October 5, 2021
Rabbi Sholom Ciment
℅ Chabad of Boynton Beach
10655 El Clair Ranch Road
Boynton Beach, FL 33437
Dear Rabbi Ciment:
Thank you for a beautiful Simchas Torah that I was able to celebrate with my grandkids.
Your speeches were excellent over Yom Tov. If you have them written down or an outline, please email me.
Your Yizkor speech was about connecting generations. I saw a beautiful paragraph in a book titled, The Miracle of Intervale Avenue written by Professor Jack Kugelmass. The book was first published in 1986 and again in 1996 with an update. The book is about the last remaining Orthodox Shul in the South Bronx, the Intervale Jewish Center. Professor Jack Kugelmass was an anthropology graduate student and first entered the Shul in February 1980 thinking he would write a magazine article on the last remaining Jews in the South Bronx. He ended up spending over 5 years visiting the Shul on a regular basis and wrote a 250 page book about the Shul and its people.
Jack Kugelmass talks about why these elderly Jews stayed in the South Bronx and attended the Interval Jewish Center and talks about the expected. Towards the end of the book, Jack Kugelmass comes to realize something important about the Shul to its members and why they stayed in the South Bronx. He writes, “For congregants concerned about their legacy and needing the reassurance that they will be remembered, the Intervale Jewish Center has come to serve as a communal kaddish, guaranteeing to each member the recitation of the memorial prayers.” and “For some congregants yorsayt is a major reason for attending.”
Then Professor Jack Kugelmass sums this up with a powerful, powerful conclusion. He writes, “Ultimately, only the knowledge that one is part of something greater than familial bonds and obligations, something that reasserts the existence of a higher order of things, gives man the sense that death and life are linked, that they are both part of a divine plan, and that one gives meaning and purpose to the other. The communal rites of the shul provide that sense of order if only because they tie congregants to the world of their fathers and even, as I argued in an earlier chapter, to the world of their biblical forefathers.”
I have reread this paragraph numerous times and it is profound. Professor Jack Kugelmass was not Frum, yet he came to realize the ultimate purpose of a Shul, and what it should mean to its congregants. For most of my life I thought that Shul was just a place to daven and it really did not make a difference where I davened. I discovered that a Shul must be more than just a place to daven. It must connect the person to his past and to the Jewish people.
This is also what a Rabbi must do. He connects his congregants to something greater than their lives. In your case, it is the Rebbe, events, and Torah. I connected to Boca Raton Synagogue and never wanted to leave. Rabbi Lopatin at Anshei Sholom in Chicago connected his congregants to Rabbi Lopatin’s world. Through Rabbi Lopatin, I was able to experience an AIPAC convention, and a CUFI convention. When Rabbi Lopatin attended a Friday morning breakfast for the dedication weekend of the Holocaust Meusem in Skokie, that Shabbos in his Drasha, Rabbi Lopatin expressed his displeasure with the breakfast. I was part of Rabbi Lopatin’s world. His successor, Rabbi Wolkenfeld, connects me to beautiful Torah. Once he explained a Rashbam magnificently. His recent Shabbos Shuva Drasha was perfect. He discussed a question a congregant asked him, which Rabbi Wolkenfeld then asked Rabbi Tzvi Rimon. Rabbi Rimon wrote back discussing the basic laws of Shmitta, going through the Pesukim, then the Rishonim, the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, etc. Rabbi Wolkenfeld’s Drasha, was Rabbi Rimon’s answer. He connected his congregation to Rabbi Rimon, the Salsheles of Torah and made them part of it. I am watching Rabbi Kotlarski of Chabad of East Lakeview trying to establish a new congregation out of nothing and I am able to be part of it. When I take the one hour and forty-five minute trek to Lakeview, I first walk to Anshei Sholom to hear Rabbi Wolkenfeld’s speech, then I walk over to Chabad of East Lakeview . Additionally, I am able to give a Shiur at Rabbi Kotlarski’s Chabad house. While it is only a small group, my goal is to connect these people who never learned to the world of the Chumash and to the great Reshonim. To a Rashi, an Ibn Ezra, a Sferno, a Ramban so that they feel part of the Reshonim’s world, the Torah world. I hope to make them feel that they are present when Rashi wrote his commentary. I know this is arrogance on my part that I think that I am accomplishing this, but at least in my mind I am.
I loved attending Anshei Sholom that at times. I would drive there Friday, right before Shabbos, Daven for 30 minutes, and walk 5.5 miles back home. I needed the inspiration of Davening in that Shul. I was under tremendous pressure at work and I needed to feel a connection to Hashem. Other times going to Shul Friday night, before I could Daven I had to read Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Torah.
Mitchell A. Morgenstern