April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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Shaare Tefillah Holds Annual Dinner

(Courtesy of Congregation Shaare Tefillah) While planning a shul dinner has its challenges every year, the war in Israel and all of its fears and unknowns presented an extra challenge. The shul struggled with the best way to celebrate its community at this time and how to ensure that the dinner was also a moment to engage with Am Israel.

R’ Haskel Lookstein, in his thesis for his dissertation about the attitudes of American Jewry during WWII, discussed the status, conversations and reality of American Jewry in the years during WWII as their European brethren were being led to the gas chambers. In his research, he gathered multiple agenda lists of synagogue board meetings from across the country. Far too often, the agendas consisted of items such as “change curtains in the main sanctuary” or “plan synagogue gala” in the same years that Jews were dying by the hundreds of thousands across the oceans. He focuses on the questions of “Where were American Jews?” “What were they focusing on and advocating for, concerned about, as the Holocaust was playing out?” and “Did we truly take our responsibility as free Jews seriously, doing everything we could?” Or were we “business as usual?”

Shaare Tefillah also struggled with the balance between celebrating and honoring the community, while recognizing our brothers in Israel who are marching out to the Gaza and Lebanon fronts to defend, and die for, our country.

With family members living in Israel, fighting in the army, and information about the war always accessible, everyone feels a closeness and awareness that is impossible to ignore. The goal became including Israel in the dinner and everyone’s thoughts while still celebrating the shul in a meaningful way. Many people planning simchas at this time are likely having similar conversations and struggles.

The evening began with tefillot for Eretz Yisrael, the chayalim and for the hostages, led by Rabbi Schiowtiz and Rav Ronen. Attendees had the privilege to hear a beautiful and emotional rendition of the Tefillah L’tzahal led by the shul’s own Cantor Mayer Davis (the father of one of the honorees, Dani Davis), accompanied by electric violin.

In one of the multiple “help Israel” WhatsApp groups, someone posted an opportunity to “adopt a shul.” Together they brainstormed ideas of how to connect with a small shul in Tamar, Efrat called Achdut Yisrael. For Chanukah they made friendship bracelets for the children in their shul and sent them with representatives on Shaare Tefillah’s mission to Israel. On Jan 4, two days before the shul dinner, the women of Achdut Yisrael had their own “dinner” and made glass mosaic mezuzah cases sponsored by Shaare Tefilah (babysitting included!).

Rachel Leshaw, a woman at the dinner shared, “It was an amazing opportunity to get out of the house and just enjoy each other’s company without worrying about everything going on right now.”

Additionally, Israeli artist Nicole Friedman’s beautiful artwork was given as a gift to the Shaare Tefillah honorees. Find her work at @nicolefriedmanstudio.

The raffle at the shul dinner is an extra bonus fundraiser for the shul. This year, dinner attendees had the opportunity to sponsor a cup of coffee for a chayal at a coffee shop in Efrat called Siftach by adding $3 to the cost of the raffle tickets. Attendees at the dinner eagerly contributed, and over $400 was sent to Siftach for chayalim to enjoy a cup of coffee.

By the end of the evening, the members of Shaare Tefillah felt a meaningful and intentional combination of recognizing and supporting our brothers in Israel during these difficult times, and the simultaneous desire to express their gratitude for, and to celebrate, all that the shul community is and has done, during these challenging times.

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