Very early into the coronavirus pandemic, the Daf Yomi chaburah at the Young Israel of Queens Valley decided to continue its daily learning regimen as close as possible to its timetable. “We wanted to keep to our schedules,” said shul president Elliott Strauss, a participant in this group.
Since late June in 2014, Rabbi Shmuel Marcus has been delivering Daf Yomi lectures at 5:30 each morning, with plenty of coffee on hand to keep participants awake. Such an early time doesn’t feel like a hardship, compared to the m’siras nefesh of his father, Rabbi Raphael Dov Marcus, in Toronto, who awoke early each day, swept the ice and snow from his station wagon, and picked up Daf Yomi participants on his way to shul while his son sat in the trunk. “My father would wake me up every morning,” he said. “Doing it, living it, modeling it through your example.” As he awoke to the Daf shiur, he also went to sleep after preparing notes for the following morning, starting and ending each day with the Daf.
For this reason, Rabbi Marcus wanted families to be present at the siyum for Maseches Eiruvin, which also marked a personal siyum haShas for members of Rabbi Marcus’ chaburah. With the state imposing restrictions on public gatherings to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the chaburah looked at locations on Long Island that could accommodate the occasion, but they were all booked. After the fruitless search, the shul served as the venue, with a screen installed in the sanctuary and distanced seating for the participants and their families. The screen was connected to a Zoom meeting that had nearly 40 additional participants from the community, and former members of the shul who no longer reside in Queens. The screen also showed messages of congratulations from friends and family members of the participants.
Rabbi Marcus’ brother-in-law, Rabbi Eytan Feiner of The White Shul in Far Rockaway, congratulated the participants, noting the difficulties of this tractate as it discusses public, private, and semi-private domains as they relate to architecture, measurements, consent, height, status, and so much else. “It’s a tremendous z’chus. The real litmus test is Maseches Eiruvin, and you’ve conquered it,” he said.
The most treasured speaker at the siyum was Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a rosh yeshivah at Yeshiva University and a dayan at the Beth Din of America. He spoke from his home through Zoom, describing the platform as an opportunity to reach a wider audience. “We spoke of Eiruvim as a takanah of Shlomo HaMelech, as a shalom. Everybody’s dough created the challah. It meant friendly community relations within the chatzeir,” he said.
The Shas cycle of Rabbi Marcus’ chaburah began when he was the mara d’asra of Kehilas Ishei Yisrael, which met in the basement of the Yeshiva of Central Queens. At the time, the only challenges that faced the group were occasions when the school needed the space for its special events. In January 2017, this shul disbanded after Rabbi Marcus was appointed as the rav of the Young Israel of Queens Valley. Most of the chaburah members followed him, and the daily learning continued at the same time as at the previous location. “Who would have thought that we’d be teaching at Queens Valley in the midst of a pandemic? Through it all, Rabbi Marcus never stopped giving shiur,” said Strauss. “He wants to complete Shas as much as we do.”
Technology has been helpful in maintaining k’vias itim even before the pandemic, with alarms on cell phones ringing multiple times to awaken the participant. Then there was the wedding of Rabbi Marcus’ daughter Elisheva last month, when he could have slept longer the following morning. “There were so many chaveirim waiting for me,” he said. “I run the risk of falling behind myself. It’s a motivator.”
Among the older members whose attendance matches that of Rabbi Marcus is Benjamin Vinar, who is often the first in the beis midrash, and George Srolovits, whose license plate and baseball cap indicate his passion for mastering the Daf. Queens Jewish Link co-publisher Yaakov Serle is also a longtime participant in this chaburah, following Rabbi Marcus from Ishei Yisrael to Queens Valley.
During the pandemic, the daily lectures provided a feeling of normalcy for participants, and the ability to ask Rabbi Marcus sh’eilos for a few minutes afterwards. It was reassuring to have one’s day begin with a page from the Talmud and to have one’s halachic questions answered before one davens and goes to work. It’s an excellent start to one’s day!
By Sergey Kadinsky