September 19, 2021
Building Sukkahs, Building Peopl
Using wooden boards and tools, we build our sukkahs with pride. It is a task we look forward to; a mitzvah we can accomplish with our own two hands.
Less tangible but just as real, we can build the people in our lives with a few well-placed words or actions.
The Voice asked four well-known personalities to share an incident or person that built them into the people they are today.
My Student, My Rabbi
Rabbi Meir Goldberg
As a campus rabbi at Rutgers University for many years, I tend to meet many different types of people. Most of the students we work with are nice, regular kids who get involved in our program to find friends and get some free food. Some want to get to Israel, while others are genuinely curious about their Jewish heritage. Most are laser-focused on career success or their social network. Still, after years of Torah learning, Shabbos, and close relationships, many of these not-so-motivated students will turn the corner to a life of Torah and mitzvos. Then there is the handful of students who are self-motivated to make significant strides in their life and self-development. These gems tend to inspire all those around them.
Steve got involved with our program in 2012. He came from a secular Jewish family and had some basic Jewish knowledge, but nothing more. He was very disciplined, as he was part of the Army ROTC program, which meant that his tuition was paid for by the US Army in exchange for army service after college and some training during college. He joined our Israel trip, asked lots of great questions, and really enjoyed it. But he didn’t particularly stand out, either. At the time, Steve was dating a Muslim girl at Rutgers. This is, unfortunately, natural nowadays for our secular brethren; the intermarriage rate for non-Orthodox Jews is 71 percent. But in Steve’s case, there was one zaidy who wasn’t so happy about the relationship: his girlfriend’s Muslim grandfather. He was aghast that his Muslim einikel would date a Jew! Baruch Hashem, both sides’ zechus avos helped and the couple decided to break up.
Steve became more involved in our program over time. He joined our classes, learned one on one, brought his friends to our Shabbos tables, and eventually became a madrich on our trips. I can vividly recall him inspiring 120 students in a shul in Poland to sing and dance during Kabbalas Shabbos in a way that would make those at the Simchas Beis Hasho’evah in the Bais Hamikdash proud.
During his senior year at Rutgers, Steve reached a crossroads; he needed to decide what his next step would be. He intuitively knew that he needed to attend yeshivah, but there was a problem. He had committed to join the US Army as soon as college was over. The alternative meant that he would have to repay many thousands of dollars in college tuition. He approached his senior officer to find out his options. Could he join a yeshivah and train to be an army chaplain? He could then join the army in that capacity as soon as he graduated from yeshivah. However, the officer refused his request. What to do?
Steve decided that his Yiddishkeit and spiritual growth were paramount. So he assumed thousands of dollars of personal debt and headed off to Machon Yaakov in Har Nof, Yerushalayim.
Steve shteiged a tremendous amount in Eretz Yisrael. No doubt, his personal mesiras nefesh gave him extra siyata d’Shmaya. He lifted all those around him in yeshivah and became a source of chizuk for all of the other bachurim. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” as JFK once said.
Today, Steve is married with a family. He works at a well-paying job, supporting his family and paying off his student loans. He and his wife are also inspiring others in their community. Countless people have grown closer to Hashem as a result of Steve’s and his wife’s influence.
When I first started doing kiruv, I joined a vaad for mekarvim in Rav Matisyahu Salomon’s home. I remember him giving us strong mussar. “Do you realize what kind of mesiras nefesh you are asking of your talmidim? Would you make the kind of changes in your life that you expect them to make in theirs? What in your own lives have you changed or improved on? If you aren’t willing to grow and change, don’t expect it from others.”
Steve is a student of mine, but he is also my rebbi.
Rabbi Meir Goldberg is the Director of Meor Rutgers Jewish Xperience. He lives in Lakewood with his wife Estie and their seven children.
Steve decided that his Yiddishkeit and spiritual growth were paramount. So he assumed thousands of dollars of personal debt and headed off to yeshivah
Pic: Rutgers jewish xperience
That One Moment
My earliest memory of the Jacobovitzes is of Rabbi J. driving up to Kalamazoo College with a deli tray for one of his lectures. He would make the three-hour drive to the campus to teach the handful of Jewish students there about our heritage.
At the time I was just beginning to develop an interest in Judaism, enough so that when my soon-to-be husband and I became engaged, we sought out the Rabbi to officiate at our wedding.
He had some concerns about it. Marrying off a non-religious couple who might potentially divorce down the road without a proper get gave him pause. After consulting with rabbanim, he decided to go ahead with it; I think he saw the potential in us and knew we’d be religious before long.
At that point I was just beginning the very long process of becoming an OB/GYN. Only six weeks after our wedding my husband and I moved to Beer Sheva, where I attended medical school. In Beer Sheva we slowly took our first steps toward religious observance. Shabbos and kosher became neatly integrated into our lives. Then, in my third year of medical school, we moved to Jerusalem so my husband could attend yeshivah. We were zocheh to live in the Old City while I did my hospital rotations at Shaarei Tzedek.
Toward the end of that year we were surprised to receive a Shabbos invitation from the Jakobovitzes, who were to be in the Old City for Shabbos leading a kiruv trip. The Rebbetzin had become a mentor of sorts for me. She had been my kallah teacher, and over the years I approached her with all of my questions. Our relationship had grown stronger over time, with international phone calls and visits back home during the summer vacations, where Shabbos afternoons would find me sitting with her for hours on her simple living room couch.
That Shabbos meal in the Old City coincided with me wrapping up my fourth year of training and making plans to move back to Detroit, where my husband and I had grown up. I started feeling anxious about a final piece of the puzzle I’d been avoiding locking into place: covering my hair.
I don’t know why it was so difficult for me. Compared to the many other drastic changes in our lives, it shouldn’t have been that big a deal. But the idea of wearing a wig or scarf around my parents and siblings, or my in-laws, was just too much to assimilate. At that point I was covering my hair at home and in the Old City, but I’d go bareheaded to school.
That warm summer Friday night, in a small but crowded banquet hall across from the Kotel, I was admiring the Rebbetzin’s poise and inner happiness. After the college students left we sat and talked. My firstborn son was playing by my feet, and I just blurted it out:
“I can’t cover my hair when I go back.”
She looked at me long and hard. The Rebbetzin had always been very mild-mannered about my growth in Judaism. She never pushed or prodded; rather she gently encouraged.
But at that moment her features were firm, and she said, “When you get back to the States, you will cover your hair full-time.”
I was completely shocked.
Maybe that’s why it worked—the shock factor must have just stunned me into compliance.
I was so surprised at how tough she sounded. She was always so kind and welcoming, and I wasn’t expecting it. Her approach with secular college kids was “Do what you can.” If you can’t withstand the peer pressure and you go to the bar on Shabbos, at least wear a bracelet to remind yourself it’s a holy day.
And here she was mandating hair covering.
But I’m so glad she did. My husband likes to say we probably would never have completed our journey to complete religiosity without this moment. We would have been half-baked forever.
Life happens moment by moment. Now, Shabbos afternoons find me sitting for hours with my own daughters on our living room couch. They’re my most precious moments.
There’s no question in my mind. These moments would have been lost to me if the Rebbetzin hadn’t built me up moment by moment over all those years. If she hadn’t seized that one moment on that warm summer night in the Old City.
Dr. Clara P. Surowitz, one of the area’s most trusted OB/GYNs, realized her dream earlier this year by opening Tru Birth Center. A strong proponent of natural birthing techniques, Dr. Surowitz and her incredible team of Certified Nurse Midwives give women who believe in the natural birth experience the personalized care and unique birthing journey they desire and deserve.
At that moment her features were firm, and she said, “When you get back to the States, you will cover your hair full-time”
Pic: scarves for covering hair
Making a Difference
Rabbi Sruli Fried
Growing up in the Lakewood of my childhood, a small, still-developing hamlet, the adults around me exuded a sense of purpose and awareness of their mission.
I was privileged to grow up watching a small group of talmidei chachamim sitting and learning al haTorah v’al haavodah with a true identity and sense of meaning. I witnessed yungerleit joining out-of-town kollelim and building communities from the ground up. Up close, I saw my mother, one of the few chassidish women in Lakewood, baking mouthwatering kokosh cakes and enormous seudah challahs and sending them to every single simcha in town.
I was inspired by countless men on a mission, including Mr. Louis Freidman from the bakery calling kids in to the back of his store, farhering them and giving them a Danish; Reb Avremel Edelman learning mussar with kids in the mashgiach’s office; Rabbi Yekusiel Weinstein opening the no-frills beis midrash outside Yeshivah where my father and other talmidei chachamim toiled in learning for hours on end; Rabbi Yossel Krishevsky operating a warm, chassidish beis midrash; Mr. Zev Rothschild zt”l opening the first grocery store for yeshivaleit; and Mrs. Leeba Friedman and other selfless women founding Bikur Cholim of Lakewood.
All of these incredible individuals had a unique identity and lived each day with a deep sense of purpose. They were aware of their personal gifts and abilities and used them to make an impact in the way that only they could.
With their unique personalities and strengths, these people showed me that I, too, had a place and purpose. They motivated me to find my mission so that I, too, could impact the world.
In today’s world, how many of us feel insignificant or redundant, like just another number among the thousands who surround us? The blessing of our community’s astounding growth has heightened the challenge to cultivate a sense of worth and individuality, yet it is imperative to remember that every single one of us has innate potential for greatness.
Rabbi Sruli Fried, MSW, is the regional director of Chai Lifeline NJ/PA. Chai Lifeline NJ/PA services over 1,100 families annually, holding their hands in their darkest moments and providing them with emotional, psychosocial and concrete assistance at every step of their medical journeys.
With their unique personalities and strengths, these people showed me that I, too, had a place and purpose. They motivated me to find my mission so that I, too, could impact the world
Pic: Lakewood icon- clock etc.
A Fortuitous Encounter
In 2008, we made our annual trek from Los Angeles to the East Coast to join the many other participants from around the world at the Agudah Convention. My husband was coming as the Agudah Rav from Los Angeles, and me—well, I just came along for the ride.
“Mrs. Teichman!” I heard my name and saw a vaguely familiar face approaching.
“Don’t you remember me?” This was the standard tipoff that the woman was one of my former students. I had taught English in Bais Yaakov High School for about 15 years, to about 400 girls. So it was no surprise that I didn’t remember her—nor most of my college students who came afterward, for that matter.
I so wish I remembered this woman’s name, and if she is reading this, I hope she will let me know. But I do recall our conversation—in great detail, actually—because it had such a great impact on my life and career.
My former student told me all about Binah, and that she was something-or-other of importance in launching and editing the magazine. She then asked about me, and I gave her my shpiel—how I had gone to graduate school and transitioned from English to psychology, and currently worked full-time as a psychotherapist. She then made a life-altering offer: to write a parenting column for the then-fledgling magazine. This was a very pioneering enterprise on Binah’s part—probably a first in the world of Jewish magazines. In fact, the proposition was so risky that the Mashgiach of Lakewood, Rav Matisyahu Salomon shlit”a himself, reviewed each article for publication.
Writing an internationally published parenting column established me to my readers as an expert of sorts (as if it were possible to specialize in the most mysterious of beings—children). This led to other publishing opportunities and speaking engagements. To a former English teacher, this was especially gratifying. I love to write—and you know the saying, “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” So, while my own kids rolled their eyes at my lecture #347, I got to teach whole groups of people who actually wanted to hear what I had to say. And, from public speaking, it’s a short jump to college lecturing, most notably in Ma’a lot–LA and UCLA, by extension. And the rest is history—or actually, current events.
And the name, Dr. T, you ask? Well, some kids on the block used to call me Mrs. T. (Teichman is too long, especially for someone whose name used to be Snow.) It was an easy transition to Dr. T—and the name stuck. As a newcomer to Lakewood, almost nobody knows who I am. But when I choose to identify myself as Dr. T, I love the flash of recognition in their eyes.
I sometimes think about how one thing leads to another: how that one fortuitous encounter in a nameless hotel lobby has so enriched my life and provided me with opportunities to do the work I love—to both practice therapy andwrite/teach. Yet one more reminder that life is long, and that Hashemopens many doors—even those we never thought to enter.
Dr. Sara Teichman is a psychotherapist in Lakewood who specializes in helping women with issues relating to self, relationships, and parenting. She can be contacted at 323-940-1000 or email@example.com.