With the countdown to the twelfth Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi now down to the single digits, organizers of the event are working furiously to ensure that the massive event, for which all 93,000 available tickets have been sold, goes off without a hitch.
Logistical preparations for an event of this magnitude might seem daunting to some, but for Rabbi Yosef C. Golding, executive director of Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society (RCCS) and director of logistics for the Siyum HaShas, it is all in a day’s work.
“Because we started working on this event so long ago, it was all pretty easy,” said Rabbi Golding, a veteran coordinator for the Siyum HaShas, taking place on Wednesday, August 1. “I have been working on this siyum for two years. The past week or two has been a little intense, but we do the best we can.”
MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010, is not only the most expensive NFL stadium ever built, it also has the largest number of permanent seats in the league with a capacity of 82,566. Transforming MetLife Stadium from a football arena into a venue for a massive Torah gathering is no small undertaking. In addition to bringing in approximately 10,000 folding chairs for the event and removing the goalposts, hard plastic flooring will be brought in, completely covering the stadium’s turf with its distinctive markings. While the stadium boasts the highest quality sound system, a separate sound company has been brought in for the event, one that, according to Rabbi Golding, has been used at some of the largest rock concerts throughout the country.
Much discussion has been made about the $250,000 mechitzah being installed. Previous plans to place all the women at one of the narrower ends of the oval stadium, with supports drilled into the stadium to hold up the gargantuan mechitzah, have been scrapped. Instead, women who do not have tickets for one of the over two hundred luxury suites, will be seated in the upper deck of the stadium, with a four tier dark colored curtain, ranging in length from eight to twelve feet, moving into place only during davening. It will take a crew of 60 people, working from Tisha B’av through the actual day of the siyum, to erect the two and a half mile long mechitzah.
“This mechitzah was designed by a crew of engineers and will be held in place by massive weights,” explained Rabbi Golding. “There will be no need to drill any supports into any part of the stadium at all. This is a very strong pipe and drape system, with a lightweight curtain that allows the wind to pass through and the mechitzah has been approved by the fire department.”
The decision to move the women to the upper level was made for logistical reasons, according to Rabbi Golding, who was quick to assure female attendees that being placed in the upper echelons of the stadium would not in any way detract from their enjoyment of the milestone event, noting that viewers in the top tier of the stadium would have the best view of the four 116-foot-wide high definition video screens that hang in each corner of the upper deck.
“You have to understand that there is not a bad seat in the house here, although we are working hard to place the women who ordered more costly seats in the first four rows of the upper level,” noted Rabbi Golding. “They spent $1.7 billion to build this stadium and whoever built this facility really built it right.”
In fact, the stadium itself is home to a command center, featuring hundreds of security cameras, a mini emergency room and has 40 medics and nurses on call, which will be supplemented for the Siyum HaShas by 150 Hatzalah members, as well as a minimum of 20 ambulances. Two-thousand plasma screens located throughout the interior portions of the stadium will give those who leave their seats the ability to follow the program from locations within the venue.
Stadium concessionaires will be selling snacks whose kashrus has been approved by the Agudah, including cakes, ices, soda and water. While food can be brought into the stadium in bags no larger than 12 by 12 by 12 inches, siyum attendees will only be permitted to bring one plastic, 20-ounce, sealed beverage into the stadium with them. Laptops and iPads will not be permitted into MetLife stadium, and given the extremely tight security that is expected for the Siyum HaShas, every person entering the stadium will be searched.
Over 90,000 programs have been printed for the event, each one weighing in at over one pound and featuring over two hundred pages. Forty-thousand copies of HaSiyum Junior, an accompaniment to the program, have been printed for children as well.
“There will be a special presentation made to the Masmidei HaSiyum, a group of 16,000 children who have been learning Mishnayos and Gemara in honor of the siyum,” reported Rabbi Golding. “Over 1.5 million lines of Mishnayos have been learned, in memory of the 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust, while over six million lines of Gemara have been learned in memory of the six million Jews who perished during that terrible time.”
Five hundred rabbonim will be seated on the dais, with another 1,000 rabbis who give Daf Yomi shiurim to be seated directly behind the dais. While Agudah representatives have been tight lipped when it comes to divulging the names of those who will be speaking at the siyum, Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, rosh yeshiva of Beis Medrash Govoha of Lakewood will be making the Hadran, and renowned lecturer Rabbi Yissocher Frand will be one of the guest speakers. Each of the speakers will be allotted a four to 12 minute time slot, and in an effort to prevent overly lengthy addresses, a series of colored lights will inform speakers both when their time is about to end and when they have gone over their allocated amount of time.
While there will be no live streaming of the Siyum HaShas, nine video cameras will be placed through the stadium for remote hookups, with satellite feeds and high quality web feeds going out to over one 100 sites, including locations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Toronto, Montreal, Mexico City, Uruguay, Argentina, Melbourne, Lublin and Hong Kong.
“We are using the same video company that was hired for the Super Bowl,” said Rabbi Golding.
With over 500 people expected to attend the siyum from Spanish speaking countries, there will be headsets available for rent featuring an FM transmission in Spanish throughout the stadium.
According to Rabbi Golding there will be a “major musical aspect to the siyum,” but he would only confirm that it would feature world-renowned vocalists Rabbi Abish Brodt and Shloime Daskal, with choral accompaniment by Hamizamrim. Legendary Chazan Yitzchak Meir Helfgott will be making the Kel Maley Rachamim in honor of the six million Jews who died during World War II. The Siyum HaShas will continue its tradition of featuring a one-man band in place of a full orchestra, with musical accompaniment by Shabsy Parnes.
Given the number of people attending the Siyum Hashas, both transportation and parking will be a major issue. The Agudah advises everyone to make use of mass transit whenever possible, which includes New Jersey Transit trains, Metro-North and Coach USA bus service from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Separate parking areas and management teams will be in place to deal with the many buses that are expected to be arriving at the stadium, and coordinators anticipate a large number of buses will be coming in from summer camps in the Catskills as well.
Should inclement weather prove to be an issue, organizers will announce any decision to postpone the siyum by 8 a.m. the day of the event. Tens of thousands of ponchos have been ordered in case of any unsettled weather that may take place during the siyum.
With so many logistics to be seen to, it is easy to lose sight of what the Siyum HaShas is all about and Rabbi Golding stressed that the Agudah has worked diligently to make this an all-inclusive event.
“We tried very hard to make sure not to bore people with long interminable speeches,” said Rabbi Golding. “The purpose of the siyum is to inspire others to learn and we tried very hard to make sure that everyone will walk away from the event inspired, from people who have never learned a daf in their entire lives to chassidim who have learned their entire lives. We hope that people who come to this siyum as observers will be so inspired that when it comes time to plan the thirteenth Siyum HaShas, they will be coming back as participants.”
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients in addition to having written song lyrics and scripts for several full-scale productions. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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