I am in the middle (or more correctly, closer to the end) of this year’s winter trip to the States. Thank G-d, my daughter Chani somehow managed to have all of the places I visited so far be in areas in which December means chilly at most and warm and balmy at best. This is a sharp contrast to other times, when I visited Ottowa and Chicago…. People always ask me how I handle the trips which often involve almost daily travelling. The truth is that I enjoy it. I like meeting new people, who by definition are the kind who want grow and move forward, otherwise why would they be bringing in a teacher to talk to them? I like the quiet on the plane, when I can stay with my own thoughts. I like seeing new places. In fact, the only thing I don’t like is standing in the security line. I can also live without a lively discussion as to whether the Greek yogurt is liquid and therefore a potential security risk…
So, I will write you a brief travelogue of the places and people that I have been to so far. My first stop was Brooklyn. I always try (with limited success thus far) to like the place of my birth. I love the people, but the pace and the place hold no charm. An exception is the learning groups that Ivy Kalazan leads. Some of you may remember her from pre-history when she was at Neve as a madrichah. She is one of the most humble people I have ever met, yet she somehow manages to touch hundreds of women’s lives through the learning groups that she organizes. She genuinely likes the women, and believes in them.
After that, it was off to the Amein group n Lawrence. The woman who took me, Eileen, who spent hours with me just because she is a friend of a friend, introduced me to a new (to me) American phenomena. There are stores where you can buy ready to eat genuinely kosher meals prepacked and ready to go. They range from Very Healthy (cabbage salad and tofu) to Sushi. The Amein group is an amazing thing to behold. It started in response to a community tragedy, the petirah of a young girl. During the time of her final illness, her mother encouraged her fiends to get together in the morning to hear each other say birchas hashachar (the early morning brachot) and say Amein. The word Amein is an acronym for Kel Melech Ne’eman G-d is a faithful king. This affirmation has profound impact on how you think and what you are if you let it penetrate. If you don’t, just saying it is still an affirmation of everything that is real and important. They meet daily, before work, before getting on with their day’s plans. On Rosh Chodesh they also have afternoon Torah study and that is when I come. The variety of women is enormous; every age is there, and the range of their religious “style” very broad. It is all orchestrated by Rebbitzen Fuchs who may not be a Yekke by birth, but certainly has orderliness and punctuality mark the events. From there, I headed to Monsey to get together with my son and his family. They are so delightful. Of course, I am completely objective in viewing them as charming and in all ways just wonderful. The day ended with going to Teaneck to Beth Avraham. The shul is the venue of one of the most charming, informal and genuinely interested learning groups. Betty Jacobson has been organizing this for years.
The next day I had the pleasure of a long drive with my grandson to Philly (he was going to Lakewood which is relatively near). Besides his company, I got to hear the kind of music young people listen to. Yes! They still also like good music, not the kind of stuff that passes for Jewish music after a brief and unsuccessful conversion…….Philly is the home of Malkie Schwartz, the queen of Bikur Cholim. She organized it, goes daily, and loves the kids she encounters in the famous children’s hospital. Whenever I come, she takes me with her on her rounds. This time I met a six year old who had just miraculously come out of a coma! Watching him and his mom interact was one of the most beautiful things I ever saw. This was of course incidental to the “real” reason for my being in the City of brotherly love, which was teaching in new places which is always a pleasure.
When I was a child, Miami was the place where the over seventy set spent their winters. They sent postcards that featured pictures of enormous beachfront hotels, unbelievably crowded shores, and stately palm trees. I always felt immensely grateful that (unlike my cousin Barbara who had to visit her grandmother) that I didn’t have to be there. It seemed like the ultimate near-death experience. Things have changed. North Miami Beach has vitality, young people who are spiritually ambitious and a real Bais Yaakov. My adventure in cognitive dissonance was completed when I met the principal; Rabbi Leizerson who is the embodiment of Chaim Berlin’s very specific aura miles from Flatbush...Bocca Raton was even more startling. Rabbi Moskowitz’s shul has no fewer than nine minyanim I am told, ranging from netz (Yes! In Florida) to Sefaradi to various other time spots. The community is huge, and so is their range of religiosity. The atmosphere is one of Derech Eretz and tolerance, but not one of watered-down or compromised practice.
So much for now. Part two, next week, BEH.
I realize that this letter is too full of “I”, and “I” apologize….If you want to be in touch, call 732 543 6140