s executive director, says she was honored to have the former shul host the Toras Chaim event.

Graphic artists were hired, invitations were sent, and before long, the students, parents, grandparents, and Rebbeim were on their way to the ‘Hadran Alach—We Will Return to You’ Siyum Extravaganza.

What a meaningful opportunity to learn, to listen, and to rejoice together. Everyone was moved, but probably none as much as Earl Pollock, OD, who shared how both of his grandfathers had davened at Chevra Tehillim, and now so many years later, his own grandson, Tzviki Schwartz, was making a siyum in that very same room.

Following an elegant meal, a stirring video, and meaningful words, grandfathers, fathers, sons, and guests joined together to sing and dance. Mincha and Maariv followed; a first for the Portsmouth location in many, many years.

Rabbi Sender Haber, former rabbi of B’nai Israel, commented how each time it is “davening time,” G-d Himself comes to each shul and is saddened if no minyan has gathered. “How happy Hashem must be tonight,” said Rabbi Haber, “when He came to the former Chevra Tehillim location and once again found His people turning to Him in prayer.”

Upon completing the Gemara, the students recited the traditional Hadran prayer, “Hadrach Aldahn”—“Your beauty is upon us. The reason we stand out, the reason we shine is because we study Torah. Greater than any of the significant accomplishments Jews have made in the world, is the fact that they continue to study the word and wisdom of G-d.”

Yet the prayer continues. “V’hadran Alach—and our beauty is on you.”

“Could it really be?” asked Toras Chaim’s principal. Does the Torah take pride in a few kids from Norfolk studying pages of the Talmud? Perhaps Torah scholars of old, Maimonides, the Baal Shem Tov or the Chofetz Chaim added beauty and luster, but were these words applicable to Toras Chaim students?

The answer, proclaimed Rabbi Lazar, 3,334 years after the Jews stood at Mount Sinai to accept the Torah, and “after everything we’ve been through as a nation, that a group of parents in Tidewater, Virginia, feel there is no better way for their sons to spend their free time but to study Torah—you better bet that makes Hashem proud! While the Torah’s beauty shines on the students, the students’ beauty reflects back on the Torah itself.”

To this beautiful edifice of Chevra Tehillim the participants proclaimed, “We too have returned to you. We wear the same Tefillin you wore, we daven from the same siddurim as you did, and we study the same Talmud as you did, right here in Tidewater, over 100 years later!”

Judaism is alive and well in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Rabbi Yonah Lazar