This post was written by my Father in Law, Shimon Pepper. My Father in Law was raised in a traditional Jewish home, not a very religious home like the religious home in which he raised his children. He went back to the synagogue of his youth for Yom Kippur this year.
His experience was inspiring and the account of his experience is beautiful and important.
I recently spoke at a High School orientation and urged the students to “Listen to your messages” especially during the Yom Noraim (the high holiday period). So when a random text message arrived on my BlackBerry with the following message: “A Few Men needed to help ensure a Minyan in Fall River Massachusetts”, I was eager to respond. While I live in the culturally rich community of Monsey, New York with three Shuls on my block and almost 60 Jewish Schools, I was born and raised in Fall River. When I was growing up in the 1950′s and 60′s there were around 3000 Jews out of a population of close to 100,000 people. Today the Jewish Community has dwindled dramatically through outmigration, assimilation, and aging.
For me this was a unique opportunity to give back to my community in some small way and to help the shul that helped me and shaped much of my personal history. In this shul, I first learned “Alef Bais” and Mishnayos, (with Rabbi Lipschutz and Chazan Schneider) and even delivered my first complete Haftorah (which ironically enough was Maftir Yonah – which I chanted again on this Yom Kippur). More than these “activities”, the Adas Israel Shul gave me memories: memories of my zaydie and bubby whose hybrid European and American cultures provided me with a glimpse and a small anchor back to the old country (Belarus circa 1910). It gave me memories of the years I attended services on Erev Pesach with my uncle with whom I shared the distinct merit of being a “first born son”; the memory of pleasantly surprising my parents on one Neilah afternoon by making certain that despite the fact that I was a “1960′s college student” I was not going to forsake the precious moment when G-d opened up the gates of repentance; and my Aufruf held in the very same Shul – more than 36 years ago.
These thoughts raced through me as I headed North from New York to Providence on Route 95, and then 20 miles East over the bridge to Fall River on Route 195.
I was also motivated to go because I had recently learned that the Shul was up for sale. After all, how could the 70 remaining members, most of whom were in their 80′s maintain the synagogue. Minyanim were harder and harder to come by even on Shabbosim. Even on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. I felt as Avrohom Fried sings about Moshiach, “Now’s the Time”.
I spent 26 magical hours in the shul. In fact, from 6:00 PM Erev Yom Kippur until after Shofar blowing, at 8:15 PM the next evening, I remained inside the building. I even slept in the shul on an air mattress which the visiting chazan had brought from New Jersey.
I had five significant reactions during my experience.
Gratitude: I most profoundly felt gratitude and humility that the Kadosh Baruch Hu had provided me with a “GPS which recalculated my direction” and put my family and me on the right roads. After all, the five little Peppers had all grown up here in Fall River and today, Baruch Hashem each of us have families (spouses, children, and grandchildren) who are fully committed frum Jews.
Sadness: As I entered the sanctuary I had a visceral reaction to the brightness. The shul was lit up. There were 1155 names on the nine memorial plaques which illuminated the shul. Yet there were just 16 men and less than 20 women at the height of attendance on Yom Kippur. I thought and actually hummed the following:
Where have all the children gone long time passing?
Where have all the yidden gone long time ago?
Gone to places everywhere but most about their Judaism they are unaware?
When will they ever learn? How can they can they recognize that they must learn?
Family Pride: Of the 30 people present, about one third were family members. While these children and offspring of my Uncle Zack had only received the same rudimentary Hebrew school education that most young people in New England get (as did I), these cousins have worked tirelessly to keep the shul alive and to breath a little Jewish life into the community. I felt the concept of the Pintele Yid in action.
Confused: In Monsey and in other well developed communities, Jews have labels for each other: FFB, BT, ashkenazi and sepharedi, Litvish and chasidish, Frum, Frei, the list goes on. In Fall River there we no labels. Just the Jewish children, of Avraham, Yitzchok ,and Yaakov. While not technically very religious or observant, these Jews showed reverence during the service. They didn’t talk during prayers and stood throughout neila as the holy ark was opened.
Responsibility: The Yom Kippur experience gave me a renewed sense of Jewish Ownership: the world was created for me and that which I do matters. I chanted along with the chain, conversed with everyone during the breaks, and felt that my tefillos and those of my Fall River brothers and sisters were inextricably connected.
This was a most profound Yom Tov for me, one which allowed me to remember the past, live the present, and trust the future. I felt a connection from generation to generation and I felt the renewed sense of responsibility that all Jews are responsible for one another and that indeed we are one people with a single destiny.
Am Yisroel Chai.
- Shimon Pepper, September 2010.
Search for more information about going back home at 4torah.com.