Home at last. The last days of our trip were spent in new York. On Tuesday we drove from Baltimore straight to New York City were we met up with Miriam's sisters. One of her sisters just got promoted at work and as a result will be moving to Sydney, Australia! She asked me if I knew anything about the Jewish community in Sydney. I said, if you think that I don't then you don't know me very well. Of course I do. I happen to be good friends with Rabbi Gad Krebs, a dynamic young Rabbi of a large shul in a suburb of Sydney.
Gad is a really great Rabbi. His shul recently suffered a terribly catastrophe. In the middle of the night before the first day of Rosh Hashana a fire broke out in his shul. Fortunately, nobody was injured, but the shul suffered millions of dollars in damage. Someone had to come and knock on Gad's door in the middle of the night. He had only a few hours to figure out what to do when 1,500 people showed up the next morning for high holiday services - and because it was Yom Tov he could not use phones, e-mail, facebook, or any other kind of technology.
But Gad said the entire community was there to help and they secured a number of different nearby locations to host them for the two days of the holiday. Since then Gad has been working to get his community through this disaster and rebuild bigger and stronger than before.
I e-mailed him and said, "Gad, good news, you now have a new member." I heard that his community is very special and maybe Miriam and I will have a chance to visit my sister-in-law and see it in person.
We lit Candles for the first night of Chanuka with my sisters-in-law in New York City. Looking out the window of her apartment we could see dozens of apartments with Chanuka candles as well. It was truly a beautiful sight.
The next morning Miriam and I made one more trip to Yeshiva University. First I went to meet an old friend of mine, Rabbi Mark Spear, who is now the head of student campus life. He asked me how things are in Omaha. Among other things I told him about the Teens 4 Israel program that we started at Beth Israel. Teens 4 Israel is an Israel advocacy program that uses AIPAC and other valuable resources to educate and train Omaha teens on how they can educate others in their schools about Israel. Mark loved the idea and said he wants to connect our Omaha teens with some of the active Israel advocates on campus at Yeshiva University. I really look forward to working together with them on this.
I was fortunate to run into many friends of mine from the past. I ran into my old friend Rabbi Menashe East. Rabbi East is the Rabbi of a shul in Randolph, New Jersey.
I also saw my good friend Rabbi Gideon Shloush who is the Rabbi of a shul in New York City.
Earlier on my trip I had run into Richard Joel, the president of the University, and he asked me to stop by.
So on Wednesday we had a short meeting. He told me that he is proud to have students like me who are taking what they learned in YU to serve Jewish communities around the world. He also wanted me to know that Yeshiva University is there to help me and my community and that I should be in contact with the right people at YU to see what resources are available for Omaha.
The time of our meeting was incredibly fortunate for me. Periodically, Richard Joel has a meeting in his office with all of the Rosh Yeshivas from Yeshiva University. It so happens that I was scheduled to meet with the president right before that meeting.
I hit the Torah Jackpot!! As the president and I exited his office about 30 world renowned Torah scholars and educators from YU were arriving. Pondering how all of that collective Torah wisdom was filling up the conference room was overwhelming! I had a few minutes to speak with some of the Rabbis who I was more familiar with in my time at Yeshiva. There was Rabbi Elchanan Adler, Rabbi. Mordechai Willig, Daniel Feldman, Ozer Yeshaya Glickman, among others. I also got to speak with the former president and current chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm. Rabbi Lamm commended me for taking the initiative to go out to Nebraska and said that the University was proud of me. It was truly a great compliment.
That night Miriam and I went out with her grandparents who live in Linden, New Jersey (where my good friend Josh Hess happens to be the Rabbi) and we lit Chanukah candles with my parents. The next morning, after one last Shacharit at Bnei Yeshurun, my parents took us to the airport and we made the arduous flight back to Omaha.
Miriam, the girls, and I had a truly wonderful trip in every respect. Spending time in large Jewish communities like Baltimore and New Jersey is always inspiring. The communal atmosphere as well as the immediate access to Torah learning is a great accomplishment that is sometimes taken for granted by those who live there. When I return to Omaha from a trip like this I am further inspired to work harder than ever to strengthen our community, create more opportunities to access Torah, and unite the Jews in Omaha with each other and with Jews around the world. It was very appropriate to return on Shabbat Chanuka. Chanuka commemorates the rededication of the Beit Hamikdash. When I looked at the crowd in shul at Beth Israel on Shabbat I thought about how much we have already accomplished as a community and how much more we can still accomplish together. I am going to make this Chanuka a time of rededication of my efforts to further strengthen our Torah community in Omaha. Who's with me?
Thanks for reading my travel blog. See you in shul.