(Note: I originally planned to publish this in last week’s edition but held off in part due to our paper’s seventh anniversary edition and in part because of the constant and late breaking news about the spread of the coronavirus and its growing impact on our community.)
What a weekend! This statement can apply to many weekends, of course, but for the purposes of this column, I am referring to two weekends ago (Feb. 28-March 1) and I felt this way after coming home from our shul’s dinner two Sunday nights ago, which came at the end of a program-packed weekend put together by our shul of nearly 20 years, Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Aaron.
As someone who goes to a good number of events and used to run dinners in my past professional life, I want to mention that our shul’s annual dinner is literally one of the shortest annual dinners I have ever attended. The program starts at 5 p.m. and ends by 7:30 p.m. And for the last few years, the dinner program has closed with a creative, interactive and fun Kahoot multiple choice answer game that all were able to participate in using their phones. It was a fun and special evening with deserving honorees: Mazal tov to David and Esther Schnaidman, our good friends David and Deena Fisher, and to Eli Kahn.
However, the dinner was merely the finale event in a packed weekend that was billed as the second annual “Celebrate Beth Aaron” weekend. I wrote in this space last year about the Friday night portion of last year’s event, for which our own Rabbi Larry Rothwachs wrote, directed, produced and acted out an original production entitled “Night at the Shul: If the Walls Could Talk.” Last year’s production was entertaining, with a subtle and serious message and of course, all of us in the shul were eager to see how the rabbi could improve upon last year’s production this year. Could he do it?
Well, he did it. I am not sure how but he topped last year’s production. Again, Rabbi Rothwachs wrote, produced, and directed a new production called “Shtark Tank,” which featured various members of the shul pitching humorous products and apps to the rabbi and the shul president. For me, two pitches really stood out. One was the MOLGA (Make Our Leining Great Again), a wearable device which proposed that all baalei kriah wear a “patented” electric device which could be used to send shocks to the baal korei to let him know when he made an error or was going too fast or for any reason whatsoever. The second pitch that the crowd enjoyed was the AI-enabled smartphone app which enabled the user to modify any dvar torah or speech by the rabbi
however the user wished. With the app installed properly, any shul listener could have the rabbi deliver a different ending if preferred, or could have the rabbi make the speech shorter or more emotional or more personal, whatever the user’s preferences. And for the punchline, all funding for the app from the shul’s budget would come out of the rabbi’s salary since the app was designed to make the rabbi perform better for each member and the rabbi’s salary was the obvious funding source. Of course, this got many laughs. All in all, the evening was a nice way for the shul to laugh and celebrate together at the beginning of the month of Adar. Kudos as well to our special rabbi, Rabbi Rothwachs. I simply don’t understand how he was able to find the time for this but he did...and yasher koach to him!
In addition to the Friday night Shtark Tank, the shul also held a special program on the history of Beth Aaron on Shabbat afternoon before mincha and ended Shabbat with a Grand Musical Havdala featuring Dov Katz on the keyboard and led again by Rabbi Rothwachs. The musical havdalah, with many of the shul’s children in attendance, was a beautiful and inspiring way to conclude Shabbat.
Overall, the weekend was a great way for a shul like Beth Aaron—and really any other shul anywhere—to raise and build up a sense of unity and shared community, which we, as individuals and as shul members, will always need and will likely need more than ever in the coming weeks. It makes sense on many levels, coronavirus notwithstanding, for any shul to look to run programs like the ones Beth Aaron did in coordination with the annual dinner and to help instill a stronger sense of shared shul pride and belonging. Kudos and yasher koach to Beth Aaron!
By Moshe Kinderlehrer, JLNJ Founder and Co-Publisher