By: Renée Rockford
Interim President & CEO.
Author’s note: This Shabbat, I want to share some personal reflections on the recent dedication of a new Torah library at Yeshiva Toras Chaim in Denver, honoring the memory of student Shmuel (Shmuli) Silverberg (z’l) who was killed almost two years ago. I was so grateful to be able to stand with Shmuli’s family and the YTC community on this special occasion.
When we lose someone, as we lost Shmuel (Shmuli) Silverberg (z’l) in August of 2021, there can never really be closure. But on a recent Sunday, there was much consolation, even in the midst of tears, as the YTC community dedicated a new otzar or Torah Library, “Otzar Shmuel” in the renovated Halpern Family Bais Medrash (study hall). It was an event described by one parent as “awe-inspiring.”
The day was beautiful and warm; the Bais Medrash full of students and rabbis, and graced with the presence of Shmuli’s family who traveled from Cleveland, Ohio; Lakewood, New Jersey; and Brooklyn, New York.
Shmuli was killed almost two summers ago in a shooting outside Yeshiva Toras Chaim in a horrific crime spree. Denver Police immediately arrested three men; each pleaded guilty, and all three were sentenced this past week to lengthy prison terms totaling nearly 100 years. JEWISHcolorado, the ADL, and others assisted with security, training, and support.
Yet, the dedication service did not dwell on the crime, but rather on the lessons that Shmuli’s life teaches: a deep love of Torah, an unbridled enthusiasm for learning, a dedication to helping others, and the value of learning and knowing why we are on this earth.
In this week’s Parsha B’haalot’cha, we are reminded that in the darkest of times, we need to muster the strength and look beyond our narrow horizon, not for closure but for consolation. Just as Jews were wandering in the wilderness, our vision of today obscures tomorrow’s possibilities. At YTC, Principal Rabbi Naftali Seidenfeld said, “We are definitely moving forward, but we are not moving on. Shmuli will always be remembered.”
In tribute to Shmuli’s legacy, the Yeshiva built a new Torah library, housing a beautiful aron kodesh (ark), a new set of neviim (Book of Prophets) on klaf (parchment), and an extensive and fully replenished collection of sefarim (holy books).
At the dedication, Rabbi Mordechai Silverberg, Shmuli’s father, spoke of his son’s last two years at YTC, and how those years were filled with growing ardor for his studies. “Shmuli always wanted people to learn better,” said Rabbi Silverberg. “Anything that makes people learn better would be a tremendous merit for him.”
Larry Halpern, whose family supported the renovation of the yeshiva’s study center said that he was more of a recipient than a donor, and that what he received was far greater than what he gave. The gathering also welcomed the words of Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, CEO Rabbi Ahron Y. Wasserman, Principal Rabbi Naftali Seidenfeld, and Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff of Agudas Yisroel Bais Binyomin in Brooklyn.
Each one of the speakers expressed gratitude to the community, to the Denver Police Department, and the Denver District attorney. There were “stirring words of chizuk (encouragement) and strength, the siyum (the completion of a unit of Torah study), dancing, and escorting the Nevi’im into the Otzar,” said parents Yitzchok and Hindy Mandel. “All of it merged into a powerful, collective, cathartic experience …” they said.
Students and alumni understand the importance of what they have been taught and what they have been given. “Aside from the practical benefits of the otzar, it adds a sense of freshness, excitement, and pleasure to the learning,” said student Moishe Erlanger. “It represents and builds upon everything Shmuli stood for,” said Mordechai Broodo.
We thank Hashem for sending us the rare treasure that was Shmuli and giving us a way forward after this unspeakable tragedy. Yehi Zichro Baruch – may his memory serve as a blessing.
Please email Renée Rockford at RRockford@jewishcolorado.org with questions or comments.