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Connecting to Community Locally and Globally

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May 2, 2021

As we are poised to celebrate Shavuot, it is poignant to note how different this yom tov will be from our experience of a year ago. Last year our shul, the Green Road Synagogue in Beachwood, Ohio, did not meet in person and our learning was in the privacy of our own homes with our families. There were numerous divrei Torah and shiurim sent out in advance, often culled from previous issues of Torah To Go, which helped unify the kehilla; but ultimately, the learning was experienced individually. 

This year, we are davening in multiple minyanim over the chag, and there will be live shiurim both on the first night of yom tov and during the days. In short, we will be able to feel, more fully, what it means to truly be a community as we collectively engage in those activities that define not only our shul, but all of Am Yisrael. 

It has been quite a journey to get to this point, and I am proud of both how far we have come and of our connection to the larger Yeshiva University world that has supported us in this process. From the outset, the painful decision to curtail all live activities in shul was guided by the psakim of our Roshei Yeshiva, Rav Schachter and Rav Willig, and it was on their broad shoulders that I relied when directing my congregation on how to prepare for that initial Pesach and beyond. At the same time, the fact that so many of my chaverim — colleagues in the field — were going through the same experiences was empowering. The discussions we had via WhatsApp were both a source of chizuk and an excellent vehicle for disseminating the latest piskei halacha of Rabbis Schachter and Willig. I was never prouder to be part of a unified Modern Orthodoxy passionately committed to Torah and mitzvot and to the safety and health of the klal (in truth a mitzva in its own right).

Our shul quickly adapted that position as our guiding light, continuing as a source of tefilla, limud Torah, and chesed, never at the expense of the community’s well-being. Each step we took was inspiring and inspirational. When we initially had just “outside” minyanim for Mincha/Maariv (meaning they met on the side of the shul), one at Plag and the second at the regular zman, seeing people’s thirst to join minyanim was incredible. We had more attendees than our normal crowd, despite the requirement to sign up in advance, wear masks, use hand sanitizer, answer the health gabbai’s questions and be physically distant.

Gradually, we were able to combine minyanim back in the sanctuary with some outside, and I was amazed by how many people attended the four minyanim that we had over Yomim Noraim — two in the building and two under tents in various locations. While our hakafot were radically different, they were powerful; just having everyone together, even if only person held a sefer Torah and the singing was muted, was deeply meaningful. When we brought all the children to a large parking lot on Simchat Torah afternoon to sing and receive candy it was rejuvenating, reminding us how vibrant our kehilla really is. 

Once again, while I took responsibility for the decisions made for my kehilla, the knowledge that so many of my chaverim were making similar choices based on the halachic rulings of our shared rebbeim was a tremendous source of comfort. This was a different form of Klal Yisroel uniting, but it was no less emboldening. 

Over time, always with the astute guidance of our medical team, our shul resumed more of our normal activities. The health guidelines remain in place, and there is now a balance between virtual and live classes — by way of example, for several months my “Shabbat afternoon” Gemara class met each Saturday night over Zoom — but the vitality of our kehilla is once again felt daily within our walls. Our new Beit Midrash is filled with the sound of Torah and perhaps my favorite time of the week occurs after Mincha each Shabbat. We no longer serve food for Seudat Shlishit (that does not align with our Kiddush-To-Go format), but there are two opportunities to learn each week. People can either join me for our spirited analysis of the parsha or they can go to the Beit Midrash to learn on their own. While I enjoy my group, I am excited that the combined number of parents learning with children and students learning with their rabbeim far exceeds my attendees. Despite the pandemic, our shul, and Am Yisrael as a whole, remain firmly committed to transmitting the mesorah to the next generation. 

As we are about to embrace zman Matan Torateinu, I want to share a beautiful thought of my late grandfather, Rav Pinchas Teitz zt’l, which highlights the importance of our shuls and day schools/yeshivot. When it came time for Yaakov and his family to go down to Egypt, the Torah tells us that he sent Yehuda to the land of Goshen before the rest of the family would join him. Rashi explains that the reason for this trip was so that Yehuda would establish a yeshiva before they arrived. 

While this is a beautiful sentiment, it is quite puzzling. Yosef had just proven to his father that despite his extended time in Egypt he remained the same Yosef, committed to the family’s ways. Moreover, Yosef had done such a wonderful job educating his two sons that Yaakov himself compares them to Reuven and Shimon and elevates them to the status of shvatim. Why then was it critical that a yeshiva be started before their arrival in Egypt?

My grandfather explained that Yosef was a unique personality, and indeed, in each generation there are special individuals who can raise children who are Yarei Shamyim without the benefit of a yeshiva education. However, as a community, we cannot survive spiritually without providing a source of chinuch for all, without providing shuls that will compliment that education and nurture the neshamot of the young and old alike. 

Our experience during the COVID-19 crisis has reinforced my belief in the wisdom of my grandfather’s poignant words. Our shuls and schools have been the lifeblood of our communities and they have been strengthened by their connection to the larger world of Yeshiva University’s leaders and graduates. May we all continue this noble work. 


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