Organization Spotlight on… Shimon and Rubin Kolyakov
Organization Name and Position: TorahAnytime, Founders/Directors
Location: Kew Gardens Hills, Queens
Number of Employees: 13
Years in Business: 17
Can you please share a bit about your background?
We are Bucharian Jews from a country called Uzbekistan. I was two years old in 1979 when we emigrated to America because of anti-Semitism. My parents were traditional but not really observant. Of course, we knew we were Jewish and had much pride in our heritage, but because of communism in the former Soviet Union my parents had little Jewish education. At the public school where my brother and I attended there was a program called Queens JEP where rabbis pulled out the Jewish kids once a week so we could learn about Judaism. I joined the program when I was in third grade and enjoyed it very much. The rabbis convinced my parents to put me in a yeshivah, and I switched to Yeshiva Institute, a kiruv school that still exists today, for fourth through eighth grade. After I graduated elementary school, I attended Forest Hills Public High school, where there were many other Bucharian Jewish teens attending. This was during the 90s when there was a mass immigration of Bucharians, so there were a lot of kids from similar backgrounds who joined that high school as newcomers. I seemed to them like a cool American kid in my Air Jordans, and they treated me as a role model. Thanks to the kiruv school I had attended prior, I had somewhat of an awareness of Hashem, so I started doing kiruv work on them. My brother was the first person I was mekarev since he never went to yeshivah. When I was 22, I got about 15 teenagers whose parents worked on Shabbos who had an interest in observing Judaism, and we joined a youth minyan in a place called Beth Gavriel near Forest Hills High School. After Shabbos davening, we would come back to my house for a Shabbos meal. Although my friends and I were growing spiritually, it was difficult being religious at home since our parents had some resistance to our new lifestyle. Today, we can proudly say that our parents are frum, baruch Hashem.
How did TorahAnytime come about?
My brother Rubin and I began attending lectures. We knew we were listening to priceless information, so we brought a recorder to the shiurim to capture it all. People started asking us for copies, so we made CDs to give out. When I got married at 24, my parents gave me a camera as a gift, and I used it to record shiurim. We didn’t have a website at the time; I was just recording random shiurim and distributing them to whoever was interested.
I went from recording to making DVDs of the shiurim and giving them out to people who asked. It was all about kiruv. In 2006, the internet was booming and the idea to post these lectures came to us. We launched kolyakov.org in honor of our grandfather who passed away the previous year.
It was just a basic website, not professional looking at all. The first month we had 60 hits, then 100, and now we are a global organization with many departments and high quality shiurim. Today, we have over a million users.
Take us behind the scenes. What’s involved in the running of TorahAnytime?
For us this is beyond a full-time job. Our job is to manage all the departments, retain our presence, and to maintain relationships with the rabbis and organizations we deal with. My brother Rubin handles all the IT-related issues. There are many aspects to the running of this organization, and currently we have 13 fulltime employees. We have entire departments devoted to software development. We have one department devoted to recording lectures from all over the world. We also have employees and volunteers who travel to conventions and Shabbatons to record lectures or live stream them. This allows us to go beyond the Tri-State area and be present all over the world.
Take us through a typical day of yours?
Our day to day is about expansion of the organization and it consists of many meetings. We meet with organizations like Agudah, Chazaq, and Project Inspire to discuss upcoming events and shiurim. We also meet with web developers and review current projects, including new features that we add to our platform. We meet with the design team to discuss how we can improve the look and layout of the site. Marketing takes up much of our day as well. We take out ads in major publications and make sure the right ads are running each week.
How are you funded?
Since all our content is free, funding is one of our biggest challenges. We just recently hired our third software developer, and they are not cheap. We are always looking for those who are zoche to be our high level financial partners and to create a legacy for themselves. There are several income streams we utilize. We run campaigns throughout the year so users can donate.
How do you select shiurim?
We have over 1,100 speakers trying to get on. We are always looking for the next Rabbi Paysach Krohn. We need to make sure we transmit the right message to the audience. When a speaker is zoche to be on TorahAnytime, we consider them to be part of the TorahAnytime family; we promote them, and they promote us. After doing this for over 20 years, we know intrinsically what we are looking for, but we daven for siyata dishmaya in choosing the right voices. Before we include anyone, we consult with our board of Rabbanim, and everyone must align with our hashkafah.
Who is your most downloaded speaker?
The top three are Rabbi Avrum Mordche Malach, Rabbi Fischel Schachter, and Rabbi Daniel Glatstein.
Do you get feedback from listeners?
Around the clock. We get feedback by the thousands from little things to big things. We once had a person tell us they were about to end their life but after listening to one of your Daily Dose’s clips, they were able to get out of that dark abyss. The most popular feedback we get is how TorahAnytime made users replace Netflix, YouTube, and non- Jewish music with Torah shiurim. We also get feedback from people who are bedridden and rely on us to fill their day with meaning and much much more.
What’s the best part of what you do?
TorahAnytime gives our lives meaning and purpose. We love that we are having an impact on people’s lives, relationships, and future. People have told us that they cook with TorahAnytime, drive with TorahAnytime, sleep with TorahAnytime, and live with it. TorahAnytime propels people. They become better spouses and better parents, and better overall people, and this gives us much nachas and fuels us to continue.
What’s next for TorahAnytime?
Believe it or not, we feel this is just the beginning! We released a new TorahAnytime app six months ago. We recently released our DailyDose app, and we also are working on a Daily Dose book. We are also working on a ChessedAnytime platform where people could post if they are in need or can volunteer. We are also working on a platform called RebbeAnytime which will help elementary aged students with their Mishnayos and Gemara. We also are launching a platform called TorahAnyone, which will offer specialty lectures for unaffiliated Jews and beginners.
Any final message to our readers?
None of the credit goes to us; we are simply messengers of Hashem. Launching TorahAnytime is a team effort, and without our dedicated staff we would not be able to continue our work. We would like to give a very special shoutout to Yosef Davis, Meir Sommers, Moshe Sofer, Chezky Kauftheil, and all the incredible workers and volunteers.