1,400 Jewish Public School students got their only taste of Shavuos thanks to the Release Time program and a dedicated group of bochurim who trekked miles to bring them to Shul for Asseres Hadibros.
Hundreds of Jewish Public School students got their only taste of the Shavuos holiday thanks to the Release Time program and a dedicated group of bochurim.
For the past eight decades, the Released Time program has been sending instructors to pick up Jewish students from public schools around New York every Wednesday and give them one hour of authentic Jewish education.
Around yomim tovim, the instructors teach about the upcoming date, and supply them with the tools to celebrate, be it matzah for Pesach, a menorah for Chanukah, or shalach manos before Purim.
The past year and a half, as New York public schools were shuttered due to coronavirus, presented unique challenges to Release Time, but despite all, the program continued, utilizing technology to continue the children’s weekly dose of Judaism.
Over the past few months, as the public schools throughout the state began gradually reopening, Release Time also began returning to its normal format, with bochurim traveling to the schools’ physical location and bringing the children to nearby shuls for an hour of davening, learning and Jewish programs.
As Shavuos approached, the Release Time staff began planning for a special Shavuos program from the children. With Shavuos falling out this year on Monday, a day that the children could not be picked up from their schools, the program would have to pick the children up from their homes to bring them to local shuls, a plan which would require an entirely different arrangement than the one used on the weekly visits.
Nonetheless, the administration of Release Time, headed by director Rabbi Shazak Zirkind, Rabbi Saadya Engel and Rabbi Yehoshua Shneur, began organizing a program that would reach as many children as possible. Children and parents were called at their home or spoken to the Wednesday prior to Shavuos, informing them of the readings of Asseres Hadibros and ice cream parties that would be taking place.
Come Shavuos morning, despite having been up the whole night, the bochurim woke up early, picked up refreshments and ice cream from the Released Time headquarters and began their trek to the shuls around New York City. Forest Hills, Kew Garden Hills, Fresh Meadows, and Jamaica Estates were only some of the locations the bochurim headed to early Shavuos morning.
Arriving in each location, the bochurim went from house to house, picking up the Released Time children and their parents, and bringing them to the pre-arranged locations, where they read Aseres HaDibros and enjoyed the traditional dairy treats.
In Brooklyn, children were brought to local Shuls and Chabad Houses, and in Queens, bochurim Naftali Wilhelm, Sholom Yafee, Mendel Bekerman and Yossi Krugilak arranged a number of locations with the help of Rabbi Kogan and Rabbi Vaknin from the BJCC. A total of eight readings of Asseres Hadibros were held in eight different locations, and over 1,400 children attended between all locations.
The bochurim also brought ice cream and other treats for the children, and distributed them while explaining to the children about the custom to eat dairy on Shavuos and the reason behind it.
“The Shavuos program was met with a tremendous success, beyond what we had expected,” Rabbi Yehoshua Shneur said. “We received thanks from children and their parents, some who were attending the reading of Asseres Hadibros for the first time in their lives.”
The Shavuos program was sponsored by Mr. Yossi and Batsheva Popack in memory of his father Shmuel Aizek ben R’ Avrohom Halevi.
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