11 Tishre 5768
September 23, 2007
Dear Friends and Family,
It’s a beautiful evening and our windows are open to a sweet sounding symphony. We broke our Yom Kippur fast just two hours ago and already, we hear the sound of sukkah building: the clang of nails and bang of wood amid singing men, recently fed; and playing children, relieved of being so quiet all day--reverberating through the streets of the Rova tonight.
Yom Kippur began and ended early here, because the clocks were set back just after Rosh Hashanah to make the fast a little easier. And, since we “davened neitz,” the earliest time for prayer in which Shemona Esrei begins exactly at sunrise, we were leaving for shul this morning at 4:15, about the same time our friends in the States were arriving home after Kol Nidre!
For both Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah we prayed at Birchas HaTorah, a yeshiva here in the Old City. David saw his first Gemara there, and over the last 14 years we have developed a relationship with the kehilla, community. But it is not Beth Jacob. No Rabbi Deutsch’s sweet Shacharis, nor Rabbi Silverman’s soul stirring shofar. We missed Rabbi Yaakov Cohen, our sincere advocate, and his familiar tunes that uplift our davening and unite us in melody. And our yommim tovvim were incomplete without Rabbi Feldman, who knows his congregation so well and what we all can be; who provokes us and inspires us to “martyrdom moments,” to cross the line over who we were in order to be who Hashem designed us to be. Yes, we really missed all of that, and we really missed all of you.
But, Yeshivas Birchas HaTorah was not without its ability to move us. Rabbi Shimon Green’s focused talks, not really sermons, slice though fluff and push his talmidim, students, toward change. Each shmuz moved me deeper in prayer. Yesterday, just before Neila, the Rosh HaYeshiva said in order to move forward, we have to be willing to die. The axiom, “A coward dies a thousand deaths, and a hero but one,” Rabbi Green said, is backwards. A coward never lets go of who he is, as the Rabbi clung to his shtender and rattled and shook it as one who refuses to release a hold on something wrenching itself away. A coward will always cling to the old ways. A hero, he said, dies a thousand deaths in life; he wills the old self into oblivion, and is born to a new imperative each time. Our Neila, we said goodbye to the old self, and now anticipate, as new creations, whatever imperative the Almighty has in store.
Birchas HaTorah also gave us something familiar. Ron Wittenstein, of Huntsville, Atlanta and Har Nof leined the Torah so lucidly; every letter a precious diamond to him. Rabbi Green’s voice is familiar through his CD’s that have played a hundred times in our home, making his Musaf very personal. And Rabbi Shalom Gold blew the shofar, his imposing figure housing an angel’s heart which, I am sure, pierced the heavens and conspired to awaken the innermost crevices of our neshmos.
Rosh Hashanah morning also began at neitz. After services on the second day, we were treated to Kiddush (at 11 AM!) and a most rare occurrence; Rabbi Gold’s grandson’s bris. The unusual part is that Rabbi Gold was the mohel for both his son and now, his grandson. The Rabbi said he was more nervous for this baby than his own, but it went perfectly and he was deeply honored that Rabbi Nebenzahl, Rav of the Old City and his Rosh Yeshiva, Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Goldstein, were in attendance among other Old City dignitaries. After the Kiddush where his Rebbetzin served well over 100 people, we went to their home for a seudas mitzvah where she served another 30-plus! The Golds radiated happiness and gratitude to the King of the World on this Rosh Hashanah, the day of the creation of man and the bris of their precious grandson in the holiest city; their simcha reflected in all of us who merited to be present with them on that day.
Rabbi Gold is Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbi Akiva (http://www.rabbiakiva.com/). David is learning most days there, he says it is perfect place for him. It is for the “mature and motivated.” Now, that can mean many things. In this case, “mature” means an average age hovering around 63 and “motivated” means each talmid takes only one catnap per session! Most men are there and learning because of the miracle of modern medicine. David is one of the few who does not have a heart stent. Bli ayin hara, may he continue to hold that position. It is truly a wonderful place for those who only began learning well into life. They have just begun a Daf HaYomi shiur, one page a day for 7 years until the entire Talmud is learned in overview. And, since they were recently profiled in Mishpacha magazine, the yeshiva usually has a minyan for Mincha. Mature, motivated and growing. If you fit the profile, you are invited to join them!
Sukkos is coming and we are inviting guests from the new friends we are gradually getting to know here. We met several lovely couples through the yeshivas and some are neighbors. Although we miss our community in Toco Hills, especially on the holidays, I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to be in our new neighborhood, especially on the holidays! Never a day goes by that I do not turn a corner and see something that simply takes my breath away. Never a day goes by that we do not thank the One who invited us here to witness the great events He has in store.
Come home soon,
Love, Renee and David