The newest local YouTube star is not a celebrity, or a musician, or a child doing back flips over a weird-looking cat.
Every week, sitting in front of his bookcase in a shirt and tie, Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler rocks back and forth as he offers a d’var Torah, a short Torah lesson, on the week’s portion. Each week, between 60 and 130 followers, mostly his congregants at Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David in West Orange, tune in for his three- to five-minute videos.
“As rabbis, we are always looking to spread Torah and inspire our congregations,” said Zwickler in a telephone interview. “Today, so many people are so busy, it can be hard to come to a class. So we need to think out of the box. This way, it’s possible for people to hear a d’var Torah on their lunch break or late at night after their kids are asleep.”
He added, “It’s bringing the Torah to the people.”
There are opportunities to learn Torah on the web from one end of the denominational spectrum to the other, with Zwickler’s Orthodox colleagues particularly adept at harnessing the latest technologies. Search “Torah portion” and YouTube returns more than 4,000 videos.
But Zwickler’s goal is mainly local, specifically geared toward his congregants.
“I want it to feel like they are studying with me in my office,” he said.
The videos are not only for tech-savvy people with little time on their hands. They are also attracting an elderly or homebound population who can have a taste of Torah at home.
Zwickler is also becoming more comfortable with the medium.
“It was hard at first speaking to no one — there’s no eye contact. Seeing people paying attention gives you more push to go. But I’m getting used to it,” he said. He’s growing noticeably more relaxed in the weeks since his first foray, a discourse on parshat Lech Lecha, back in October.
One of his most popular lessons focused on the matriarch Rebecca, pregnant with the twins Jacob and Esau. According to rabbinic tradition, her morning sickness got worse every time she passed a certain yeshiva and a certain house of idol worshippers. Apparently, her mismatched boys were lunging toward each according to their natures.
“The question to me is really obvious,” Zwickler relates in the video. “If Rivka understood that every time she walked in front of [the yeshiva] she had this tremendous pain…and every time she walked by the house of idol worshippers she had this tremendous pain…, then why didn’t Rivka stay home?”
You can listen to his answer at youtube.com/user/ezwickler?feature=mhum.