May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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The Jewish Learning Experience: A Different Kind of Holiday Season

“Behold the days are coming, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, not a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of Hashem.” (Amos 8:11)

Ahhhh, the Yom Tov season. Family, friends, food and hopefully some spiritual inspiration. Who among us can forget the build-up from late night (or early morning) Selichos leading into Rosh Hashanah, followed by the holy day of Yom Kippur. Then the grand finale of Sukkos and Simchas Torah. We plan, shop, cook and navigate our way through hosting and (hopefully) being hosted. The echo of the shofar’s blast is still on our mind as we take our “New Year’s resolution” to do better and follow through with our teshuva. We have experienced the ultimate merging of spiritual and physical as we spend hours in shul davening, then go on to lavish family meals.

For some of our brothers and sisters, Rosh Hashanah was simply a Monday and Tuesday in the middle of September. The 23rd of September was not spent soul-searching and pleading forgiveness, but at work or at the mall drinking a refreshing iced coffee. How could it be that while we think of our own teshuva, invite our neighbors and celebrate joy, that we ignore the fact that others are not as fortunate as we? We are aware of Hashem’s gift of redemption and His closeness as we sit in the Sukkah, but not everyone has the advantage of a Jewish education. How can we reach out? What is there in our very insular community to reach out to others who may not even be aware of what it means to be close to Hashem?

In a corner of Teaneck, tucked away, was a warm and welcoming explanatory Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service. The Jewish Learning Experience has not taken its responsibility to ensure that no fellow Jew is left behind lightly. For 30 years the JLE has done all that it can to reach out. This year, in the Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls Beis Medrash, 200 unaffiliated Jews gathered to learn, daven and be inspired. With a few committed volunteers, they provided a wonderful davening with explicit explanations and commentaries. This allowed those who perhaps have not found a comfortable synagogue for themselves, to connect to their heritage and religion. Some are long-time JLE attendees; some came for the very first time. The shofar is blown to enable all those in attendance to fulfill the mitzvah, again blown by a JLE volunteer. Both days are followed by a kiddush, enabling the congregants a chance to socialize and connect with Rabbi David Pietruszka.

On Yom Kippur, the JLE provided another explanatory service for Kol Nidrei, as well as Shacharis and Musaf on Yom Kippur morning. Once again, the services took place in Ma’ayanot. The minyan gives the participants a chance to learn about the tefillos, say yizkor and understand the meaning and significance of the day. Rabbi Pietruszka gives explanations as well as delivers heartfelt words of inspiration. The fact that the services are so well attended year after year is testament to two things: JLE provides a very warm and welcoming atmosphere that requires no previous knowledge of the prayers, and that there is a need for this kind of minyan in our community.

The big finale to the High Holiday season, a Sukkos party in the rabbi’s sukkah. On the Thursday of Chol Hamoed, all of the JLE participants were invited for dinner and divrei Torah. The highlight of the evening was the rabbi’s sons, who brought out their lulavim and esrogim and handed them over to any guest who wanted to make the bracha. The boys patiently and with good humor explained how to hold the arba minim, and recited the bracha with them. Jews, who may not have otherwise performed this simple mitzvah, had the chance. The rain did not deter the fun; it was moved into the rabbi’s home where a delicious Chinese dinner was served. Children ran around and laughed while the adults enjoyed a social gathering and words of Torah.

As we all come off of a Yom Tov season, holidays are designed to give us inspiration for the next few months. There is no better way to inspire one’s self than to help inspire others. Get involved with the special mitzvah of reaching out to fellow Jews. For further information about the JLE, contact Rabbi David Pietruszka at [email protected].

By Leah Pietruszka

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