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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Makin’ the Minyan

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Many of my childhood memories are cold and stormy. I grew up in Buffalo, NY who’s major natural resource is snow.

To be sure, the Jewish Community of Buffalo is a friendly and vibrant community, but we spent our share of time watching the snow and waiting for a Minyan.

Old time Buffalonians love to tell about the snowy Sunday morning that found my father out front looking for a Tzenter. Unfortunately, the only soul in sight was the pastor coming down the steps of the church down the block. He told my father that they were having trouble too.

I was under Bar Mitzvah at the time and was constantly criticized for not getting older faster. Though I couldn’t help with the Minyan, I would go to shul to daven and to learn some important lessons about the power of ten individuals and the importance of davening as one.

I have memories of trudging through the snow to warm up in the sanctuary and wait while the men made calls. More men would enter, always one at a time, to dry up and wait and discuss lake-effect snow. Eventually, we would daven.

Some people liked to describe Buffalo as “B’afeilo” which is Hebrew for dark, but we knew that Buffalo had a spark that was as bright as it was strong. We couldn’t dream of a pizza shop and the Bills never quite won the Superbowl, but we had the best Minyan that a shul could hope for.

There are many faces in my memories of minyan and one of them belongs distinctly to Mr. Sull. Sometimes Mr. Sull was the one making the calls for people to come and sometimes he was the one being called, but in my mind he was the man with the heavy parka and fur cap whose entrance was invariably accompanied by a flurry of snowflakes and a particularly strong gust of wind.

Twenty-three years ago, this week, Mr. Sull’s grandmother passed away. Judith Levine and her husband had been legends in our community and the Sull’s were devastated. My father officiated at the funeral and spoke of our forefather Yaacov. Yaacov was also irreplaceable. He inspired so many, and yet when his time came he was taken from this world.

My father explained that every man and woman has his or her time. We come, we make our mark, and we leave for a better place.

The family found comfort in my father’s words, but looking back I cannot help but think of the Medrash that ‘Yaacov Avinu lo Meis’ - “Yaacov, our forefather, never really died”. Some people are able to light a spark that is simply to strong to disappear. These people transcend time and their inspiration lives within us forever.

Many of the inspiring men and women who lived in Buffalo are no longer there. Their families have moved and the older generations have passed on. On onlooker might think that all of their work was for nothing, that they have only a tiny shul to show for their efforts. Nothing could be further form the truth. That tiny shul packs a pretty big punch and here is no place like it in the world. I have learned over the years that while the people in Buffalo continue to wait patiently for a Minyan, scores of former Buffalonians are ‘making Minyan’ in shuls throughout the world. Buffalo natives and their children can be found in the holiest and the most unholy locations. They are learning Torah, teaching Torah and leading inspired lives. Generations of dedicated Jews can trace their roots to Buffalo and an obstinate spark of conviction continues to burn in me, in Buffalo, and throughout the world.

I have grown up a lot since those cold and stormy Buffalo days. I live in tropical Norfolk, VA now. Men don’t wear earmuffs here and nobody cares that the Bills actually won a game this week.

We don’t usually have trouble getting a Minyan for Mincha, but today an uncharacteristic snowstorm blew in from the North. As it happened, I was the one making the phone calls. My mind wandered back to the warm blizzards of my youth and I could almost see the men entering, one by one, through the snow. Suddenly, the door burst open and I was roused from my reveries by a particularly strong gust of wind. A guest entered amidst a flurry of snowflakes. He was wearing a heavy parka and a familiar fur cap and he was in town to visit his daughter, Yehudis.

Without a trace of surprise, I cleared my throat and approached a man who I hadn’t seen in almost twenty years. “Mr. Sull”, I said, “I am Sender Haber. I think we’ve met before and I think you’ve just made our Minyan”.

We’re talkin’ really proud.

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