Eliezer Gross, teen minyan leader at Keter Torah, and Rabbi Jonathan Schachter, teen minyan leader at Bnai Yeshurun, have a special influence guiding their role. They both grew up in Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun and attended Rabbi Dovid Kaminetsky’s teen minyan. As teen minyan leaders themselves, “much of what we do is shaped by how Rabbi Kaminetsky led his minyan, and how he taught us,” said Gross.
Rabbi Schachter concurred and said he often asks himself, “What would Rabbi Kaminetsky do? How would he handle this situation?” and uses that guidance to help him through the process. Rabbi Schachter and Gross have been looking for ways to combine youth tefillah events for some time now, and as the yahrzeit approaches, they both knew that this opportunity would be a unique unifier.
Rabbi Kaminetsky stepped into the role of teen minyan leader at Bnai Yeshurun and led the teen minyan for over 20 years. As a mechanech and principal in respected yeshivot, he brought a strong level of dedication to anything he set out to do, and transformed the teen minyan into the meaningful experience of today. “He certainly took the youth minyan to new levels,” said his son Shimmie Kaminetsky of Boca Raton, Florida. “It had great success under his leadership and became a model for a youth minyan that many other communities seek to emulate.”
As his first yahrzeit nears, Rabbi Schachter and Gross knew they wanted to find a way not only to mark the day, but to do something collectively that serves as a tribute to the mark he left on so many lives. Rabbi Schachter, explained, “Many people think that a teen minyan is not a real minyan. But that was certainly not the way Rabbi Kaminetsky viewed it,” said Rabbi Schachter. “He was able to run the minyan in such a way where we learned to become baalei tefillah and baalei kri’ah, but the tefillah still took on the dignity and seriousness of a real tefillah.”
Together with Rabbi Avi Heller, New Jersey and Rockland County regional director for synagogues at the OU, Gross and Rabbi Schachter reached out to other shuls in the Teaneck and Bergenfield community, inviting them to join this meaningful event. In planning a community-wide minyan in his memory, both leaders felt it was important that the type of minyan they run reflect who Rabbi Kaminetsky was and the lessons he instilled in his talmidim. “Using the community setting to improve the tefillah experience for both boys and girls creates a healthy opportunity for teens to express themselves through tefillah,” said Rabbi Heller. “A makom tefillah that is focused on uniting communities is a fitting way to honor Rabbi Kaminetsky’s memory.” On Shabbat, Parshat Bechukotai, June 1, a community-wide teen minyan will be hosted by Bnai Yeshurun, a fitting location since it was where Rabbi Kaminetsky ran his minyan, with teen minyanim from participating shuls, Rinat Yisrael, Keter Torah, Beth Abraham, Beth Aaron and Ohr HaTorah joining. Davening at Bnai Yeshurun will be led by two Rabbi Kaminetskys, Rabbi Yisroel Kaminetsky and Mr. Daniel Kaminetsky. A parallel minyan at Young Israel of Teaneck will be held that week, too.
It was also important to Gross, Rabbi Schachter and Rabbi Heller that this event include a learning component. “A boy’s bar mitzvah parsha was so important to Rabbi Kaminetsky,” said Rabbi Schachter. “Not just in the way he walked all around Teaneck to hear his students lein their parsha, but by remembering each boy’s specific parsha and encouraging them to continue to lein that parsha each year.” “Rabbi Kaminetsky knew every boy’s bar mitzvah parsha, and years later would continue to associate them with that parsha,” said Gross. “I try to use that model in my own role running the teen minyan, and ask the boys to take ownership of their leining.” To learn in memory of Rabbi Kaminetsky, there is a sign-up to learn a parsha with Rashi. “Choosing to learn their bar mitzvah parsha with Rashi is another way a teen can have a strong connection,” said Schachter. Of course, all teens, boys and girls, are encouraged to participate in the study of Chumash with Rashi. Adults who attended Rabbi Kaminetsky’s teen minyan and want to participate in the learning are encouraged to sign up as well (siyum sign-up). Following davening there will be a siyum on Chamisha Chumshei Torah followed by a kiddush.
In an effort to promote achdut and unity, the leining will be split between teens from the various shuls, with Rabbi Kaminetsky’s son, Rabbi Yisroel Kaminetsky, giving the drasha. His wife, Mrs. Sury Kaminetsky, his daughter Mrs. Lisa Zakutinsky and his son Mr. Daniel Kaminetsky will also join the minyan that Shabbat. Daniel Kaminetsky and Rabbi Yisroel Kaminetsky will lead davening. “Many rabbanim in different communities today got their start in Bnai Yeshurun’s youth minyan,” said Mrs. Sury Kaminetsky. Since my husband’s death, so many young (and older) men have written how he was instrumental in their knowing how to daven properly and how to give respect to synagogues and rabbis.”
“This minyan is about bringing everyone together to honor the memory of someone who impacted all of us,” said Rabbi Schachter. “Taking an active role in a minyan, taking davening seriously and making it meaningful is part of developing yourself and reaching your maximum potential.”
Rabbi Schacher, Eliezer Gross, Rabbi Heller, and Congregation Bnai Yeshurun look forward to welcoming the Unity Teen Minyan at 9:15 Shabbat morning, June 1. To become a sponsor of the siyum on chumash with Rashi, visit https://www.bnaiyeshurun.org/form/teenkiddush.
To sign up for a parsha, contact Eliezer Gross at [email protected].
By Jenny Gans