05 January 2010


Yesterday a congregant popped his head in my study to make a lunch date and shared with me a wonderful experience he had saying Kaddish for his dad on his father's second yahrzeit, which fell on Sunday. We were closed for the holiday weekend and don't ordinarily have a daily minyan and he described the experience of stepping into an orthodox shul in the neighborhood where he was welcomed and though there were not ten men available, in 20 minutes time several phone calls were made and 13 people showed up to make it possible for our congregant (and one another mourner) to say Kaddish.

"I also wrapped tefilin for the first time in my life," he said. "It's something I had only seen from a distance at Camp Ramah as a kid." He laughed. "It was really cool."

We caught up, picked a date for lunch, and as he was leaving he said, "Now, I want to make a contribution to the shul. How do I do that? Do I just write the check and say it's in my dad's honor?" And we had an impromptu conversation about the mitzvah of giving tzedakah to honor the dead and I began to wonder how many others out there vaguely know of this custom but because of unfamiliarity or a small amount of reticence, hold themselves back from "jumping in" and doing it? Quite a few, I'd gather.

So from a practical perspective, it sounds like a quick but worthy project to take on and write up for our next Bulletin. I think there is an important lesson here that we ought not to miss.

Back to the idea of the minyan.

Later that day, I saw a friend's name pop up on G-Chat and so checked into see what was what with her grandfather who was dying. She told me, yes, he had died, and she had shared her eulogy, sat shiva at home, and came back to New York to the lonely encounter of finishing her mourning here. Does Beth Elohim have a daily minyan? she asked. And with a heavy heart I said, "No." I really want one day to be able to say "Yes." Not yet.

Among the liberal shuls of Brownstone Brooklyn, we sort of have the week covered with a minyan most mornings but the lack of consistency does speak to the general attitude of ambivalence toward prayer which exists among us. Crunch, on the other hand, and a number of yoga studios, get pretty crowded between 6-9 am most mornings. So it does paint a picture of where our priorities lie. Which is not meant as a judgment--I enjoy my exercise as much as anyone else. But sometimes I really worry about the atrophied muscle of Jewish prayer. And what it might take to bring it back.

I circle back to two things related to this post, namely, Jewish literacy and Jewish presence--the lack of which contributes mightily to said atrophic condition.

The more we know, the more we do, the more we do and the more we know.

While sitting with two bar mitzvah students yesterday, I opened a letter from a the mother of a couple I recently married. Neither the mother nor the couple are members of our shul but the mother offered words of kindness and a contribution to my rabbi's fund, which I use to give tzedakah in the community. Two curious seventh graders were then held hostage to my impromptu lesson from the early Sages: "The reward for the performance of a mitzvah is the performance of another mitzvah."

The joy of marrying a couple was rewarded with the obligation to use my fund to help those in need.

They survived the pedagogic moment. A small price to pay to the fight for a literate Jewish future.

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