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Monday, October 22, 2012


Last week, as my wife and I walked the streets of Chincoteague, we met a man named Barry. Barry had built a boat and was raffling off tickets for ten dollars apiece. He shared with me that he had been working as a deckhand off the shore of Chincoteague when the Marine Electric went down in 1983. There were 31 deaths and only three survivors. He saw and heard it all and was personally aware that the Marine Electric had not been built and maintained properly.  He fought for several years to ensure that the accident would be remembered and not repeated until, while he was in the middle of a presentation, a second boat sank due to ill maintenance. Barry decided that he had enough; He quit his job as a fisherman and went to school to become an engineer and build his own boats.

I complimented Barry on his proactive approach to the world’s ills and shared with him the idea of ‘Benching Gomel’. According to Jewish law, anybody who has survived a voyage across the ocean must come to shul, get an Aliyah and Bench Gomel in front of a Minyan. This is based on the verse in Tehillim and a Gemara in Berachos. It is important to have a safe boat, but it is equally or more important to remember who sends the storms.

When Noach left the Ark he realized on his own that the very first thing to do would be to thank G-d. He built an altar and thanked Hashem. In apparent response, Hashem appeared to him and said that never again would there be a flood. Noach knew how to react to disaster.

Later in the Parsha we encounter people with the exact opposite approach. Nimrod and his men thought that they saw another flood would be coming. They figured there would be one every 1,650 years or so. They didn’t consider asking G-d for help. Instead, they built a tower. They wanted to use the tower to stop the flood, but in the end the tower destroyed them. It would have been easier to just recognize G-d.

Barry was blown away by the idea of Gomel. He had me write it down so that he could paint it on the side of the boat in both English and Hebrew. Later in the week, Barry emailed me that he had been thinking it over and he doesn’t think it would be proper to put the words on the boat. The raffle is to raise money for a memorial and he wants to carve Hagomel into the granite at the bottom of the statue.

Besides for making Emma Lazarus proud, there is an important lesson to be learned here: We need to know how to react to disaster. We need to build better boats and watch the weather report, but at the same time we need to realize that it is G-d who saved us and that it is G-d who will prevent disaster from happening again.

Posted on 10/22 at 03:20 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