In a year without a rabbi, Beth Jacob congregants step up to keep daily services going
By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday in June. Marty Freed, a member of the Beth Jacob Synagogue Religious Committee, begins leading preliminary prayers for the Shacharit (morning) service. He is alone in the Traditional synagogue’s small chapel as he prays quietly to himself on the bima (platform), wearing his tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries).
By 8:15 a.m., three men and one woman have joined the service. This morning, the synagogue will not achieve a minyan, a quorum of at least 10 men, required for a public service according to halacha, Jewish law. Without a minyan, worshippers can’t recite certain parts of the service, including the Kaddish, said by those in mourning or those observing a yahrzeit, the anniversary of a loved one’s death.
But whether or not Beth Jacob is able to make a minyan for its morning, afternoon or evening services, members of its religious committee have provided at least a service each day since Aug. 1, 2011, the day Rabbi Hillel Fox began his one-year sabbatical in Israel, the last year of his contract with the shul (synagogue).
“A lot of people rose to the occasion,” said Religious Committee Member Leonard Wyrobnik, who regularly leads prayer services. These days, he and Freed have keys to the building. “It’s been wonderful to watch how many people are interested, with the basic premise to keep the doors open for religious reasons.
That’s the basic premise for any synagogue, to provide an access to davening (praying).”
“We probably totally didn’t realize the depth in all the small details,” Freed added.
And small details there were. Committee Member Rochelle Wynne said it took hours and hours to put together the worship schedule for the year. Committee Chair Stan Kriesberg took over traffic management of the schedule on his laptop.
In addition to contracting the services of a ba’al korey (Torah reader) from Columbus for Shabbat and holidays, and a rabbi from Ohio State’s Hillel for the High Holy Days, Kriesberg said members of the religious committee were at the shul at the crack of dawn and late at night keeping things going.
“We were able to expand our horizons of people opening and closing the shul and getting involved,” Kriesberg said. About two dozen people, he said, have helped out. “It has ranged from leyning (reading) the Torah, doing Haftorah (reading from the Prophets), ordering lulavs and etrogs (for Sukkot), taking care of yahrzeit plaques, Yizkor (memorial service), gabbis (wardens) for services. Every Shabbos was covered. Every day we had at least one service. Every single major holiday and minor holiday, life events, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals, we even had a bris in here.”
When questions of halacha have come up, Kriesberg said they’ve contacted Fox in Israel or other rabbis in Dayton.
Freed said that on a regular basis, in the absence of a rabbi, he thinks the number of people who attend services is lower. But the synagogue now sends out e-mail requests for minyans when a member needs to recite Kaddish. That personal connection helps.
“Sometimes at the end of the service, we’ll make calls,” Wyrobnik said. “We will achieve a minyan at times. The thing to note though, it’s not all in vain. Still by coming to this shul and davening, you can still get solace for your loved one even if you can’t say Kaddish.”
On this day, in the absence of a minyan, Dr. David Marcus — mourning the recent death of his sister — is not able to recite Kaddish. In such situations, Beth Jacob’s prayer leader will chant the El Maley Rachamim, a prayer for the peace of the departed soul, which is normally recited at funerals and during Yizkor services. Reciting this prayer includes mention of the departed’s name out loud.
The synagogue’s sisterhood honored the religious committee at a Kiddush luncheon on June 30. Wyrobnik said it’s been an honor to help lead. “I hope that there’s an ultimate accounting with God above, and also to honor my parents,” he said. “I feel very good about it.”
“It is a testimonial to this shul’s ability to educate laypeople that we were all able to do this,” Kriesberg said. “Had we not, over the years, been exposed and trained up while Rabbi Hillel was here, we couldn’t have done this.”
As it turned out, the board of Beth Jacob decided not to renew Fox’s contract. Rabbi Martin Applebaum of Lakewood, N.J. begins a one-year contract with the shul Aug. 1.
Freed, Kriesberg, Wynne and Wyrobnik agree it will be a relief to have the new rabbi take charge of their responsibilities, but plan to stay involved.
“And I’m not sure he’s going to let us off the hook so easy,” Wynne said.