Thursday, December 15, 2011

Travel blog #3

Miriam and I are still on the East Coast visiting family.  This has been a trip of relaxation, learning, joy, and unfortunately sadness as well. 

Sunday was the bris of my sister's and brother-in-law new son.  They honored me by asking me to be the mohel.  For those readers who don't know what a mohel is, that is the guy who does a circumcision.  For those readers who don't know - I am a trained mohel, don't worry.

The baby was named Yosef Zvi after my father's father.   Since my grandfather's passing in 1995 he has five great grandchildren named for him.
Yosef was also the name of my mother's father.  My sister had a very special relationship with both of our grandfather's and it was a great honor for her to name her first son after them.
My mother's father was a Rabbi and before he died he was the Rabbi at all of the family functions.  He was also a mohel and performed over 20,000 circumcisions in his 50 year career.

For me, the bris was special for so many reasons.  My sister and i are only a year apart.  We were very close growing up.  Both of us experienced divorces in our lives at almost the same time, and we were fortunate to get married again about the same time.  Now we both have families.  I am so happy for her that things have worked out, and I know that our children will be close with each other.
Also, being a Rabbi has many benefits, the finest of which may be being able to be the Rabbi for your own family simchas.  For my grandmother, it was especially emotional to see her grandson do the bris for her great grandchild.

Many relatives and friends came to the bris which was held at the shul that my sister attends on the Upper west Side of Manhattan.  Among the guests was a relative who is kind of a celebrity.  Some people may know that my maternal grandfather's brother is comedian Jackie Mason.  Jackie Mason could not attend but his daughter, Sheba Mason came to celebrate with us.  Sheba is a professional comedian in New York City and while not as famous as her father, she is really funny.  One of these days she said she will come out to Omaha for a Shabbat.

After the bris the whole family went to visit some more family on ("in?") Long Island.  I went to a shul to daven minchah and I was recognized by someone and between minchah and maariv they welcomed the Chief Rabbi of the State of Nebraska.  There were people in the shul who had actually been to Beth Israel in Omaha passing through for different reasons.  It is nice to know that there are people who live "out of town" who have heard of our great community.

That night, Miriam and I went to visit some of Miriam's friends on the Upper West Side.  One of her friends hosted a small get together with a number of friends that Miriam knew from when she lived in Israel.

One of her friends, Dena Weiss, is a teacher at a school called Yeshivat Hadar.  They call themselves the first egalitarian Yeshiva in North America.  It is very controversial in the Orthodox world, but it is clear that Dena is a sincere person who loves Torah.  Every time I meet Miriam's friends I am always impressed with the interesting and accomplished people that she knows.

Monday was a great day for me.  We got to visit my Alma Mata Yeshiva University.  Everyone who knows me knows how much I love YU.  I was a student there for undergraduate and then in their Rabbinical Seminary.  My time at YU inspired me to want to be a Rabbi in Omaha and it trained me be an effective Rabbi in Omaha.  Visiting YU always recharges my batteries.

Miriam and I had lunch with Adam Goldberg, the young man from Omaha who is currently a student at YU.  He has become a serious student of Torah and our shul and our community is so proud of him.

After lunch I went with Adam to learn with Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Haim.  Rabbi Ben Haim is the head of the Sephardic studies program at YU and he was the Rabbi who I studied under when I was a student.  I was extra proud of Adam when he chose Rabbi Ben Haim as his Rabbi as well.  The shiur is entirely in Hebrew and it focuses on learning practical application of the Torah.  Currently he is teaching the laws of mourning.  There are many aspects to mourning that are regularly practical for the modern Rabbi.  The topic of his lecture was the value of being buried in Israel verses any conflicting values like dignity to the body and burden to the family.  Rabbi Ben Haim incorporated the famous debate between Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in the 1960s over whether or not to move the remains of the great philanthropist Moses Montefiore from England to Israel. Rabbi Ben Haim is like a computer and listening to him teach Torah is an inspiring event.  I can't believe I had the privilege to learn from him every day when I was a student.  I was jealous of Adam, but I could see that he really appreciates how lucky he is to be at YU.  I hope many other Omaha kids make the great decision to learn at YU in the future.

That night I davened maariv at Bnei Yeshurun.  After maariv the Rabbi, Rabbi Pruzansky, gave a lecture that was part of a series called, "The Law and the Law" where he compares American law and Torah law.  This lecture was on Brown vs Topeka Kansas board of education: the Torah's view of race and equality.  It was a fascinating lecture and it was recorded and is available on Yeshiva University's website

The next days were relaxing days.  Miriam and I took Rayali and Zoey to the park, we went shopping at the great malls in Paramus, New Jersey, and we ate at the amazing kosher restaurants in Teaneck.

On Tuesday night I attended a "State of the Shul meeting" at Bnei Yeshurun with my parents.  My parents are active in the shul and my mother has even served as the shul vice president.  It was interesting for me to see the issues that other shuls face.  Some of the things discussed at the meeting were common problems to all shuls, other agenda items were not applicable to Beth Israel in Omaha.  It was a good learning experience.

On Wednesday I decided to daven at one of the smaller shuls in Teaneck for minchah.  Most people are unable to attend minchah in the winter at 4:15 so it was a small crowd.  It so happens I was actually the tenth man at minchah!!!  So many times in Omaha we struggle for the tenth man so you can imagine I was so happy to help out a shul in Teaneck.  Definitely a highlight of the trip.

Wednesday night we drove down to Baltimore to Miriam's parents.  We arrived very late and went straight to sleep.  Unfortunately, I woke up early to a call from my parents.  Last night, my cousin in Baltimore passed away.  The funeral was today at 1:00pm.