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Friday, October 08, 2010

Lakewood’s Ark

I hope that Shalom Mordechai Levine never reads this blog.

Shalom Mordechai is a close friend of mine and was my Chavrusa in Lakewood. We learned together right in front of the Aron Kodesh in the main Beis Medrash. When I left Lakewood for Norfolk, Shalom worried that my learning might be affected. He undertook to check on me every month.

Shalom was relentless, he called me every Rosh Chodesh for an update on my progress. He wouldn’t accept vague answers and he challenged every decision that I made. He made sure that I stayed in touch with my inner Yeshiva Bochur and made me answerable for my learning schedules and priorities.

I love talking to Shalom but it wasn’t a walk in the park.  Shalom is hard to impress. He is a man on a mission. When I made a siyum he asked me what else I was learning, When I began giving a class early in the morning, he asked if I learned at night. When the President of Hebrew Union College and the Mayor of Virginia Beach spoke at my Siyum on Krisos, Shalom didn’t care. He wanted to know if I had learned every Tosfos.

As I took on various rabbinic responsibilities and teaching positions in the community, Shalom wasn’t impressed.  He was no less demanding. When I joined the Harley Davidson Club and enrolled in Norfolk State University, Shalom didn’t blink. Shalom just wanted to be sure that I was learning.

What right did Shalom have to be so demanding? Who appointed him as my personal Mashgiach and Drill Sergeant? I often wondered but never complained.

Last year, my wife and I took advantage of some time in Lakewood to return to our kollel days. The plan was for me to spend a week learning in BMG. This was not a social visit and nobody in Yeshiva was expecting me. I strode into the Beis Medrash bright and early, took a seat twenty rows back from the Aron Kodesh and opened my Bava Basra. I saw Shalom in our old seat with his new chavrusa learning Bava Kama. He never saw me.

I learned in Lakewood for a week and Shalom never took his head out of his gemara. He came earlier than me, left later than me, and never stopped learning.

Shalom truly does live the Lakewood life. His entire life is about Torah and he will never look out of his Gemara. He doesn’t care about mayors, presidents, prestige, or motorcycles.

Torah is his life. Torah is our life. Shalom refused to let me forget that.

Would I have continued to learn even without Shalom’s monthly phone calls? I like to think so. Did Shalom have the license to call and remind me that learning is important? Absolutely.

Watching Shalom Mordechai learn convinced me of this more than a thousand phone calls. Shalom passed the test of time and withstood the pressures of ‘the little world out there’. Shalom is what Lakewood and all Bnei Torah should represent. They are our reminder that everything is in the Torah and that we are nothing without it. They affirm that Torah has the depth to captivate us for a lifetime.

More than ten years have passed since I left Lakewood. Shalom and I still pick up a phone every now and then to talk about Torah and Life. I never told him that I visited Lakewood without saying hello.


On Parshas Noach:
Nimrod the Orwellian

On living out of town:
By Invitation Only

Summary of Parsha:
Parsha Summaries For Bereishis

Posted on 10/08 at 07:17 AM • Permalink
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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