There is something wondrous about watching a metamorphosis. A small sapling sprouts into a tree, a flower bud blooms and becomes a rose, an infant child matures into a young adult. Observing the transformation is inspirational. Indeed, watching something evolve, becoming bigger and better, is to witness a miracle.
Almost twelve years ago, Jack “Box” Dayon, with the help of his brother in law, David Massry, came up with an idea to have a small Toleh tournament with some of their friends. Jack, at the time a post-high school teen on his way to Lev Aharon, was instantly hooked. It seemed like an awesome way to have a good time. They’d offer a BBQ and charge a nominal fee for each contestant, and the games would begin. Of course, he asked his parents for permission to use their house (and “strongly hinted” that they should pay for the food and drinks). He spread the word to friends and family, and, in no time, sixteen players had signed up. Jack decided to donate all of the proceeds to Lev Aharon, the Yeshiva he planned on attending.
That summer of 2007, in his parents' home in New Jersey, history was made. The first Lev Aharon Backgammon Tournament had begun. Jack asked his good friend, Nechemia Katz to man the grill, and a wonderful time was had by all. Although the proceeds amounted to only $300 in all, the seed of this spectacular event was firmly planted. The next year, he hoped to double the amount of players to thirty-two. Baruch Hashem, the word spread and thirty-two people signed up as planned.
As the years went by, the number of contestants kept growing, and they decided to up the stakes as well. They found some generous donors who donated towards the cause. Moshe Mevorach, the owner of Dougies BBQ at the time, a Lev Aharon alumnus, sponsored the food. A friend who had an extra iPhone donated it to be used as a prize, and that was the start of an exciting auction. Once again, the event was a major hit. Upon seeing it’s great potential, Jack’s friend and partner David M. Haber said, “it’s time to really take this event to the next level,” and from then on it was history. Over the next ten years, it flourished into one of the Syrian communities most exciting and anticipated events. It is presently held in the Park Avenue Synagogue with over 1,000 people walking through the doors and 256 contestants, the biggest tournament in the community! Restaurants donate spectacular food, and corporate sponsors help cover the costs. Additionally, there is a Luxury Israel Trip Raffle which raises over $80,000. Ultimately, the event brings in close to $250,000 for the Lev Aharon Scholarship Fund.
Besides the tremendous tzedaka opportunity, there is another element that makes the event so special. The backgammon tournament has become a magnet, and a beacon, for achdut in the community. People of all types and stripes come to enjoy the excitement. Young and old bask in the extraordinary atmosphere of unity and fun. It is uplifting to watch and participate, and inspiring just to walk in the door!
In many ways, there is a unique correlation between this event and the legend of Lev Aharon, Rabbi David Laniado shlita, the founding Rosh Yeshiva, who opened this wonderful institution with a dream. Each boy, regardless of his spiritual level, affiliation or background, would have a place in Lev Aharon to thrive and grow. Everyone would feel comfortable, loved and at home in the warm confines of the Yeshiva. Much like the massive crowds that patronize the Backgammon Tournament, Lev Aharon caters to and benefits all.
Perhaps there is one more analogous angle. Lev Aharon prides itself on focusing on the individual. The staff strives to reach deep into each student’s heart to help bring out his potential. Their dream, goal and prayer is to encourage each student to blossom and flourish in his own distinct and unique way. The Rabbi’s have been trusted with a mission to inspire the boys to grow, beckoning them to take the small steps forward that will ultimately make them great. Much like this event that began way back as a small idea and yet exploded into the massive affair that it has become, Lev Aharon students are reminded that every step and stride towards Hashem is cherished. “What is small in your eyes is a giant leap in the eyes of Hashem!” The transformation of the young teenagers who enter Lev Aharon and walk out as mature and developed young men is truly miraculous. Never underestimate one small deed.