Rabbi of Congregation Tiferes Yisroel, Baltimore
I experienced a gradual realization as to how serious this virus was. Like many people at the beginning, I found myself questioning the need for such extreme levels of caution but it became clear very soon afterward how important it was to protect ourselves, our family, our friends, and our community. The hardest thing was not being able to spend time with our children and grandchildren who live right here in Baltimore. I decided that it would be very important to deepen and appreciate my relationship with my wife and my home. I spend a lot of time outside of my house and I began to see this as an opportunity to really rediscover the beauty of our lives within the four walls of our home together with my wife. We davened the Shabbos davening together, sang together and had a Pesach Seder all by ourselves! We missed everyone a great deal and yet there was something personal we gained from it.
My wife, Rebbetzin Bracha Goldberger, has talked about this as a time for each person to get to know himself/herself better. The Malbim comments on the words “Lech l’cha” that this means to go to become yourself. These have been our areas of concentration during this time and not only has it helped keep us going but I think it has helped keep us growing. As with many rabbonim, the issue was how to keep the shul going when nobody was allowed to come to shul. We switched all of our shiurim to Zoom and this was very beneficial in keeping people and the feeling of community together. We also davened on Zoom together during the week.
I began to realize that in addition to the people who regularly attend shul and who were participating on Zoom, there were several people who were not big shul goers who were participating! People from out of town, some from our shul and some not from our shul were tuning in to learn and daven. Our attendance was from up and down the east coast! I understood that there are lots of people out there who either can’t or don’t show up in person but really want a connection. We developed a “Pre Shabbos Torah and Ruach” Zoom event every week for about a half hour before Shabbos until a few minutes before candle lighting where we had a guest musician play a few niggunim and where I shared divrei torah. It became very popular. It became a time to connect, both for people who can’t come to shul and for people who do come to shul. When we were allowed to go back to shul with masks and social distancing we moved the program to Thursday night and each week “Pre Shabbos Torah and Ruach” has become an inspiring half hour for lots of people who are striving to go into Shabbos with spirit and with a lift.
My experience at ICJA in the mid 1970’s, including the deep friendships which were formed and endure until this day, the rebbeim (many of them Holocaust survivors) and teachers, all have contributed in my pride in being a Jew and wanting to share it with others.