On Thursday evening, February 22, the Teaneck/Bergenfield community gathered at Congregation Beth Aaron to mark Zayin Adar with a special mincha service, including the special Torah reading for a public fast followed by a celebratory seuda. Morah d’Asra of the Congregation, Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, delivered words of inspiration to the almost 100 attendees, representing most of the local synagogues.
Rabbi Rothwachs eloquently explored the concept of kavod ha’mes. Citing Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4, he brought up the concept suggested by Rav Goldvicht, zt”l, who suggested that the holiness of the Torah lies not in the letters but in the klaf itself. If a person can appreciate that something physical is used for higher purposes, then he can achieve respect by making life choices that can be elevated to higher purposes. As opposed to other religions that venerate only the soul, Judaism includes the body in the search for holiness. “Thus, the goal of the chevra kadisha is to preserve the sanctity of the body and to remind ourselves that if we conduct our lives in a proper manner, our bodies will be a cheftza shel kedusha, a holy object.”
The individuals who have been involved in local chevra kadishas since the 1970s clearly have great passion for the cause. Among those in attendance was Lenny Barishansky of Congregation Rinat Yisroel, who recalls when Rabbi Macy Gordon instituted the chevra at Bnai Yeshurun and compiled a booklet of tefilot and detailed instructions for carrying out a tahara, to which people still refer today.
A more recent member of the Bnai Yeshurun chevra is Dr. Norman Sohn, who became involved four years ago. “While I was practicing as a colorectal surgeon I had no time to volunteer for the chevra. After retiring and moving to Teaneck, I joined and was even able to donate equipment from my practice to the organization, which gave me great satisfaction.”
Elke Stein, who serves on the Rinat chevra kadisha shared, “Throughout the year, we engage in many religious activities. For me, when reciting the tefilot at a tahara, I feel an exceptional soul-stirring experience. I feel that I am truly performing a chesed shel emes in preparing the nifteret to meet her Maker, by virtually escorting her to heaven.”
Marilyn Zeidel of Congregation Beth Aaron seconded this special feeling by saying, “I thought I could never participate in a tahara but as it turns out it is truly cathartic for me. When I recite the powerful and so very beautiful tefilot at a tahara, I realize the meaning of life.”
Micah Kaufman has served alongside his father on the Beth Aaron chevra kadisha for the past eight years. He is the right-hand man to Shelly Mermelstein and is involved in all the necessary activities from arrangements for the tahara to the delivery of the shiva chairs. He pointed out that the larger chevras are often called upon by the smaller shuls who have yet to establish their own chevras, and they are happy to cooperate fully with them.
Divsha Tollinsky serves on the Rinat chevra. As a younger member of the chevra, she shared the following, “I would say that the biggest drive for me is that despite the overwhelming responsibilities that take up practically every minute of my day, doing a tahara gives me the opportunity to reflect on life and do something special for another. I always walk away feeling elevated that I have helped each person look more presentable when going to meet with Hakadosh Baruch Hu.” Esther Chaitovsky of Congregation Beth Aaron reiterated this idea that younger people, despite their hectic daily lives, should give serious thought to joining a chevra.
During the program, tribute was paid to long-time Bnai Yeshurun chevra organizer Joey Appel, z”l, who passed away last year, and succeeded Frank Breslau in this position. In the words of Benjamin Silverberg of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun,, “Joey…was always thinking of ways in which we could improve our efficiency. He was the first to organize the Zayin Adar dinner and would be proud of the turnout this evening.”
Kol hakavod to the men and women who head the various chevra kadisha organizations in our community, including Ari Wartelsky and Chaya Bernstein for Bnai Yeshurun; Shelly Mermelstein and Susan Fisch for Beth Aaron; Ervin Klein and Sharon Kaplan/Susan Richmond for Rinat; Warren Levie and Anne Langer for Keter Torah; David and Sharon Schild for Beth Abraham; and Dr. Ronald Gross and Naomi Landsman, who head the newly organized chevra at the Young Israel of Teaneck.
By Pearl Markovitz