Jackie picture

“After the grave is covered by earth, the son takes off his shoes, walks a few steps from the cemetery and says Kaddish, for it is a prayer that renews the world.” — Rabbi Joseph Caro, in his sixteenth-century code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch

I said the last Kaddish for my mother this afternoon, as today marks the day it has been 11 months since she passed away. It’s not the last time I’m ever saying Kaddish for her, of course, it’s just now limited to her yahrzeit and Yizkor. Each day since last June, I woke up when it’s dark, went to sleep when it’s dark and filled the day with Kaddishes.

Yisgadal v’yskadash shemey rabah,” I said. Glorified and sanctified by HaShem’s great name. With that prayer–that I’ve said perhaps 2,000 times over the course of these past 11 months–I completed the process of saying Kaddish for my mother. This afternoon in shul, I especially felt the presence of G-d and the presence of my mother. I had fulfilled my responsibility as a son. I brought my mother through the transition from life to death.

Through these past 11 months, through the disbelief and the anger and the numbness, I said Kaddish with one goal in mind: Say a beautiful prayer in the name of a beautiful woman…my mother.

Mostly I succeeded and many congregants in many shuls across the country that I davened in stood behind me responding in unison to my Kaddish. Y’hay sh’may rabo m’vorach l’olam ulomay olmayo. May G-d’s name be blessed in this world and forever. Incredible…because of my mother, an entire crowd of people is blessing G-d’s name. Essentially bringing G-d, even for a moment, into their lives. What I was doing, without realizing it, was helping my mother fulfill her mission and elevate her soul. And even more so, we were doing it together.

My mourning went in stages, from the most intense grief period prior to burial, to the week of shiva and its focus on mourning, to the 30 day shloshim period to the 11 months. Technically, I’m still a mourner for the rest of the year, but stopping saying Kaddish is a big change.

And it’s a change I think I’m ready for. I’ll miss the structure of having a time every day when I’m confronted with my loss and think of my mother, but it’s also time to stop being focused on the loss and to just try and cherish the good memories whenever they occur.

I have been asked by many people why I have done this. Not many people these days say Kaddish 3 times a day for the entire 11 months. I can’t answer for other people. I needed to do this for my mother, and for me, to show others how I honor my mother and her memory. Until just now I don’t think I realized it was probably the best way I could ever keep the commandment to “Honor your father and your mother so that your days be long upon the soil which G-d, your G-d, is giving you.” I committed myself to saying Kaddish for 11 months and it caused me to feel closer to my mother and closer to Judaism.

I am happy that I have been able to honor my mother and her memory in this way.

Zichrona liv’racha – May her memory be for a blessing.

md<

Some thoughts on entering into my 11th month of saying Kaddish…..
 
First off, I wanted to thank a couple good friends who have been my so-called “gurus” during these past several months.  Mendel Tress and Heshy Wengrow have helped answer my many halachic questions that have come about, which I could not find answers to in Lamm’s “The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning” ( which has been my guidebook along the way ).
 
I have been looking forward to May 17 all year.  It’s been circled on my calendar since last June and I thought the day would never come.  Its the day I will stop saying Kaddish for my mother.  Mind you, its not the 10 second prayer that bothers me.  But making it to shul three times a day, dashing from meetings and airports ( especially in obscure cities I have traveled ) has been a challenge to say the least.
 
Yet, notwithstanding the red circle on my calendar, I don’t want it to end.  I am dreading May 17.  It’s almost like losing my mother all over again.  The last time I davened and didn’t have to say Kaddish, she was alive.  Kaddish is my last direct link to her. Three times a day for the last soon to be 11 months, I have been forced to focus on her absence and my loss. 
 
I think its going to be hard to stop saying Kaddish.  For through the saying of Kaddish day by day I created a deeper relationship with my mother, even after her death.  Because as I stand, close my eyes, and repeat the words of Kaddish, my mind often wanders and remembers wonderful events with her in my life.
 
I’m in the tenth month and I don’t want the eleventh month to come.  I simply don’t want to let go of these moments of togetherness that the saying of Kaddish has tied between my mother and me.
 
So much of being an aveilut involves restriction, if observed traditionally.  You are conscious of all the things you cannot do:  No live music. No parties or theater. No ball games ( that’s been the toughest for me ! ).  Saying Kaddish, however, is something you can do and it has been a means of connection to my mother.  Soon that connection will be lost and I will have to find other ways to maintain a sense of connection to her.
 
In my first entry I spoke about the incredible paradox of running from the shiva of my mother to Israel for the birth of my first grandchild, Erez.   I now have another wonderful simcha arriving next week with the wedding of my son Yoni, to his beautiful and wonderful bride-to-be, Danielle.   My mother loved Dani dearly and I will be surely thinking of her while watching Yoni and Dani under the chuppah next week. 
 
Yoni
 

british columbiaMaia and I came to Vancouver to surprise Ilana for her birthday this week. We joined a number of her close friends for a wonderful dinner and memorable evening.

I hate to brag about my kids ( ha-ha ) but Ilana was recently designated by the Mayor’s office this month as one of the “Remarkable Vancouver Women of 2013″ ( not bad for a non-Canadian ). So we were able to see her poster along with the other designates in various public buildings throughout Vancouver. Pretty cool.

Remarkable Women

I found two nice minyans during my short stay in Vancouver. The first was at Pacific Torah Institute, a Yeshiva in Downtown Vancouver.
Pacific Torah Institute
What a treat, davening along with the Yeshiva bochers and gazing out the surrounding windows at the beautiful snow capped mountains. There was a slim minyan when I was there as most of the students had taken off on a pre-Pesach ski trip. Nice to be studying Mishna and Gemara in the Canadian Rockies, no ??!!
Yeshiva students  PTI Vancouver
Small world….the Rosh Yeshiva, Noam Abramchik, is Joey Abramchik’s son from Chicago.
I also davened at Congregation Schara Tzedeck, the oldest synagogue in Vancouver founded in 1907. Their exciting and friendly Rabbi Rosenblatt comes from Baltimore and is a fellow serious Terp fan.
Congregation Shaaray zedek
Congregatoin Shaary Zedek 2
We davened in the small Beis Midrash. Yet what makes the shul really stand out are the amazing stained glass windows inside the main sanctuary. Truly breathtaking to see in person.
Stained glass 1Stained glass 2Stained glass 3Stained Glass 4Stained glass 5Stained glass 5Stained glass 6Stained glass 6Stained glass 7Stained glass 8
The 11 panels of stained glass windows with their appropriate symbols represent significant dates in the Jewish calendar. These include Chanuka, Purim, Tish’a B’av and Yom Ha’atzmaut, events which represent critical turning points in Jewish experience – tragic and joyous. The other major Jewish Holidays represented include Shabbat, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the three Festivals of Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Pesach and Shavuot.

Some thoughts about Pesach this year…..

This will be a very difficult week for me. Of all the memories I have of my mother, Pesach stands out as the one time of the year that focus has always been on my mother. I have clear and vivid memories of growing up in our Skokie home with my mother being a “neat freak” as they say….and with every Pesach she was relentless with our house being absolutely spotless. Larry Cohen’s Chametz Inspector would have surely awarded her his highest medal.

My mother was also, by far, one of the greatest pesadik cooks ever. Jackie’s pesadik delacies were world-renowned. My mother would buy cases of eggs, and boxes and boxes of matzos, matzo farfel, cake meal and potato starch for her Pesach cooking and baking. She made homemade gefilte fish ( never from a frozen roll, G-d forbid ), matzo balls that were puffy as clouds, farfel kigelach, mashed potato kugel, matzo meal rolls for sandwiches, her famous pesadik brownies ( whose secret recipe has since been shared with countless friends and family ) and light as a feather sponge cake ( which probably used over a dozen eggs by itself ). This incredible leftover sponge cake would be sliced, dipped in egg and transformed into French toast for breakfast along with her beyond belief fried matzo ( which included her secret ingredients of a touch of vanilla and cinnamon ).

Although it will be painful, I will nonetheless relish these wonderful memories of my mother during the coming days of Pesach.

Nashville is one of my favorite cities. Beautiful, clean, exciting…..yet the best part of Nashville are the honky tonks and juke joints on Broadway street. So as an aveilis I had to forgo the fun and music this trip.
broadway-nashville
I davened at Congregation Sherith Israel. Sherith Israel is a century-old Orthodox synagogue with a rich history.
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Sherith Israel is also home of the famous Klezmer Kidz, which started as a pick-up group and has developed into a renowned band. Their cd, Nashville Katzen is great.
Klezmer 2
Nice story for my minyan in Nashville….. I arrived for the 6:30 am morning minyan at Sherith Israel with only another 8 minyanaires. We waited til 6:45 and still no 10th, so one of the men sitting next to me started dialing rapidly on his cell. I detected his “yankee” accent, he was no local yocal. Apparently and lucky for me there was a financial conference in town. He introduced himself and told me he is a Managing Director at Credit Suisse and that in fact there were a lot of “londsman” in town from New York for this particular conference. So what does my new friend do….he begins dialing room numbers at the hotel until he successfully wakes up one of the attendees he knows who agrees to run down the street to make our minyan.

Couple thoughts about early morning davening…. I’m an early riser and actually enjoy heading to minyan at the crack of dawn. At that part of the morning its just me and the moon, quiet and peaceful. The sun is just beginning to peek through. Truth be told, I enjoy being up at this hour. You get a different perspective on things just before dawn. When Maia and I first met in Israel in 1978 we took a trip with some friends down to the Sinai. We camped out at the base of one of the mountains. We awoke about 3:30 am and began our slow climb to the top of the mountain. We arrived at the mountain peak just as the sun began to rise over the desert. I stopped, put on my tefillin and davened. That sight and feelings of davening at that hour and that place resulted in a lifelong memory.

Here is a picture taken at sunrise from Mt. Santa Catarina
Sinai

This week finds me for a day in Louisville ( home of one of the coolest corporate home office buildings…where you find the world’s largest baseball bat !)

Louisville Sluggers

If you’re a lifelong baseball fan…. second to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (which is hallowed ground for me ) the Louisville Slugger Museum is a place you don’t want to miss.

I davened at Congregation Anshei Sfard. Anshei Sfard is a nice, small shul located outside of Downtown Louisville and is the only active orthodox shul in the state of Kentucky.
Congregation_Anshei_Sfard
Congregation Anschei Sfard2

Although Purim is generally one of the happiest chagim of the year, it’s always a bit sad for me, as it arrives during the Yahrtzeit of my father, Julien Labow z”l. For 25 years I’ve attended mincha services for Yahrtzeit, walking into the shul to see children in costumes joyously dancing around and carrying on, waiting for the megillah to be read. Once our kids grew up and we stopped bringing them to hear the megillah, I would instead daven mincha and leave before the megillah reading in order to avoid the fun and festivities that followed. I instead chose to wake up very early the next morning to hear the megillah at the crack of dawn, along with the small handful of minyanaires and spend quality time remembering my father who I miss so much, especially at Purim each year

In this year of saying kaddish for my mother, however, my father’s Yahrtzeit was a time of double sorrow. I find myself re-living not only his death but also my mother’s.

I felt extremely uncomfortable back in November while saying kaddish for both of them at Yizkor on Yom Kippur.

My feelings for kaddish this week are quite painful as I am not only saying it for my mother, but instead as an orphan mourning for both my parents.

Each year on my father’s Yahrzeit I also read a parashat of Torah, wherever I may be. Rabbi Litvin was kind enough to allow me to lein that morning at Anshei Sfard, in memory of my father. I have to admit my Torah reading was a bit rusty ( its been a year ) so I reached out to my tried and trusted software that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading Torah… Trope Trainer. Go to http://www.kinnor.com and try out this amazing software.

Shortly after we arrived from Israel, I had to take a flight to Las Vegas for a few days of meetings. My trip started off with a bang as I sat on the plane next to the champ, Mike Tyson.
Mike Tyson
Regardless of what Ive read about him in the press over the years, Mike is actually a very nice guy and spoke with me throughout the flight. He was on his way to Vegas to shoot Hangover 4. When I mentioned that I had just returned from Israel he began to ask me many questions about the “Holy Land” and told me that he was planning to go to visit some close friends of his who are “Black Hebrews”. When the flight attendant delivered my kosher lunch, he was excited to tell me that a couple years ago he and a business associate had planned on opening a chain of upscale kosher restaurants in New York. Mike Tyson…. unbelievable.

My plans for Vegas were to attend two different shuls…. Chabad of Southern Nevada and Young Israel Aish Las Vegas. Chabad of Southern Nevada was your typical friendly haimeshe shul, situated however in a not so common “Chabad like” setting….as the shul is located in a huge, beautiful building donated by Sheldon Adelson.
Chabad of Las Vegas
Chabad of Las Vegas 2

Young Israel Aish Las Vegas is an exciting shul, led by a bubbly and vibrant Rabbi one could only find in Las Vegas, Rabbi Yitz Wyne. “The Rabbi Show” hails from Las Vegas but is followed throughout the Jewish community across the U.S.

http://www.therabbishow.com/

You have to give it a listen…..

http://www.therabbishow.com/2013/02/18/the-rabbi-show-february-17th-2013/

On my last day in Las Vegas I heard about a very large clothing conference that was in town which hosted a substantial number of orthodox Jews from New York that were heavily involved in the clothing industry. The conference was being held at the Venetian Hotel and Casino. I wandered over there for morning minyan only to be shocked to see well over 150 conference attendees davening in one of the large conference rooms ! They had rented out one of the ballrooms for shacharit, mincha, maariv each day….to see this many people davening at 6:00 am was wild.
Venitian Hotel minyan

Addtionally, the davening was Sephardic with traditions that were quite different than the Ashkenazic ones I was accustomed to. Instead of having one person lead the prayers and daven for the amud, the Sephardic custom is to have different worshippers lead the various prayers, often from their seats. So I closed my eyes and heard the melodies in surround sound….I really enjoyed it.

 

Before I begin this entry, I wanted to share another article about kaddish, from my favorite online magazine, Tablet. Kudos to my friend Jacques for sending.
We arrived in Eretz Yisrael last week to visit Jordana, Roee and our sabra grandson, Erez. Hard to believe that I started saying kaddish here in Israel nearly 7 months ago, time is really flying quickly this year. It was a difficult trip to say the least back then. As shiva ended, Maia and I literally ran to the airport to catch a flight to Israel to be in time for Jordana’s delivery of our first grandchild…. an emotionally exhaustive experience. Yet unforgettable.
Its been a painful year, but one that I want to hold on to and, through this blog, share with others. Losing a parent is a rite of passage for which no one is prepared. Yet mourning has become a time of community sharing for me this year. The worshipers who answered “awmayn” to my kaddish each shacharit, mincha and maariv this year have become my extended family.
So here we are, back in Eretz Yisrael……

Erez turns 7 months shortly and I felt its time Zayde teaches him how to throw a ball. We’ve since discovered he’s a lefty like me, so we’ll definitely be working on the curve and slider for starters.

 

Maia and Erez
Maia and I have always considered ourselves “Tel Avivites” in that we lived in Tel Aviv back in 78/79 when we first met and have many of our closest friends living in and around the “The White City”.
However, Jordana and Roee are living now in the lower Galilee, on Kibbutz Kfar Hahoresh. For those who know the Emek region in Northern Israel, its a Kibbutz close to Ramat Yishai. Beautiful, quaint and very friendly. Unfortunately Tel Aviv probably won’t be in the cards for us at this point, as the shlep is too far for babysitting each day/night. So…. we are soon to become Haifaites.
Erez in Kibbutz makeshift stroller
Erez in Kibbutz Stroller
We decided to stay at Dan Carmel Hotel on Hanasi Street which conveniently has 2 shuls that are walking distance from us. Its been over 20 years since we last stayed here with a Federation mission from Chicago. The famous old Le Ronda Restaurant is now a beautiful shul used for Shabbat Services with a scenic panarama windowed room overlooking the Haifa Bay and Med Sea.
Beit Knesset Hagadol Haifa is where I am going for mincha/maariv.
Beit Knesset Hagadol Haifa
Beit Knesset Hagadol Haifa  2
My early 6:00 morning minyans are at Beit Knesset Shvurtz.
Beit Knesset Shvirtz sign
I really enjoy davening here as its an interesting combination of ashkenazi and sephardi rolled into one small shul. The davening is ashkenaz, yet they choose to read from a sephardic torah.
Beit Knesset ShvirtzBeit Knesset Shvirtz 2
Beit Knesset Shvirtz  3
Beit Knesset Shvirtz  4
All the minyanaires in the morning are local Israelis, no Anglos. So I’m able to refine my hebrew as we converse each morning before and after davening.
I am also going to mincha minyans in Migdal HaEmek, a town not far from Jordana’s Kibbutz. I found several shuls here and it has come in handy during the late babysitting hours when I cant dash back in time to Haifa
Beit Knesset Hagadol Migdal Emek
Beit Knesset Hagadol Migdal Emek 2
Before we left back to the States, I made it a point to visit Ohel Yaakov Synagogue in Zichron Yaakov, the shul I davened at for the month I was in Israel following my mother’s shiva. I wanted to visit many of the folks I befriended back then and also see the plaques that Maia and I purchased in memory of our parents, that the shul notified me had been afixed to the wall.
Ohel Yaakov Synagogue
My last kaddish in Israel this morning, of course, at the Kotel with some local yeshiva bochurs
Davening at the Kotel
and then a quick goodbye to the Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman
When I arrived in Grand Rapids today it was minus 34 degrees with wind chill factor.  Yet, you wouldn’t know how bitter cold it is when feeling the ultra-warm hospitality of Chabad of Western Michigan.
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Chabad of Western Michigan
With a population just shy of 200,000, Grand Rapids has only 2,200 Jews living in the city and outlining areas…..so the chances of daily minyans at the one orthodox synagogue are few and far between.
Nevertheless, leave it to Rabbi Yosef Weingarten to make it his mission today to guarantee me a mincha/maariv minyan….in his words: “even if I have to drag people from their warm, cozy homes to shlep to the Chabad House.”
Small world…. when I told Rabbi Weingarten I live in Highland Park, he smiled and told me to say hi to his “old neighbor”, Rabbi Yossi Schanowitz, who grew up with him in Brooklyn many moons ago.
with Rabbi Weingarten
Grand Rapids is also not far from the ballpark of my favorite minor league baseball team and without question the catchiest and classiest named team in baseball……..
File:LansingLugnuts PrimaryLogo.png
( I’m an old Mott the Hoople fan )
On the way into Memphis for my quick day’s trip,  I realized my flight would arrive late so I placed a call to Esther Katz, one of the directors at Anshei Sphard Synagogue.  I told Esther that I had no idea how late my flight would arrive and is there any chance I might possibly find a late maariv minyan somewhere in Memphis. Esther simply said, in her typical Southern Hospitality way, “not to worry, just text my cell phone when you arrive and I will guarantee you there will be a minyan, regardless of how late you come in.  I’ll start making calls.”   Lo and behold, Esther put together a late minyan for me.  Amazing
The following morning I davened at Young Israel of Memphis
Young Israel of Memphis
Nothing more important in a beit midrash than a good foosball table
Young Israel of Memphis2
Mincha was at Baron Hirsch Synagogue.  Originally founded in 1847, the shul at one time was the largest Orthodox congregation in the United States.
Have to begin this entry by sharing an article from Tablet Magazine ( one of my favorite websites ) entitled, “Kaddish With a Dead Celebrity “
A couple weeks of R&R in our Aventura home brought me back to some of my favorite shuls and friends I have not seen since my mom passed away in June.
Young Israel of Hollywood is my select morning minyan each weekday.  It is probably the only shul I have ever been to that consistently has 40-50 minyanaires for the 6:15 am morning minyan each day.
Young Israel of Holllywood sign
This following picture is a bit dark, but I tried to capture the huge attendance this shul gets each morning at the crack of dawn.
Young Israel of Hollywood Shul
The legend of this infamous jacket below at Young Israel of Hollywood…..apparently some years back some of the old guard decided it wasn’t proper to daven for the amud without a jacket.  So they put together this crazy jacket that has been worn continuously for several years.  Each time someone wants to lead the davening, but came to shul on a hot Miami day in a golf shirt or t-shirt, they must wear this jacket.
Young Israel official davening jacket
My minchas and maarivs were split between Young Israel of North Miami and Young Israel of Aventura.  
Young Israel of North Miami is a warm, friendly shul with mostly an older group of daveners in a beautiful location.
Young Israel of North Miami
They have an electronic message board that is continually rolling important items about the weeks’ davening times, torah portions, etc..
announcements1
and of course this important announcement ……
announcements2
Young Israel of North Miami is led by Rabbi David Lehrfield, the brother of my Rabbi I grew up with back in Lincolnwood, Rabbi Joel Lehrfield ( whom I spoke about in one of my earlier blogs ).  Its kind of funny to watch this learned and scholarly older Rabbi pedal his way into the shul each day on his bike !  What’s also quite incredible is that Rabbi David has the absolute identical voice as Rabbi Joel.  I close my eyes during his drosh and I’m back in Lincolnwood.  Its great.
Rabbi Lehrfield
Finally, my “home” shul when not in Chicago and at home in Aventura is Young Israel of Aventura.  We have been members here for several years now and truly enjoy davening with my old friends each day when I’m in town.   Young Israel of Aventura is conveniently located in the Waterways Shopping Plaza, only a 10 minute walk from our home.
http://youngisraelaventura.com/about
The old guard of this shul have been leading the davening for the several years we have been attending.  Its a wonderful group of folks.  A shul I’m always excited to return to when we head back down to Florida.
yi aventura
A couple quick day trips to Florida and California…but these day excursions seem to be the toughest when trying to schedule minyan times.
Luckily, once again and again and again….. Chabad to the rescue.  My meeting in Clearwater, Florida over Chanukah had me davening with my good friends at Young Israel/Chabad of Pinellas County.   The altacockers in this shul tell the best jokes imaginable.  You feel like your in one of the famous YouTubes “old Jews telling jokes”.  Except the jokes never stop, its a riot.
 Young Israel Chabad of Pinellas County
My next trip was a quick day to Los Angeles.    When I told my friend/business associate Dick Horowitz of my need for a crack of dawn minyan, he steered me to Aish Hatorah of Beverly Hills.  It was not the most exciting place to be at 5:45 am as you can see in the picture below.
Aish
However my mincha minyan was quite interesting as I found myself in “enemy territory” at Yeshiva University High Schools ( YULA ).
Yula
Each year that Yoni traveled to New York for the YU Basketball Tournament,  our Ida Crown Aces seemed to constantly get tuches’ kicked by YULA.   Must be something in the California air.   Yet, I enjoyed davening with the Yeshiva Bochurs in this friendly environment.
Yula2
Its been suggested to me by many friends that I should talk about where I have been going for minyans when I’m home, in Chicago.
However, I would have to first mention the shul that my brother and I grew up in,  Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation.
Welcome to Lincolnwood Congregation
The members at LJC and especially Rabbi Lehrfield have been like an extended family to Larry and I throughout the years.  LJC was a major part of my mother’s life, especially since my father passed away, and I will always be forever grateful for the friendship and love everyone from LJC has shared with us these past few difficult months.
Davening in Chicagoland……
My morning minyans during the week ( except Sunday morning ) are at Moriah Congregation in Deerfield. I help to jump start that minyan at 6:30 each morning when I’m in town. Actuallly, I’ve been a part of this morning minyan for 25 years now ever since I began saying kaddish for my father Julien Labow (z”l).
Moriah morning minyanand Or Torah has the same 6:30 am minyan which I join each Sunday morning.
Or Torah minyan
The afternoon minyans for the spring and summer months are at Skokie Yeshiva.
Skokie Yeshiva
In the winter months, luckily for me, a new mincha minyan started just down the street from my office in Northbrook at Garden Fresh. We daven in the back of the store in Avi’s office.
Garden Fresh minyan
Maariv minyans are either at Darchei Noam in Northbrook
Darchei Noam minyan
or the Central Avenue Synagogue Chabad in Highland Park
Central Ave Synagogue Chabad
Chabad HPYet, the “lifesaver” of minyans for me has been Chesed L’Avroham on Devon. They have maariv minyans every 1/2 hour beginning at 7:00 pm up until 11:00 pm. This has been so helpful as I frequently have late/delayed flights back into O’Hare and find myself dashing to Devon for their late maariv minyan.
Chesed L'AvrohamFinally, I was hoping not to have to forego spending time at our Michigan home in Lakeside this year, so I was prepared to shlep the hour’s drive to Loop Synagogue downtown for minyans. Lo and behold, I discovered minyans in nearby Michiana, made up of families from Skokie….including some parents of Yoni’s friends from Ida Crown. Thank you to Keith and Sandy Kanter and Paul and Bethia Quintas for allowing me to join your friendly, hospitable group this past week !
Stop the presses…….
Business travel is delayed for next couple weeks as Jordana, Roee and my 4 month old sabra grandson Erez just came in town for a visit !
Erez at 4 months

This welcoming sign off the highway brought back some nice memories, as in 1996 I was one of the fencing officials at the Olympic Games that summer.   It was actually strange at that time seeing old competitors and rivals of mine from different countries, that I had competed with in my earlier years, had now become “altacockers” like me and relagated to officiating for their respective countries.  Funny how time flies.
I found Atlanta to be much like Denver, in that it has a thriving Jewish community with multiple options for minyans throughout the day and evening.

Toco Hills is the area with most minyans between the various shuls and kollels and was easy to accommodate.

My minyans were at the Kollel of Atlanta….
and Young Israel of Atlanta

Small Jewish world…..the person in the above picture, standing in
front of me on the left is Rabbi Hoff,  my son Yoni’s teacher from Ida Crown who
is now head of school of the Torah Day School in Atlanta.

However the most exciting part of my brief overnight trip was dinner !
Thanks to my friend Maynard Grossman and confirmed by his daughter Rachel ( who lives in Atlanta ), Atlanta prides itself in having one of the best kosher restaurants in the country. Fuego Mundo.  Fuego Mundo is the first kosher restaurant of its kind in the world where you can savor foods from the continents of South America, Central America and Spain.
img00167img00166 

 

Today would have been my parents’ 60th anniversary, so as one can imagine, my brother Larry and I are quite melancholic.
I decided to reminisce a bit and headed to Skokie. Our old house on Estes was down the block from Skokie Yeshiva where I happen to now go to daven my mincha minyans each afternoon.
I parked in front of our house and just took a stroll around the block. Past Fairview South, where Larry and I went to school. Past Hillel Torah where I used to play softball growing up with the Yeshiva Bochurs behind the school. Past Jack’s restaurant ( was originally called “Jake’s” for those who can remember ), where we used to have our sodas after playing ball all day at Laramie Park.
It was a pleasant, comfortable time just walking and thinking about my parents and the wonderful childhood they gave my brother and I growing up in this part of Skokie.

Have to take pause and thank Steve at Moriah for the following very useful website that gives a listing of shuls around the globe with minyan times.

http://www.godaven.com/

Here is the smartphone site:

http://godaven.com/smartphone.asp

Every bit of information helps make my travels and davening challenges that much easier.

My next trip the following week was set for a meeting in Knoxville, Tn. Although U of Tennessee is situated in this city and there exists a Chabad of Knoxville, its still tough for them to have minyans each day. I spoke with Rabbi Wilhelm who was kind enough to try to gather 10 men for me. Unfortunately, he wasn’t successful, so I had to instead fly into Chattanooga and drive 90 miles to my meeting in the morning, finish the meeting, then drive back to Chattanooga for maariv then flight home.

As it turned out, Chabad of Chattanooga was a very nice place to daven. Situated not far from downtown Chattanooga and where I stayed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. Pictured below is Chabad of Chattanooga’s famous sukkah mobile !

http://www.jewishchatt.com/templates/photogallery_cdo/aid/1986429/jewish/Sukkot-2012.htm#

Before I begin this entry I’m thinking of my daughter, son-in-law and grandson in Eretz Yisrael…..and especially all of the Israelis in the South who are going through living hell right now.  Please say the following prayer in Hebrew or English and pray for our brave young men and women in the IDF.   Kol Hakavod L’Tzahal !

Prayer for Members of the Israel Defense Force

He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Force, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea. May HASHEM cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighting men from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor. May He lead our enemies under their sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is Hashem, your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you. Now let us respond: Amen.

I’m afraid readers of my blog are simply going to have to get used to hearing my accolades of Chabad over and over.
Chabad of the Desert Communities has daily mincha/maariv minyans at 4:30 pm.  I knew my flight into Palm Springs was due to arrive at 6:00 pm, so I figured I’d call ahead, speak with Rabbi Denebeim and tell him of my situation.  WIthout hesitation he said, “leave it to me, I’ll find 10 men to daven maariv with you. Be at 6:30 at Chabad.  We are 10 minutes from the airport, just text me when you land so I can gather everyone together”.
Lo and behold, it worked out.  I wasn’t surprised.  I apologize if Im sounding like a broken record, but these people are simply unbelievable. 
Here’s a picture of where we davened, Ive grown accustomed to the small, comfortable side room of a house that’s been turned into a nice beit midrash.
and here’s something you dont see every day….an Aron Kodesh vault!  Apparently there have been several home break-ins in the area, so in order to safeguard the torahs, this Aron Kodesh is a vault.  Here’s a picture of Rabbi Denebeim “opening the Ark” before torah reading on Monday morning.
Like most of my excursions, its hard to “daven and run” as I do in these many cities.  I really treasure the very small time I have with these wonderful minyanaires and will miss not davening with them each day.


Had a few days’ fast trip to Colorado and New York that required much pivoting with meetings/times/minyans etc.. My mincha/maariv in Colorado Springs was at Chabad of Southern Colorado in beautiful Colorado Springs. The shul is actually located not far from the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Team Training Center, where I spent some summers back in the late 70′s when I was competing and training with fencing. Rabbi Liberow is warm and friendly. You can see the Colorado Rockies from the windows in the shul, quite breathtaking.
Shacharit the next morning was in Denver and I davened at the Hillel Academy of Denver, a modern orthodox day school. Whenever I travel and have the opportunity, I enjoy davening in day schools and yeshivas and mingling with the kids.
Mincha/Maariv in Denver that day was at BMH Congregation, one of the oldest orthodox synagogues in the West, founded in 1897. The pictures and memorabilia throughout the halls were incredible to see.
That evening was challenging, I needed to take a red-eye flight from Denver to NYC for a morning meeting in Manhattan. The flight was to arrive at 5:30 ( if on time ) and my game plan was to then grab a “quick” taxi into Manhattan for my morning minyan. This would be easy as there are countless morning minyans throughout Manhattan. I chose Adereth El, as it was pretty close to my meeting that morning. Adereth El is a historic synagogue serving Manhattan’s Orthodox community since 1857. Founded four years before the Civil War, it is in its original location. Breathtakingly beautiful stained glass windows are featured on both sides of the Aron Kodesh. Its a must stop for any Jewish visitor to NYC.
Mincha/Maariv that evening was at one of my favorite shuls in Manhattan, Manhattan Sephardic Synagogue. Although I’d always prefer davening in an Ashkenaz shul if I have my preference, Manhattan Sephardic Synagogue is a sight not to be believed. The following pictures don’t do it justice, you simply have to stop by for a minyan and enjoy the beauty and elegance of the shul.
http://www.sepharad.org/index.cfm?page=service

Once I returned back to Chicago, I immediately jumped back into the motion of my normal business schedule, which usually called for a day a week, somewhere throughout the U.S.

My first trip was to Florida where I had meetings in Tampa, Orlando and Sarasota.

I need to pause and make a comment about Chabad.  You will read many posts about my experiences with Chabad throughout the country. Its quite amazing how warm, kind and accomodating these Jewish brethren can be to a total stranger. They dont care what affilitation your are…reform, conservative, orthodox, whatever….if your a Jew, they will go to the end of the earth to help you. Plain and simple. This is what I encountered with Chabad when I was saying kaddish for my father (z”l) 25 years ago and is still true today.

Before leaving for my Florida business trip I called Rabbi Konikov from Chabad Orlando. He happens to be the son of Chazan Velvel Konikov, who I know quite well in Brooklyn. Rabbi Konikov told me that there not normally minyans for maariv, however he would work to make sure I could have a minyan when I arrived. Lo and behold, there was a minyan.

I also davened a few times that same week at Chabad of Tampa, Rabbi Rivkin’s shul. My challenge at week’s end however was a meeting in Bradenton, Florida, about 90 miles west of Tampa with little or no Jewish community. Rabbi Rivkin went to work immediately for me and contacted Chabad of Sarasota, about 15 miles from Bradenton, helping to assure me a minyan following my meeting that afternoon.

This Florida trip was a classic example of what Ive found time and again from Chabads throughout the country, incredible accomodating Rabbis that will go all out to help a Jew in any need whatsoever.

The following week was Sukkot, so I headed down to Miami over chol hamoed to stay for a few days in Aventura.   I happen to enjoy VERY early shacharit minyans wherever and whenever I can find them and did I ever find an interesting minyan in Miami at Talmudic University.   Talmudic University is a Yeshiva located close to South Beach and has a morning minyan that begins at the crack of dawn.  There are actually signs posted throughout the shul with exact times, to the second, that various parts of the davening are to begin.  Ex:  Shemona Esrai, 6:45.07     Borchu   6:36.74 and so on.   There is also a clock on the bima which the person who was davening from the Amud ( leading the davening ) is expected to be constantly glancing at to be certain his pace is in concert with the posted times.    Again…my kind of davening !

Back in Aventura I always feel at home at Young Israel of Aventura.  Since we began coming to Aventura some years ago, this shul has become my favorite place to daven.  A close 10 minute walk from our building on the Waterways, we walk along beautiful boats of every possible design, to the small Waterways shopping area where on the second floor of the office building you find this small, quaint shul.  Never a problem getting a minyan as the familiar faces of “the old guard” of daveners are there each day, making sure no minyans are ever missed.

This is my first post reflecting my thoughts and experiences while traveling throughout the U.S. and World…..visiting many different synagogues and yeshivas in order to say kaddish for my mother, Jacquelyn Labow ( z’l) who passed away this summer.

The idea of this blog was actually inspired by my daughter, Ilana, who when hearing my tales of recent travels and shul visits, said to me I should document this special year.  She felt that someone in the family may want to reflect back on my notes years from now and it would be nice to have some of these important and very meaningful memories to look back on.    At the same time I began to realize that countless other tradional Jews throughout the U.S. follow this same requrement in our faith to say kaddish for a family member who has passed and may also enjoy reading of my travels and experiences during this challenging yet interesting year of saying kaddish.

Its been a very difficult 4 months since mom passed, as we were very very close, basically best friends.  However the time I have spent saying kaddish three times a day for shacharit, mincha and maariv have gone a long way to help the pain subside a bit.

Although I wanted this blog to be a diary going forward of the many shuls, kollels and yeshivas in the numerous cities and towns I will be visiting during my travels,  I’m now into my 4th month since mom passed away.  I have already had many interesting experiences along the way which I will try to remember and document here.

The years’ journey began in a whirlwind manner.  The day shiva ended for me in my home in Highland Park,  my wife, Maia and I literally ran to the airport to catch a flight for Israel, as my middle daughter, Jordana, was due to deliver our first grandchild that week.   Erez Yaakov was born on July 13 in B’nai Zion Hospital, Haifa. The incredible yet awkward feeling of losing someone you love so dearly and the birth of a grandchild shortly thereafter is hard to explain.  Being in the maternity ward with Jordana that morning, I felt an outpouring of exhaustion, sadness, exhuberance and excitement all rolled into one.  Happily, both of Jordana’s siblings, Yoni and Ilana, as well as her Uncle Larry, were able to join us in Israel that week.

In Israel for 5 weeks during this time, we rented a beautiful home in Zichron Yaakov.  That special month would include my davening three times a day in a shul in Zichron Yaakov, Ohel Yaakov Synagogue.

Ohel Yaakov was established in 1866 by Baron Rothschild.  It is an incredibly beautiful German shul.  The members are a mix of old sabras who have been living in Zichron forever, new Anglo olim ( immigrants ) from England, U.S., etc… and some visitors such as myself.  In the short 5 weeks I was davening there I was made to feel as I was part of their warm extended family.

When the day came that we had to leave Zichron to head back to the States, I felt compelled to purchase memorial plaques for both my mother and father, as well as Maia’s mother and father, to be afixed on the entry wall when entering the shul.  I was just informed the plaques have finally been put up and I cant wait to return to Zichron to see them, as well as my many friends I made at this wonderful shul.

While in Israel I davened at several other shuls.  In Carmiel up in the Galil ( close to Jordana and Roee’s apartment ) there was an old, small shul at the end of a cul-de-sac.  The ashkenaz shul I davened at with Yoni and Larry was next door to a sephardic shul.  Walking out I turned around to notice the shul’s name….. same as my shul I daven at each morning in Deerfield, Moriah !

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