Chicago Unites to Fete 16-Year-Old’s Accomplishment

Thursday, 10 November, 2022 - 11:21 am

 It’s unusual for a 16-year-old’s accomplishments to be celebrated by a hall filled with his peers, teachers, family members, rabbonim, and lay leaders from across the Jewish community. 

But that is exactly what happened on Tuesday, Dec. 1, when the Pratt Ave. campus of the Yeshivas Ohr Eliyahu - Lubavitch Mesivta of Chicago filled with students and well-wishers, all to congratulate 16-year-old Mendel Zirkind, who had recently finished learning the entire Talmud Bavli, mostly on his own, for the first time.

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Mendel dances together Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Eliyahu Nosson Silberberg and his father, Rabbi Yisroel Zirkind. 

 Facing a Bais Medrash packed with festive tables lined by celebrants, Rosh Kollel Rabbi Dovid Zucker explained that he chose to devote an entire evening to the celebration because “this is a simchah for the whole city. There is so much kedushah that is added when a young bochur finishes the entire Shas. We all have an equal connection to this celebration.”

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Rosh Kollel Rabbi Dovid Zucker explained why the celebration belonged to the entire city and to the entire Jewish nation.  

Mendel’s father, Rabbi Yisroel Zirkind shared the secret to his son’s accomplishment:  “It took many early mornings of hard work. When I’d wake up in the morning at five thirty, I’d see Mendel learning, And I’d thank him for the kol Torah.”

He also pointed out that the day of the celebration coincided with the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, in whose merit countless Jews had completed the Talmud multiple times.

Speaking directly to Mendel’s fellow students, Mesivta Dean Rabbi Moshe B. Perlstein encouraged them to increase their learning. “Learning Shas is something we can all aspire to,” he said to his audience, the youngest of whom are just 14 years old, “not necessarily over three years or two years. It can take five years, or more, but this is the goal we can all have in mind, as something we can—and must—do ourselves. Mendel found the times in the day that are free, the early morning before seder begins, lunch and supper breaks, and he used them all for learning.”

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Dean Rabbi Moshe B. Perlstein and Av Bais Din Rabbi Yonah Reiss in discussion with Mendel. 

After finishing the final words of Meseches Niddah and reciting Kaddish Derabanan, Mendel drew parallels between the opening lines of Berachos and the closing words of Niddah, contrasting the mitzvah to recite Shema twice daily and the general obligation to study Torah, which applies equally at all times.

Following his speech, the students broke out into song, linking arms and dancing in place, each one joyous for the accomplishment of their friend, feeling it as personal and exciting as if they themselves had completed the entire Shas.

Pic 8.jpg Dancing 1.jpgStudents sang and danced as if the celebration was their own–as indeed it was.  

They were then served a fleishige dinner, which was enjoyed with live music and a choir provided by a group of talented Mesivta students.

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The crowd then heard from Av Bais Din Rabbi Yonah Reiss who attested that “my excitement is genuine. The Maharshal says there is no joy greater than a siyum, and certainly when it comes to a siyum on all of Shas. I am inspired by Mendel Zirkind!”

The final speaker of the evening was Mendel’s grandfather, Rabbi Dovid Thaler, Menahel of Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad in Los Angeles, who dug deep into the auspicious date of the Siyum, 7 Cheshvan, when the final Jews had come home from spending Sukkos in the Bais Hamikdash.

On a personal level, he pointed out that it was the day the Kovno Ghetto was liquidated and the day his mother-in-law Mrs. Chaya Sarah Rochel Lisbon was saved from death by a Jewish policeman. “In the confusion she had separated from her mother, and wanted to run and join her, when a Jewish policeman shoved her away, telling her that she belonged in the other line, with those who would be taken to work.”

Her miraculous survival allowed her to start a family, which led to dozens of descendants, including many rabbis, communal leaders, teachers and others, each of whom is perpetuating her memory and forming a living memorial to those who did not survive.



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