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Wednesday, May 26, 2010


One hundred years ago, things didn’t look too good for Orthodox Jews on these shores. When my great-grandfather disembarked in Charleston the community was already challenged by assimilation and ignorance. Thankfully there were enough stubborn and learned people to keep the flames of Torah burning. My Elter-Zaidy tried to become an American citizen but the local officials told him that he would have to become a Mason first. And so, my Great Grandfather became a US Citizen and a Member of the Masonic Fraternity. He also remained a religious Jew.

Some time later, when Zaidy had earned enough money to bring the rest of my family over, he returned to Charleston to greet his family. Upon arrival, he was told that the ship was quarantined at Sullivan’s Island. Zaidy quickly found some Kosher food and made arrangements to have them delivered to his wife and children on board the ship. Unfortunately, the stone-faced officials were adamant in their refusal to allow strange parcels on board. They didn’t care about Kosher food. Zaidy was about to give up when he noticed an official wearing a Masonic ring. Zaidy greeted the man with a secret handshake and everything changed. The food was delivered, my Grandmother ate her first good meal in weeks, and the rest is history.

I visited Charleston this past Shabbos. As I shared the story with the congregation I could not mask the trace of pride in voice. My Great-Grandfather fought to get his family Kosher food in Charleston, and there I was, one century later, still keeping Torah and Mitzvos in a way that would make him proud.

The Charleston community has a lot to be proud of too. They are the oldest uninterrupted Ashkenazi kehilla in North America. They have faithfully survived breakaways and mergers and a couple of military attacks. In fact, they are proud to have provided an uninterrupted supply of Kosher meat and Matza to Confederate soldiers during the Civil war.

It is refreshing to remember that there were some oases of kashrus in the treife medina. Where others thought that the Torah couldn’t apply, they applied it, and lived to pray another day.

In preparation for my trip to Charleston I made it my business to learn the secret Masonic handshake. It was unnecessary. The Charleston community was very warm and hospitable and the grits were great.

As I walked out of shul Shabbos morning a middle-aged gentleman with a conspiratorial voice and a triangular ring approached me with an offer:

“Rabbi”, he said, “I am a third generation Mason. If you ever want to return to the fold, I can get you in”.

Posted on 05/26 at 05:12 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