- Who are you and what do you do for the OU?
My name is David Pardo. I’m the managing director of Torah initiatives over at the OU.
- Where are you from?
I grew up in Los Angeles, and currently live in Paramus, New Jersey (I know, why did I leave LA?? Kappara on all my sins).
- Your education?
Yeshivat Har Etzion, UCLA for my bachelors, YU for smicha, and Brandeis for my MBA.
- How long has Torah NY been going on?
This is year three!
- Who works on the Torah NY event?
So many people from so many departments, but a special shoutout to Hannah Farkas, who’s the only person totally on for three years straight.
- Why should everyone run to register for the OU Torah New York at Citifield taking place on Sunday September 22?
They should come for the obvious reasons: dozens of world-class scholars under one roof, unreal learning opportunities, great food and fun for the entire family.
But I think there’s something more: Torah NY is emerging as the annual community-wide event, a declaration that the place where we want to show up, we want to see and be seen, is an event exclusively about Torah. What an incredible statement!
What would you say is the main purpose of this event? Why does the OU do this event?
The OU believes that in addition to Shabbos, kashrut and taharat hamishpacha, limud haTorah must become one of the minimum-threshold mitzvot one observes in order to be a responsible Jewish adult, and it’s our responsibility to increase access to and quality of Torah programming across every community. To that end, as of this year Torah NY is now part of the Torah Initiatives Department, which is investing in a wide swath of programs to achieve this lofty goal. So Torah NY is emerging as the event of the year, and rightfully so, and mi k’amcha Yisrael that the event of the year is about learning Torah!
- What’s different this year?
The core of the program is the same: an unbelievable collection of world-class scholars from across the spectrum and globe collected under one roof, like a
Disneyland of shiurim. As the program grows in attendance and scope, we want Torah NY to be the home for Torah in all its forms. So for example, children’s programming is about Torah, too. But also we have Naomi Nachman, a beloved gourmet chef and Instagram foodie, coming to a pre-Rosh Hashana cooking demo accompanied by Rabbi Gerstein of OU Kosher who will be explaining relevant halachot for cooking on Shabbos and Yom Tov as she goes along.
We’re also hosting a number of learning programs, and we hope that in doing so we’ll showcase the many opportunities there are for learning year round. So both Shivti of Beth Aaron and the Beit Midrash of Teaneck are coming as a group and doing a private shiur.
- Is there a theme to the classes given this year?
The theme is always Torah and always intentionally diverse, but this year half of the shiurim are about the Yamim Noraim. So I really can’t imagine a better way to prepare for the chagim!
- Are all the classes for both men and women?
Yes, as well as a number of classes that are women-only.
- Is anyone coming especially from Israel just for the event?
So many! Rabbis Yosef Tzvi Rimon and Judah Mischel, Mmes. Shira Smiles, Dina Schoonmaker and Shani Taragin, and Drs. Ora Wiskind and Jeffrey Woolf are coming in to teach. Mrs. Sivan Rahav Meir has just begun her year-long shlichut to North America for World Mizrahi, and Rabbi Elyada Goldvicht is coming to celebrate the North American Siyum of the Semichas Chaver Program.
- What is the Semichas Chaver Program?
Semichas Chaver is the fastest-growing halacha-learning program in the world (literally on five continents!) and the OU is proud to be a sponsor. SCP is in 23 communities this year and is slated to nearly double after Sukkot. Part of the program is a siyum at the end of the zman, a celebration of the participants’ accomplishments marked by a certificate and a party. For the first time, we’re proud to be hosting the North American siyum at Torah NY! People are busing and flying from Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and even Florida (among other places). My hope is that other people will see the joy on their faces (and their families’!) and ask how they can get in on it.
- How much preparation is involved in putting together an event like this?
Much, much more than I ever imagined. I stepped into this program in its third year, having been to the previous two as an attendee. Between putting the program together, working with speakers, topics, themes, vendors, contractors, and a million moving parts, before you even get to marketing and fundraising, it’s been quite the experience. My dream is for this day to pull in 10,000 attendees (and more!) and have a full-time staff working on it.
- What should everyone bring along with them to the event?
Some good shoes and a lot of energy; we’ve got the rest! We’ll provide note-taking utensils and there’s plenty of delicious food at the concession stands.
- Will there be kosher food?
- Will there be minyanim going on throughout the day?
We have Minchas spread out throughout the afternoon.
- How can someone purchase tickets? How much are they?
Visit TorahNY.org. Adult tickets are $50 each, seniors and youth are discounted, and there is a family cap of $100.
- How much is parking?
Just for you, we’ve arranged absolutely free parking.
- What do you have planned for children’s programming?
There’s shofar making, mini golf, a magic show, arts and crafts, planting and dyeing with Grow Torah, chesed projects, and plenty of other things. I’m bringing my own kids for the whole day!
- Why was children’s programming so important?
As someone who works full time and is the rav of a shul, Sunday is a really key day for me to spend with my four adorable children. And I know this is true for my friends as well. So my wife and I are always looking for ways to make Sundays fun and memorable. So we could have offered some sort of childcare, but I thought we could do much better. Sure, we have indoor mini golf and a magic show and arts and crafts, but we figured that if this day is all about Torah, let’s make the children’s programming about Torah as well.
So we also brought in a shofar factory, where the kids make their own shofars to take home and understand the mitzvah. And they’re making their own chocolate, but they’ll learn about kashrus along the way as well. We’ve also brought in Grow Torah, a fantastic organization developing educational Torah garden programs for Jewish schools.
- What are all the programs for teens?
You’ve hopefully seen the advertisements for NCSY’s Torah Bowl, a competition between the high schools. I have high hopes for Torah Bowl one day taking over the stadium! And in addition, a number of our scholars are teaching shiurim just for high schoolers, so there’s an entire NCSY track where teens can come learn at their level. There’s also a beit midrash program run by all-star Rabbi Judah Mischel. So there’s a lot packed into the day!
- What’s this about new footage of Rav Soloveitchik’s teshuva drasha?
Ashreinu, we are so fortunate that Dr. Arnold Lustiger is showcasing a recording he owns of the Rav giving one of his famous teshuva drashas, never before shown to the public. He went ahead and captioned the entire shiur, and we’re proud to be showing it at Torah NY. For a generation orphaned from the Rav’s grandeur, seeing this footage will be quite remarkable.
- What are some of the more provocative shiurim this year?
There are so many, and it’s such a case of “different strokes for different folks,” that I invite you to check out the TorahNY.org website to see what pops out at you from the long list!
- How should a Yankees fan who wants to come go about dealing with the elephant in the room?
You’re talking to a guy from LA; I’ve got nothing to say.
Torah NY will be held this year on Sunday, September 22, indoors at Citi Field. Reserve your spot at TorahNY.org now.