My objective when I began this column nearly a year ago was to promote an inward perspective of all things. As people often judge things by the way they seem outwardly, it’s possible to lose sight of the soul, which is essentially the root of all things. Even when it came to conducting an interview or reporting on an event I’d do my best to peer beneath the surface of the person or event under discussion for the sake of staying true to the stated goals.
So when I decided it was time to write about the new local shul, I began thinking of an angle by which to represent the shul to give it relevance in a column whose purpose is to promote the soul of all things. It then occurred to me that it would not be all that difficult when writing about Chabad, whose very raison d’être is penimiyus, which would be translated as inwardness.
There is a Chabad aphorism that says: “Chabad mont penimiyus,” which is Yiddish for “Chabad demands inwardness.” That means that the very discussion of Chabad as an organization or the formation of an initiative representative of the Chabad philosophy has to be, by definition, from an inward perspective for it to be characterized as Chabad.
The shul under discussion goes by the name Congregation Covid HaTorah since it began as a house minyan shortly after the closure of shuls and the requirement to daven outdoors in a social-distanced fashion. From the spring of 2020 up until Rosh Hashanah, this minyan was held on the property of Mendy and Abby Cohen on West Broadway in Cedarhurst. With the arrival of the yomim tovim, the minyan relocated to a vacant house for sale at 461 Arlington Road in Cedarhurst.
Although COVID-19 may have been the impetus behind the formation of this new minyan, Congregation Covid HaTorah is the materialization of a vision to accommodate the ever-growing Chabad presence in Cedarhurst and its neighboring communities.
From an organizational standpoint, Chabad of the Five Towns, for the better part of three decades, has established itself as a formidable force in the Five Towns under the leadership of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Zalman and Chanie Wolowik and their partners Rabbi and Rebbetzin Meir and Hadassah Geisinsky who have united the disparate parts of the Five Towns community like no other shul or organization previously has to date. They have carried the torch of Jewish pride, ahavas Yisrael, and observance of major chassidic holidays with farbrengens and programs of learning for kids, adults, and seniors of every persuasion; and an uncompromised commitment to mitzvos that was initially promulgated in the hallowed walls of 770 by its leader and Rebbe, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, ob’m.
There are 5,000 Chabad shluchim throughout the world spreading this message, and a similar roster of campaigns and programs for the people of their respective cities and towns. The existence of a Chabad house in a particular town doesn’t constitute that said town as a Chabad shtetl, borrowing the old European parlance for a village. What set the Five Towns apart from many other locales within the five boroughs as the desired place for young Chabad couples looking to buy homes and build families was its relatively affordable housing and proximity to Brooklyn, where many of their kids attend yeshivas, and to the Ohel, where the Lubavitcher Rebbe is interred next to his father-in-law Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.
However, where the emergence of breakaway minyanim might give off the image of divisiveness or a discontent with the status quo, in this case it was born out of the continued growth of the Chabad community as well as a desire to carry forward much of what had been facilitated on the organizational level.
I began writing this article a few weeks ago, but about halfway through it seemed somewhat premature to publish. The shul at that point didn’t even have a Likkutei Sichos or a permanent ba’al koreh (both of which have since been installed), so I decided to shelve what I had written. When thinking what to publish this week I recalled that I had this in my files, then realized that this Shabbos we bentsch Rosh Chodesh Kislev, and immediately concluded that this was the perfect time to officially unveil Congregation Covid HaTorah.
While the month of Kislev is a universally auspicious month, with Chanukah falling out on the 25th day, it is more so a celebratory month on the Chabad calendar with major occurrences as the liberation of the Mitteler Rebbe on Yud Kislev from a Czarist prison; his yahrzeit on Tes Kislev; and the Chag HaChagim, also referred to as the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidus, just six days before Chanukah, on the 19th of Kislev.
Ultimately, the Alter Rebbe landed in prison where he sat for 53 days, corresponding to the number of parshiyos of the Torah and the number of chapters in the first part of the Tanya, for indiscriminately spreading the deepest secrets of Torah before he was authorized from heaven to do so. Chabad tradition has it that he was visited in prison by his Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, and the Ba’al Shem Tov, who had arrived posthumously but physically to tell him of the heavenly decree that caused him to be arrested and incarcerated. The Alter Rebbe asked them if that meant he should cease teaching chassidus when he would be liberated. They replied: To the contrary — when you are liberated it will signal the cessation of the decree and you should increase the intensity of the promulgation of this revelation in Torah.
One of the descriptions for the inner aspect of Torah is shemen, oil, which is the main element in the miracle of Chanukah. The founder of the Chabad movement, the Alter Rebbe, was named Schneur Zalman with the name Shneur meaning two lights, referring to the light of the revealed aspect of Torah and the light of the concealed aspect of Torah. With regards to the revealed aspect of Torah it’s possible to separate the Torah from the one learning it as Chazal states: “Anyone who says I only learn Torah and do not perform mitzvos, he is bereft of even the Torah he learned.” However, when it comes to the concealed aspect in Torah, it refers to the level in Torah described by Dovid Hamelech in the opening verse in Tehillim when he states: “And in his Torah he toils day and night.” This leads into the name Zalman which is an anagram of the word l’zman which ultimately refers to the power of Chabad Chassidus to fuse the essential Divine light with the ephemeral reality below.
That is why I find it appropriate, as we bless the month of Kislev, to announce the existence of this new shul.
Currently, the shul is only holding Shabbos minyanim, with Friday-evening Minchah beginning ten minutes after lichtbentschen with a break before Kabbalas Shabbos and Ma’ariv in order for Krias Shema to be recited after nightfall. Shabbos-day minyan regularly begins at 10 a.m. with a half-hour seder limud prior to davening with tea and cake accompaniment, and Shabbos Mevorchim davening at 10:30 a.m. with Tehillim b’tzibbur beginning at 9 a.m. Every Shabbos following davening there is a lively farbrengen with divrei Torah and chassidic songs, adding profundity and meaning to the Shabbos experience.
The shul, as mentioned earlier, meets in a vacant house for sale at 461 Arlington Road in Cedarhurst, which was made available to accommodate this burgeoning congregation temporarily. If anyone reading this has any leads for a permanent home for this new shul, please e-mail me and I will convey it to the appropriate parties.
The emergence of this shul is a cause for celebration for the Five Towns community and the Chabad of the Five Towns, from which this congregation has emerged, because it speaks to the growing interest and yearning to access the inner aspects of the soul and to be led in these dizzying times by the Rebbe, whose vision has brought the light of Torah to some of the darkest places in the hopes of unleashing the light of redemption, personally and globally. May we merit that now.
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.