June 14, 2024
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June 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It has been nearly 250 days since the RCBC allowed outdoor minyanim on June 3, 2020. Our outdoor “shtiebel,” Warwick Ave. Block Minyan, has not missed one tefillah since! Whether it be Shacharit, Musaf, Mincha, Maariv or Neilah, whether through heat waves, freezing cold, heavy winds, rain, snow or sleet, our “congregants” have made it their mission to make our little shul a consistent reality! This is something we are very proud of. Even more, we are proud of the way in which we have davened and the lessons we have learned throughout.

It is important to emphasize that we fully appreciate our community shuls and our rabbinic leaders. We sorely miss the full indoor shul experience, with large gatherings, beautiful davening, and a great drasha. And yet, it would be a missed opportunity not to internalize the lessons we have learned in our little outdoor minyan over the past months, and just how much we have been able to accomplish together. We hope these lessons will carry with us as we return to our respective shuls when we feel safe and ready.

1. Commitment: With a smaller group, when one makes a commitment, one must see it through. If one is needed for a minyan—to ensure that an avel can come, knowing he will be able to say Kaddish that day—you make sure you are there. Every time. In this sense, we depend on one another like never before. Even those who would not ordinarily come to shul on weekdays or for Mincha and Maariv come now because they are committed to a group. They come because of a commitment, but they stay to connect: to connect with a beautiful davening and with each other.

2. Achdus: Our minyan consists of a diverse group of ages, religious backgrounds, customs, shul memberships and professions. And yet we all get along and care for each other. When another is in quarantine, we check in. We are cognizant and respectful of all health and safety rules and more subjective sensitivities (tables are set more than six feet apart). We are always mindful of each other’s needs. Our minyan consists of individuals who live alone, and others who care for elderly parents, but each person is included and taken into account. We consistently welcome new people and make them feel like they were always part of the club. We want everyone’s tefillah experience to be meaningful, especially during this time when prayer is so important to people.

3. A slow and quiet davening: Since we daven outside we are mindful of the everchanging weather. And yet, the kavanah at this simple, quiet minyan with a minimum five-minute Shemoneh Esrei is a beautiful thing to witness. Despite davening on Shabbos in less than 90 minutes, we never feel rushed, as we feel we are there for a purpose. Our regular member, Arnie Singer, consistently leads us with beautiful tunes, which we have made sure not to discard despite the more efficient pace.

4. Fulfilling the minyan’s need: Our minyan has volunteers who set up our 20×100 tent, take it down during high-wind storms (at one point our tent was back up and ready one day after a snowstorm and after 70mph wind gusts!), set up electricity, turf carpets, heaters, tables, chairs and sifrei Torah. We have baalei kriah who put in significant time to prepare leining every week—from a 14-year-old (Zev Weiner) perfecting his new talent and leining ten parshiot for us, to an accomplished lawyer (James Seplowitz) preparing 10 hours per week to lein masterfully. Our baalei tefillah, gabbaim and mispallelim are dedicated to stepping up to the plate!

5. Torah above all: Our minyan has slotted divrei Torah after every weekday Mincha, a drasha twice every Shabbos (when the temperature is higher than 40 degrees), and many weekday and Shabbos shiurim throughout the spring, summer and fall. Discussions around Torah, Halacha, different minhagim, the pandemic response and the parsha are consistent and inspiring. We have been privileged to hear from Rabbi Ezra Weiner, Rabbi Dr. Daniel Hakimi, and many young men and visiting rabbis including Rabbi Adler and YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Baruch Simon.

6. Hosting special occasions: The special life-cycle events we have hosted are especially meaningful and memorable. That we are able to give individuals some semblance of normalcy in making a simcha is really valuable to us. We have hosted a brit, multiple shalom zachors, l’chaims, many aufrufs, sheva brachot, bar and bat mitzvahs, kiddushim, siyumim, and even a geirut! Facilitating meaningful sobering life-cycle events are equally as significant and important to us. We have unfortunately hosted shiva for two parents of minyan members who have passed away from COVID. In the high-holiday realm, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah were all beautiful, with 50 men and 35 women celebrating in a safe environment, many commenting it was the best davening they remember on such occasions. We chose to daven extra loud to include some in quarantine 200 feet away on Yom Kippur, brought in Rabbi Chaim Black to lead us in Kol Nidrei and Musaf and Rabbi Baruch Simon to share with us tens of shiurim on the chagim.

7. Righteous women: We have constructed a sturdy and beautiful mechitzah with plenty of room for women to daven. These women, some who come on a daily basis, model for us the importance of going above and beyond. Many women come to daven despite the weather and enjoy a quiet davening. Men are inspired by these women who may be less “obligated” but nonetheless come for the opportunity to deepen their relationship with Hashem.

8. Selfless devotion: The minyan is hosted in the Hakimi backyard and is a testament to what true selfless devotion looks like. Giving up their backyard is just the beginning of what the Hakimis have done for us. Their grass has been destroyed and is covered with carpet and a tent, something their kids have graciously sacrificed for the minyan. They are always so accommodating in every way and cherish the opportunity to do any mitzvah and to live a life of chesed and sharing Torah. The Hakimis have hosted a warm Shabbos minyan in their basement for many years—Congregation Lev Haim—but have now gone above and beyond.

We look forward to going back to “normal life,” and vaccines seem to be helping make that a reality, with Hashem’s help, in the coming months. However, we will never forget the lessons of unity, caring, dedication, devotion, Torah and mitzvot that should be a constant merit for continued health for many years to come! We hope and pray that we can continue to infuse all of this into our shuls and into our lives!

By Members of Cong. Lev Haim in Teaneck

 

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