“Home for the Holidays”

(From  “We Are All One: The Jewish Response to Hurricane Katrina”)

It all started seven years ago, when FountainView, a retirement community in Monsey, New York, needed machzorim (High Holiday prayer books) for its newly formed congregation. Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz, spiritual leader of the fledgling shul, learned through the RCA of a congregation that had just purchased new machzorim and was interested in donating its older ones free-of-charge. Rabbi Seplowitz promptly accepted the offer.

Fast forward to October 2005. FountainView congregation purchased new machzorim for the upcoming Yamim Noraim in memory of Aaron Steinhart, the shul’s recently departed gabbai (layman responsible for the proper functioning of a synagogue). The congregation looked for a proper home for its old machzorim. Rabbi Seplowitz immediately thought of the New Orleans Jewish community and the devastating losses it had just suffered.

The OU included FountainView’s machzorim offer on its web page listing donated services and items for Katrina victims. Shortly before Rosh Hashanah, the OU received a phone call from Edward Gothard, acting president of Beth Israel Congregation in New Orleans, requesting help in organizing Yom Kippur services for the community members who had returned to the area. Rabbi Daniel Rockoff, a program coordinator in the OU Community and Synagogue Services Department, promptly contacted Rabbi Seplowitz to see if the prayer books were still available. During their phone conversation, Rabbi Seplowitz mentioned that the shul wanted to donate the machzorim in the memory of its departed gabbai. Rabbi Rockoff then informed him that one of the tragic casualties of Katrina was Meyer Lachoff, Beth Israel’s gabbai. They were both moved by the Divine hand,obviously at work here.

Rabbi Seplowitz fedexed the machzorim with the following inscription:

To our dear brothers and sisters in New Orleans:

This year the shul of our retirement community purchased new prayer books in memory of our beloved gabbai, who passed away several months ago.We have learned that included in your tragedy was the loss of your gabbai. Please accept this gift from our congregation to yours, in memory of our gabbai, Mr. Aaron Steinhart, and your gabbai, Mr. Meyer Lachoff.

May God bless this New Year with good health, prosperity and peace for all of Israel.

FountainView at College Road, Monsey, New York.

While preparing the inscription, Rabbi Seplowitz noticed the original congregation’s name clearly imprinted in the machzorim. “That’s when it hit me. That’s when I remembered,” he said. “The congregation that originally shipped the books was from New Orleans!

Like the members of Beth Israel, those prayer books were going home for the holidays.”

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Published on August 13, 2012 at 2:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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