Saturday, May 19, 2007

A little bit of holiness... even on a rainy weekend

David, from life on the far side, (see link on the right) talked about spending Shabbat in Saratoga Springs. For him, it was a different kind of Shabbat. One where he did not get to do all the things he usually does. It was a Shabbat that was somewhat devoid of the spirituality he has come to expect. I can relate, but my experience was the exact opposite. This Shabbat, our synagogue sponsored Rav Avi Weiss, one of the most inspiring, spiritual men I have had the privilege of meeting. For the most part, I am a cynic. I have struggled to find the spirituality in religion for the last 20 years. I have had a measure of success in finding it. And it is because of Rav Avi, and others like him, that I have been able to capture some of these feelings. For those of you who don't know Rav Avi, (as he likes to be called) his touchy -feely ways can be off putting for the cynics among us.Until you watch him. Until you see him. Until you experience him. Until you get hugged by him. For you see, Rav Avi is a Shlomo Carlebach emulator. What I mean is that like Reb Shlomo, Rav Avi wears his heart on his sleeve. But he wears it sincerely. Every time I see him, I am greeted by a wide smile, and a hug. And it feels good. I used to wonder, "is it real?" I know Rav Avi for more than 30 years. It is real. It has withstood the test of time. Rav Avi took the "bayit" which began as just that... a small house in Riverdale, NY, and transformed it to a synagogue with 850 families. Innovative, modern, pushing the limits of modern orthodoxy, Rav Avi has created a community that strives to find the Holy. He has created an environment that teaches love, respect, and learning above all. He has created a Yeshiva as well, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah the open modern Orthodox Yeshiva, that tries to create Rabbis like Rav Avi, who are passionate and care about Judaism and our people.
Most people came this Shabbat to hear Rav Avi speak. I got so much more out of watching him. When few others were. Rav Avi led the Kabbalat Shabbat last night. Before he started, very quietly, he walked over to one of the adolescent boys in shul, who is developmentally delayed. He rubbed his cheek and spent a few moments talking to him. While he was leading the prayers and he broke into song, he invited the boy to join him at the pulpit, where he remained, standing next to Rav Avi, singing and ultimately dancing in the Shabbat. What a beautiful sight that he cared to involved this boy, who is usually ignored by those around him.
And this morning, when no one was looking, he walked over to the one homeless man who is a regular in our synagogue. I heard Rav Avi ask him, "did you eat something?" Then Rav Avi said to him, reb "ya'akov, what is going to be with you?" He really cared and wanted to know. These were the things that were done when no one was watching. These were the things that were done when no one was listening. And these are the things that are done that bring holiness to our congregation, to our community, to our world. Even when it is raining outside. And when it does enter, the rain outside is unseen due to the light shining in the Synagogue.