Monday, December 16, 2013

More Delight in Washington Heights

Several weeks ago I wrote about my first visit to Washington Heights. I was nervous to go. I had been reading Hirsch intensely for about a year. What would happen if I had a bad experience in Washington Heights. What if the people were rude to me? Even though I would love to be able to live as a pure philosopher, fact is that I need a community, need chaverim, need some faces to look at. And if a Torah Im Eretz community didn't have derech eretz, what would that do to my faith in the philosophy?

As I said in my post, they were the furthest thing from rude. Never had I received such a nice reception in a synagogue before. The first man greeted me on my way up the stairs. This continued throughout my visit and even as I left. I won't go through the details again. They are in my post.

I went another time for a class and a man approached me to see if I needed assistance after I just stepped into the aisle in search of a tissue. He helped me find one. People otherwise nodded hello, said hello. It was very dignified. I felt like I mattered, like I was not invisible, which is not always how I feel in assorted gatherings in these times.

Then I went to this year's Chanukah celebration at the day school. Again, people were just wonderful. The lady at the admissions was very polite and helpful. I have been to many events where the lady at the admissions desk was snarly. Not at Breuer's. There is such a humility to the people over there. One lady helped me find a place to put my books. Another woman offered some help with one of the children's projects. It's all done so nicely. They really have derech eretz over there.

So this Saturday night, I went to a malave malke at 90 Bennet Ave. Let me say first of all that I really like how the Breuer's community keeps the beis kenneses a beis kenneses and doesn't have events in there, particularly where there's food. So the event was held across the street.

I walked in the room and was immediately met by the woman who organized it. She gave me a big hello and helped me to find a seat with her son, who was a terrific guy and real follower of Hirsch. He was my host for the whole evening. He introduced me to people and by the way all sorts of people came over to him. They were all very dignified and friendly. Nobody just talked to him because they knew him and ignored me - that sort of thing.

Maybe I seem a bit oversensitive with a desperate need for attention. It really isn't like that. I normally don't need a 1,000 people coming over to me. But when a person is checking out a community, it's another matter. You have to make visitors feel welcome and they did.

Somehow word got out that a follower of Hirsch had come into town just to be part of a Breuer's event and a few more people came over, including the synagogue president. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to be in a room of people who love the Torah of R' Hirsch as much as I do. It's like that first time a KAJ when I saw that wall full of Hirsch siddurim. Usually I go to shul with my very worn Hirsch siddur in hand while everyone else uses something else, mostly some version of Artscroll. It gets tiring holding up an ideology by oneself. You know that feeling, when you get back from a trip to Toledo, Ohio or some such place and feel like you can let down your guard as you step into your frum town again. Or when you come back from a trip overseas and hear the customs guy speaking English. It's such a relief.

Another thing about KAJ events is that the tables are done really nicely. There's a serving fork and napkin and it's all laid out elegantly. The food comes from waiters in stages. Very dignified. I had the same experience at KAJ Monsey last week, where again I was treated very well.

So the food was really good and then came the music. The KAJ choir! In the flesh for the first time. I have heard all about them and seen their videos. I sang choir in college so I have a special interest in this. And they were wonderful. Great harmonies. It all had a classical feeling to it even though the songs were Jewish. Some Jewish singing groups bring in too much secular pop material for my tastes. This wasn't like that.

And for me this kind of music is religious. It inspires me.

My host took me over to meet Mrs. Bechhofer. I have to tell you that I was actually starstruck, which isn't something that would happen to me if I met a movie star or anybody like that. I couldn't believe it, Rav Breuer's daughter and Rav Hirsch's great-granddaughter. Wow. I felt like they were standing in front of me. In a way they were because she too was very personable and respectful and helpful and with it, really with it.

Such a great night. I thank the rabbano shel olam and recommend that all you Hirschians out there in the blogsphere come out to KAJ or KAJ Monsey because Torah Im Derech Eretz is still alive in actual communities despite the rumors otherwise.


  1. Thanks, great post! I felt the vicarious relief, through your experience, that a. there are still people like us out there (communities, no less!) and b. they are mentschlich, michabdim es habriyos. Now you really got me thinking about how I can attend a future event at one or both of the KAJs!

  2. Thanks. Dec 29 there's the 125 Yarzheit gathering in washington Heights.

  3. Wow, I can't wait to check it out on December 29!

  4. Yisrael, I assume the details will be on the KAJ website, correct? I'm not sure I can make it, but I'd like to start looking at the logistics.

    1. Actually I haven't seen the details. I think it's around 8 pm though.