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Friday, May 27, 2011

If You Can Read This T-shirt - My Rabbi Fell Off

Have you ever been stuck at a traffic light next to a Harley Davidson? Did you watch the driver fidget and crank his motor? Did the roar when he or she finally took off scare you out your mind?

You shouldn’t be scared; You should be inspired.

Bikers know that it is hard to balance a bike when you are standing still and that it is very frustrating to sit on top of a sixty-five horsepower engine and go nowhere. Bikers also know that the roar of a Harley is indicative of potential. Both the engine and the rider want to see that potential actualized.

Our souls work in much the same way. There is a quiet but powerful voice within us that wants to roar with spirituality. It wants to break loose, speed forward and conquer the open road. We are the custodians of powerful and frustrated engines that are yearning to exercise their true potential.

Almost one hundred years ago, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan of Radin wrote a book on Proper Speech and tried selling it door-to-door. He found that many people refused to buy it. The idea of changing habits of speech was simply beyond the collective imagination. Rabbi Kagan was not discouraged. “It was worth writing my book”, he said, “if just one Jew give a krechtz and spends a moment thinking about proper speech”.

We can never underestimate the power of a krechtz and its’ role in articulating the yearning of a Jewish soul.

Two weeks ago I was riding on the back of bike #10 in a procession of hundreds of Jewish Bikers commemorating the holocaust. I lifted my visor and took a good look at the crowds lining the roads and staring at us. Many of the spectators were unaffiliated Jews who had no idea that we were coming. They didn’t know that Jewish Bikers existed, much less three hundred of them. I thought about all of the Jewish Bikers who weren’t riding with us. They must have felt a twinge of guilt and yearning when they watched us roar by. They might have thought about their Judaism for the first time in years. They might have wished that they could be like those proud Jews who wave their Jewish Flags, play their Jewish music and belong to clubs with names like Lost Tribe, Chai Rider, and Hillel’s Angel’s. We probably made a lot of people Krechtz that day.

Many of the riders at the convention are very active Jews. Others were just born Jewish. They may not keep Kosher or go to shul or think about G-d much, but their pent up Jewish souls are turning over, trying to break loose. They may not know Kaddish from Cottage Cheese, but they ride as Jews and something drove them to gather together for a Jewish event.

Elena Baum, head of the Federation’s Holocaust commission, was speechless when we showed up at the JCC’s Holocaust Memorial. I guess she’d never been visited by three hundred bikers before. She was a little bit intimidated - but proud. Our local rabbis and community leaders all commented on the Jewish Pride of the Bikers. The short Divrei Torah and Divrei Brocha were well received and they were peppered with enthusiastic shouts of “Amein” and “Am Yisroel Chai”. Cameras rolled as Rabbi Silver (of Bnai israel) spoke passionately about the need to perpetuate the memory of the Six Million through deeds as well as thought. The Biker Rebbe, Reb Zachary “Zig Zag” Betesh spoke of the sparks that can be gathered from the road and the miles of asphalt that make up his shul. I shared a few short words before leading the assembled in the traditional Traveler’s Prayer and at the end of the service everyone stood solemnly as Chazzan Berman recited a stirring Kel Maleh Rachamim.  The Ride to Remember was a powerful experience and one that will be reflected upon for a long time to come.

Ten years ago, when I first told my grandfather that I was moving to Norfolk, VA, he was horrified. He had been here as a sailor in World War II, and was sure that I’d be living above a tattoo parlor and next door to a bar. Understandably, he never saw the motorcycle thing coming. Today, as he looks at pictures of his Norfolk einekel clad in a do-rag and wearing leather jackets, he sees the more spiritual side of Norfolk. He sees a bunch of tough looking guys who compete for the opportunity to carry to a Yeshiva Bochur with tzitzis for hundreds of miles on their Harley. Guys who are willing to call the most distant Jew and say: “You’re Jewish - come ride with us”.

So next time you hear a biker gunning his engine at a red light, think about his Neshama - and yours. Krechtz a little bit. Think about what you have always known that you can accomplish. When the light turns green - ‘let her rip’. Go full speed ahead and don’t stop moving. Don’t slow down until you have made your unique mark on the world that Hashem has given you.

I shared with those assembled at the Ride that Hitler thought that we would never survive. He even commissioned a museum to commemorate “The Lost Race”. Our job is to show the world that the Race is still on. Collectively and individually, we are still here and we are still riding.

Am Yisroel Chai!

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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at senderhaber@gmail.com