In a sea of black hats and suits, Yonatan Gray stood out like a striped thumb.
As some 90,000 Jewish men gathered at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium on Wednesday to to celebrate the reading of the entire Talmud in an event called Siyum HaShas, images began to flit across social and Jewish media showing a young man adorned in the red and white hat and shirt and blue jeans of Waldo, the eponymous star of the popular “Where’s Waldo” children’s books.
The New Year’s Day event celebrated the completion of the reading of the 2,711-page Babylonian Talmud, a process that takes 7 1/2 years. Similar events were held in major cities around the globe, such as Mexico City, while others are scheduled in the coming weeks.
“So I remembered from the last one that all the pics looked very black and white,” Gray told The Times of Israel. “So [I] just thought it would make a good picture and bring some humor to what was an amazing event to be at. The siyum was such an amazing event. To see 90,000-plus Jews from all walks of life together was super inspiring. I thought I would throw in a moment of humor.”
Gray said that he “was a little worried about the response” but that, in the end, it had “been overwhelmingly positive.”
Orthodox social media users were quick to weigh in on the costume, most of them expressing positive sentiments.
“Waldo learns Daf Yomi. So can you,” one wag tweeted.
“The dude in the Waldo costume at the Siyum Hashas won the internet for the next 2,711 days,” quipped another.
“Why did Waldo go to MetLife stadium today?” asked a third. “He wanted everyone to siyum.”
Found him pic.twitter.com/55aAY8uKc1
— A.Y. (@aimhumor) January 1, 2020
Others were less appreciative of the humor, however.
“My wife thought that it was ridiculous that of all the great moments of the Siyum Hashas the one that got the most attention was Where’s Waldo,” one critic lamented.
“It was kind of surreal to see someone dressed as Waldo (Wally where I’m from) at the Siyum HaShas — but perhaps even more surreal to recognize Waldo as someone you were in yeshiva with,” Daniel Sugarman, a former journalist who now works for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told The Times of Israel.
A guy I went to yeshiva with turned up to yesterday’s Siyum Hashas at the MetLife stadium (80,000+ Jews, almost all Orthodox, celebrating the completion of the 7.5 year double-page-a-day cycle of the Talmud) wearing a Where’s Wally/Waldo costume. pic.twitter.com/GEoa6dbspG
— Daniel Sugarman (@Daniel_Sugarman) January 2, 2020
“He never wore that costume to afternoon seder in the beis hamedrash — that much I can tell you,” he said, referring to the afternoon Talmud study session held in the study hall of most yeshivas. “I believe he was originally wearing slightly more regular attire at the siyum, before changing into the Waldo costume. Thankfully Waldo also wears a yarmulke!”
Gray apparently has a penchant for mixing interesting costumes with Judaic practice. A photo on his Facebook profile shows him holding a lulav and etrog (a date palm front and a citrus that are ritually waved on the Sukkot holiday) while wearing a cow costume.
“The cow has been my thing for a while,” Gray explained. “It started on Purim about 9 years ago and since then has been worn at a lot of weddings/events. Has been worn while volunteering for Kids Of Courage, an organization for sick kids. [I] have brought it along on a few trips [to places like] Utah, Iceland and Peru.”
Wednesday’s event wasn’t the first time that Waldo (or at least someone dressed like him) has shown up at a major Jewish event. In 2011, comedian Ari Teman showed up at the Kinus Hashluchim -a gathering of thousands of Chabad emissaries from around the world held every year in Brooklyn- in similar garb.
“Having seen 4,000 people dressed the same, I thought it’d be great to let people at the place and on the livestream play ‘Where’s Waldo?’ or ‘Where’s Wally?’ as they apparently say in Australia,” Teman told website COLlive at the time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.