Miriam and I just returned from a trip to New York for a family wedding. (check out travel blog #1)
On Friday night we davened at the shul where Miriam group up. Tifferet Yisroel in Baltimore. The Rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, is a magnetic leader who attracts Jews of all backgrounds through his sensitive and insightful Torah and his beautiful music. For Licha Dodi we sang one of Rabbi Goldberger's original tunes that has become quite popular around the world. The davening included beautiful singing and dancing as we celebrated the welcoming of Shabbat.
Shabbat morning I woke up early to walk to daven at a shul about 20 minutes from where I was staying. I wanted to daven at Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim where my fellow YU graduate Rabbi Shmuel Silber is the Rabbi. On the way, I passed at least half a dozen other shuls and the streets of Baltimore were teeming with people going to daven at the variety of choices that the Jewish community there has to offer.
I went early to Suburban to hear Rabbi Silber's class on the parshah. A few hundred people come to daven there on Shabbat and during davening Rabbi Silber comes around and welcomes everyone with a hug and a warm "good shabbos!" I was really impressed with the warm welcoming feeling of the congregation. At least ten people recognized that I was a guest and came over to introduce themselves.
When I returned home after shul I went to visit Miriam's neighbors and oldest friends who had just celebrated their sons bar mitzvah. They hosted a private service in their backyard and invited family and friends from the neighborhood. The bar mitzvah boy read the Torah like an expert. The backyard was decorated beautifully and the food was delicious.
The father of the bar mitzvah boy is Miriam's father's old friend Simcha who started an organization called Call of the Shofar. I had the privilege of attending one of the workshops last year and I would recommend it to any Jewish man who is interested in that genre of program.
On Shabbat afternoon, I took my kids to visit their cousins who live near Miriam's parents. Last year they tragically lost their father, my cousin Mark. When I came in my cousin said, "I have to show you something!" She went into her room and came out with Mark's old Betar uniform! She read that we had started a Betar chapter in Omaha. Mark was a very active member of Betar and Betar had inspired his strong love of Israel and activism.
In the afternoon I went shul hopping. I attended a lecture by Rabbi Dovid Katz, the rabbi of Congregation Beth Abraham Hertzberg's. Rabbi Katz is a noted Jewish historian who teaches at Johns Hopkins and U of Maryland. He spoke about some of the history of Chanukah and what made Chanukah more special than other Jewish victories over the centuries that made it a holiday.
After the lecture I davened minchah at Beth Abraham and then went to the Agudah shul to see if I could hear Rabbi Moshe Heinemann speak. rabbi Heinemann is considered one of the leading Rabbis in America. Unfortunately I when I got there he was not speaking. So I went back to Rabbi Goldberger's shul for a beautiful shalosh seudot and maariv.
After shabbat we lit the first chanukah candle with Miriam's family, piled into the car, and drove 4 hours to my parents in New Jersey.
Sunday morning I davened at Bnei Yeshurun, the shul in Teaneck where I grew up.
My sisters from Florida flew in with my niece and nephews for the wedding of our cousin. The bride is the daughter of my uncle Mark Honigsfeld, famous for having the idea to sell Chametz to Warren Buffett.
The wedding was a true simcha. The bride and groom looked so happy. He is currently studying for Semichah at Yeshiva University and all of his friends came to the wedding and danced and sang harder than any wedding I have ever seen! It was almost dangerous for an old guy like me to get into the circle. Fortunately we formed a separate dancing circle for 21 an older. The band at the wedding was lead by Eitan Katz, possibly the best contemporary Jewish musician in the world today! I happen to be a huge fan, I have all of his CDs and listen to them all the time. He was fantastic. It was so nice to celebrate a family simcha. I had a chance to see my grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and hundreds of cousins. I hope we all have a chance to celebrate more happy occasions together soon.
My cousins is from Long Island and their neighborhood was devastated by Super storm Sandy. The wedding hall had made a complete recovery just in time for this wedding! At the wedding I saw another Long Island cousin, Rabbi Heshie Billet. I asked him how his community has been coping in the aftermath of the storm. He told me that families have lost an average of $200,000. Six hundred families, including him, have been moved from their homes and have still been unable to return. Aid organizations have been giving away thousands of dollars to individuals, but the damage was so devastating that it is hardly making a dent. He continues to have an optimistic spirit and thanks God all the time that nobody was hurt.
Overall it was a great trip, and as always it feels great to be home!