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The Essential Component of Jewish Continuity

Branching Out

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Sometimes I get the feeling that my Turkish ancestors are staring at me. They probably wonder why I’m wearing a black Fedora and not a Red Fez with a pom-pom. They wonder why I rush through some parts of davening and relegate others to long, drawn out marches. They probably wonder about my accent, my mannerisms and my kids who carry the names of deceased relatives rather than more familiar names like Mazaltov and Machlouf.

Yitzhak ben Tzvi compared the Jewish people to the Paroches in the Mishkan. He wrote that we are a tapestry made up of many different threads. We all come together to make something beautiful, but when we are apart our similarities disappear. His words were beautiful and they are printed on every twenty sheqel note in Israel.

I think he was wrong.

We are not the Paroches; we are the Menorah. The Menorah was made of one solid piece of gold, yet it forms seven diverse branches. We are all united at the core and made of the same stuff.

To often, we try to shove one type of Jew into another Jew’s clothing. We think that Jews who believe the same way must feel and act the same way as well. When my great-grandparents were impressed they would use words like “W’allah” or “Harika”; when my students are impressed they say “Awesome!” or “Beast”. They have the same belief systems but different ways of expressing themselves.

Last Shabbos I had the opportunity to spend time at the Bar Mitzvah of one of my favorite students. It was a Purely Sefardic Shabbos and it was packed with songs, mannerisms, and customs that I was not used to. I thought about my Sefardi grandparents and allowed their blood to course through my veins for just one weekend. It worked, and it opened up my eyes to the vastly different ways that my students relate to Yiddishket. Each one of my students has a different Neshama with different interests, different emotions, different sensitivities, and different motivations. In my Tefillos, I thought of my graduating students and prayed that I had respected the individuality of each and every one of them. The Bar Mitzvah boy made my day when he reached the end of his speech and proclaimed his unique thanks:

“Rabbi Haber”, he intoned, “thank you for teaching me Torah. You are a Beast Rebbe!”

Nobody was sure what he meant, but I’m sure that my ancestors were proud.

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