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November 26, 2014 / 4 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Kesher Israel’

Where Did You Travel On Rosh Hashanah?

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

On the first day of this past Rosh Hashanah, I visited Milwaukee while my wife, Layala, traveled back to the shul of her youth in Brooklyn. When we met up later in the day for Yom Tov lunch at our Harrisburg, Pennsylvania home, we had a number of experiences to share with each other.

At this point I probably should explain those last two sentences, so that members of our shul do not get the wrong idea about how we spent Rosh Hashanah.

While any of our senses can help us tap into our repositories of memory, we know the singular power music and song have in helping us return to earlier times and places. The closer a tune is to our hearts and emotions, the more likely it can send us down the proverbial memory lane.

As observant Jews, there are probably no melodies closer to our hearts than those that stir our emotions each year during our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers.

No two shuls use the same tunes for each of the many parts of the Yom Tov davening. As such, when one spends Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur in a new venue, one is bound to hear different melodies used in the course of the davening.

Since we have come to associate certain parts of the davening with the tunes that are familiar to us, hearing a chazzan or congregation sing a different melody can cause us to stop and think of the tune we normally associate with that point in the service. Recalling the familiar melody often transports us to a memorable Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur davening of another time and place.

My trip down memory lane this past Rosh Hashanah was triggered the first time we sang “HaYom HaRas Olam” (Today is the World’s Birthday) during Mussaf. While Kesher Israel’s talented chazzan led the shul in a lovely tune for that prayer, it just was not the one I associate with that part of davening. As I softly sang the prayer to my familiar tune, I closed my eyes and felt myself transported to a Rosh Hashanah more than twenty years ago.

I am a ninth grade student at the Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study (WITS) – Milwaukee’s yeshiva high school. Though I left my hometown of Cleveland just a few weeks ago, I can already feel a whole new world opening before me. In that short period of time I have begun the process of bonding with new friends from all over the country, learning and developing meaningful relationships with the yeshiva’s rebbeim and experiencing camaraderie the likes of which I have never known before.

With the entire yeshiva gathered in the WITS beis medrash, the Rosh Hashanah davening is incredible. Mussaf has begun. After reciting the “Hineni” prayer in his melodious voice, Rabbi Ephraim Becker leads us in the most beautiful and haunting and inspiring Kaddish I have ever heard, and each of us recites our Shemoneh Esrei.

During Chazaras HaShatz, Rabbi Raphael Wachsman flawlessly sounds the shofar three times. Immediately after each round of shofar blowing, Rabbi Becker leads the entire yeshiva as we loudly sing the most moving rendition of HaYom HaRas Olam I can imagine.

I happily spent all four years of yeshiva high school at WITS, and that memory of us all singing HaYom HaRas Olam together will always be seared in my mind. As soon as we reached that prayer at Kesher Israel this year on Rosh Hashanah, singing the tune I associate with it allowed me to revisit one of the most special and transformative periods in my life.

A Memorable Visit To A Very Different Hospital

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

            As a congregational rabbi, I often see people in hospitals and other health care facilities. While each building may look different, the actual differences are rather minute. It was my privilege recently to visit a hospital that is a definite exception to that rule.

 

            Several weeks ago I traveled together with Larry Babitts to Washington to visit patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. With its patient population consisting mainly of wounded U.S. soldiers and a staff decked out in army-issue camouflage hospital scrubs and combat boots, visiting Walter Reed was an entirely new experience for me.

 

            I wanted to visit Walter Reed with Larry in order to thank our brave soldiers for their service. I also wanted to let them know that American Jews truly appreciate their sacrifices in the war against terror.

 

            Larry, a longtime friend of my synagogue, Kesher Israel Congregation of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran who was wounded in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. In addition to being active in a number of veteran-related activities, Larry regularly travels from Harrisburg to Walter Reed to visit, comfort and lift the spirits of soldiers who have been wounded on the battlefield.

 

            While driving to Washington, Larry explained his dedication to this unique act of chesed (kindness). While serving as an infantryman during the Korean War, Larry had his legs shattered by an enemy landmine that killed some of his fellow soldiers.

 

            Realizing his group had ventured into a heavily mined area, Larry could only writhe in pain, thinking no one would risk his life to evacuate him. But one brave soldier was determined to get Larry off of that Korean hilltop. Though he vividly remembers the sound of the soldier’s voice, to this day Larry has absolutely no idea who the soldier was or even what he looked like.

 

            Larry was eventually evacuated to the U.S. where he spent almost two years at Walter Reed recovering from his wounds. Unable to thank the soldier whose act of kindness saved his life, Larry reciprocates by visiting and sharing his story with a new generation of wounded soldiers. He does his best to encourage those whose experiences he can so clearly relate to.

 

            We had a chance to visit with a few young soldiers and their families. The first patient we saw was a fellow Pennsylvanian who’d been wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. While all his limbs were thankfully intact, he had suffered a severe concussion and faced a long recovery. Both he and his family appreciated our visit. (I realized I’d just read about this soldier’s injury in that Saturday’s newspaper. I told his family how amazed I was that the army had transferred him to Walter Reed by Monday morning.)

 

            The second soldier we saw was a young officer whose vehicle had been hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan. His wife at his bedside, he was recovering from having had one of his legs amputated below the knee. I was impressed by his positive attitude. He told us he had nothing but gratitude for the army’s efforts. He had been injured about a year and a half earlier; army surgeons had operated more than ten times in an effort to save his leg.

 

            While we talked, he thanked a visiting doctor for the hospital’s efforts on his behalf. “No private health insurance would’ve paid for ten surgeries,” he joked.

 

            I hope the wounded soldiers and their family members took comfort from my visit, but I clearly saw how much they appreciated Larry’s. In him they saw someone who understood their pain, anxieties and concerns – someone who spent two years recovering in Walter Reed and then went on to lead and enjoy a fulfilling life.

 

            Obviously, encountering a caring human being with a shared set of experiences went a long way to provide those brave young men with a greater sense of hope, optimism, and comfort.

 

            Visiting Walter Reed with Larry Babitts reminded me of a very important lesson. Many centuries ago our sages taught us that in the midst of a crisis, knowledge that others have dealt with a similar challenge can be a great source of comfort.

 

            To some extent, each of us has had to deal with trying situations. Sharing our experiences with others in similar straits is an extraordinary act of chesed. Letting others know we can relate to their pain can make a world of a difference to someone facing one of life’s many challenges.


 


 


            Rabbi Akiva Males is spiritual leader of Kesher Israel Congregation of Harrisburg, PA. He can be reached at the Kesher Israel office (717-238-0762) or at rabbimales@yahoo.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/a-memorable-visit-to-a-very-different-hospital/2009/07/01/

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