It is always sad when a community must wish farewell to one of its own. It is, however, a joyous occasion when a family takes the opportunity to make aliyah and enjoy a life in Eretz Yisrael. So it is very bittersweet that we bid a fond farewell to a longstanding, beloved and integral part of our Anshe Chesed family as they move on to the next chapter in their lives in Eretz Yisrael.
Tzetchem l’shalom, Chazan Shimon and Diane Vogel.
The Vogels, with their two young daughters in tow, arrived in Linden in 1983 when Shimon started his contract as the Chazan of Anshe Chesed, then one of several Modern Orthodox shuls in town. So quick was the move that they didn’t even have furniture when they first moved in and, during their first weeks, camped out in their home while the arrangements for deliveries of furniture were made. Thus began Shimon’s 38-year career as the chazan and pillar of the community as he and his wife Diane settled here and raised their family. This makes him the second-longest-standing clergyman in the Linden Jewish community’s history (behind only the 51 years of Rabbi Baicofsky who was Anshe Chesed’s first full-time rabbi and chazan).
Over their 38 years in Linden, not only did the Vogels raise four beautiful children in Torah and gemilut chasadim, but Chazan Vogel trained a generation (literally) to lein for their bar mitzvah and daven for the amud. He has led thousands of Shabbat and Yom Tov tefillot, and led the tefillot of the Yamim Noraim with all the depth and gravitas that one could hope for. I have personally held the Torah for Kol Nidrei for the past seven years and will dearly miss standing beside him for this tefillah. When he started, Chazan Vogel was the chazan of one of the numerous shuls in Linden, New Jersey, but as the fourth and fifth generations of the various Linden congregations left for college and other life changes, they made new homes in new cities. He then became the chazan of the one remaining stronghold of Judaism in Linden, Anshe Chesed. He participated in meetings with organizations like the OU as the Anshe Chesed community sought to begin a bold new program of revitalization. The community began a successful financial incentive program to bring in new younger families, which we have restarted post pandemic. He has also witnessed several renovations of our old beit midrash and has now had the opportunity to daven and lein in our beautiful new Robert H Weitzman Beit Midrash.
The chazan has been more than just a leader of our religious affairs. He and his wife, Diane, have been a source of learning, friendship, camaraderie and a wealth of knowledge and history. Shimon has been one of the only people around who could keep up with the Chumash teachers of the community in a conversation about dikduk and proper Hebrew pronunciation—but what do you expect from a skilled chazan. He and Diane have been exemplary role models, showing and inspiring outstanding middot for the entire congregation and generations both old and new.
Shabbat Parshat Balak seemed the perfect opportunity to celebrate the Vogels’ tenure and impending departure. Perhaps this is because of the Ma Tovu that appears in the parsha and its relation to the middot the Vogels have modeled for the rest of us. Mostly it is because that is when the government of Israel, at long last, gave them the go-ahead for their aliyah and scheduled their departure date. There was much discussion on how to honor and send off such a longstanding, beloved and integral part of our family. We have plaques hanging in the building honoring our longstanding rabbis; perhaps we should hang one such plaque for the chazan? Could we name something in our beautiful new Robert H Weitzman Beit Midrash after him? Could we give them a gift? Certainly a kiddush in their honor. There were many wonderful suggestions and in the end we went with all of them. There was a lavish shul luncheon sponsored by all the members and friends of the community where the chazan was presented with a plaque in his honor that will hang in our building commemorating his years of service. The plaque includes an engraving of his smiling face and an inscription. The plaque is a symbol of our communal hakarat hatov and, while in his honor, is for us to display in our beit knesset. The questions of a gift and naming something in our beautiful new beit midrash in his honor were solved with a single suggestion from a member of our shul’s youth. Following the suggestion, two identical Jerusalem stone mezuzot were ordered. One as a gift for the Vogels to adorn the doorpost of their new home in Eretz Yisrael, and the other to be affixed to the doorpost of the new beit midrash, in the chazan’s honor. No matter how far apart we may be, we will always be connected as family and in our fulfilment of the mitzvah of mezuzah with these identical mezuzot.
There was not a dry eye in the house when we surprised the Vogels with the kiddush and gifts in their honor. We listened to emotional heartfelt words from our rabbi, president and members, and enjoyed listening to a poem composed by the Vogels’ children. After a few pictures, taken on Motzei Shabbat, and with their impending move coming ever closer, we continue to express our deep sadness at their departure, happiness to see them at last fulfill their lifelong goal of aliyah, and extreme gratitude for everything they have done for the community and given us individually. There is nothing left to say except, perhaps, tzetchem l’shalom, Chazan Shimon and Diane Vogel.
By Eytan Yadlovker