Spotlight on Security Detail at the Siyum HaShas

Some of the NJ State Troopers who were in charge of the guarding the main stage of the siyum.

Frieda Schweky

Imagine an event at a sports stadium filled to capacity with over 92,000 people, where not even one disturbance or altercation occurred throughout an entire day. It hardly seems possible! But on Jan 1st, 2020, at the 13th Siyum HaShas celebration held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, that’s exactly what happened.

Anti-Semitic Attacks Spur Expanded Security Detail

Due to the recent increase in  anti-Semitic attacks in the NYC area, the event required massive security, far above what was required previously. The event celebrated the completion of the Daf Yomi learning program, whereby participants around the world learn the same page of Talmud every day for a cycle lasting roughly seven-and-a-half years. Many in the crowd were celebrating their own completion of Shas. Others came as an expression of achdut, to experience the celebration with fellow Jews, and to show honor to the Torah. In the crowd were chief rabbis, prominent community leaders, politicians, and other dignitaries. An estimated 350,000 take part in learning Daf Yomi around the world. The celebration at MetLife Stadium was broadcast live to over 20 countries, where similar celebrations were taking place simultaneously. Even nearby in Brooklyn, the Barclays Center was packed with Jews watching the siyum held at MetLife live via satellite.

Law Enforcement Out in Force

NJ State Troopers preparing comunication equipment for the siyum.

Preparations for the siyum at MetLife began two years prior,  and the security and safety preparations began months in advance. David Heskiel, Police Chaplain, NYPD Clergy Liaison, and special Liaison for Councilman Chaim Deutsch, was involved in the planning and coordinating of the security team for the siyum held at MetLife. David worked closely with the New Jersey State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick J. Callahan and state police brass. Additionally, David joined the FBI special agent in charge of Newark NJ, Gregory W. Ehrie, in working out security details.  NJ Homeland Security Director Jared Maples also played a key role in the security detail. Approximately fifty different law enforcement agencies were involved in protecting the participants at the siyum.

Over 350 uniformed NJ state troopers were inside MetLife Stadium during the event. Many were stationed at all the exists, and directed traffic on what they called “siyum detail.” A large number of Hatzalah members were present at the siyum, and ambulances fully stocked and prepared for emergencies were standing by. Agents from the FBI were also on duty to ensure everyone’s safety. The head FBI agent looked on and took pictures in amazement, telling David he was eager to show and tell his wife about this amazing experience. He also said he had never seen anything like this in his lifetime and he was very moved.

Siyum Sparks Kiddush Hashem

People who have worked in the stadium for years were amazed by the orderly and gracious behavior of all the participants throughout the event. It is rare, if not unheard of, that an event of this size was pulled off without any  fights or disturbances whatsoever. During prayers, the crowd was so silent you could hear a pin drop.

Chabad emissaries were on their usual mission to find any Jew who had not donned tefillin that morning. They actually managed to find a couple of men who had not, and helped them do so.

You may have heard the story of the NJ state trooper who pulled over a Jew the day after the siyum, asked if he had learned his page yet, and told him if he promised to complete learning the page he would send him off with a warning instead of a ticket., But  many may not have heard the following story: Two years before the Siyum HaShas at MetLife, Sol Werdiger, Chairman of the Board at Agudath Israel, was at the stadium  in order to reserve it for January 1, 2020. There with Mr. Werdiger were two secular Jews, the owner of the stadium and the man who built it. The builder told the other two that he just had to get something off his chest. He admitted that after taking ten years to build such a stadium, his work seemed futile. The arena would be used for people to have a few beers and watch a game, nothing very significant at all. He declared that now he knew Gd’s plan and intent for him in building this arena was in order for this very event to take place. He said it brought meaning to what he does and brought him happiness as well. Mr. Werdiger was stunned to hear this from a secular Jew. It was totally unexpected, and so very meaningful.

Siyum HaShas Brings Honor to the King

When the organizers of the siyum first considered where to hold the main event, they were concerned about staging it outside during the chilling East Coast winter. One proposal was to hold the main siyum simultaneously in five different indoor venues in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, with live hook-ups between them. However, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel decided to hold the main siyum in one place, based on the principle of b’rov am hadrat melech, that Gd’s honor is increased when a large number of Jews gather in the same place. Indeed, the 13th Siyum HaShas was a testimony to Gd’s honor and to honoring Torah learning. Baruch Hashem, the celebration concluded with not only an absence of fighting or disturbances, but with not even one emergency.