Today is April 4, 2020 -
The halls of Beth El Synagogue resound with memories of joy-filled simchas that have taken place there over the years. Each one has left its own unique fingerprint and holds lasting significance to both honorees and their loved ones. Among those many synagogue celebrations, three which took place last year are especially noteworthy.
Sitting in Shabbat morning services last September, Dan Schuller mentioned to his wife, Yaffa, that his Bar Mitzvah parasha was going to be read in three weeks, and that he wanted to participate in the service. When Yaffa realized that this Bar Mitzvah anniversary would be her husband’s 35th, she decided to make the milestone extra-special by filling the weekend with a plethora of surprises – no small feat given the short amount of time, plus the fact that the Schuller’s parents reside in Mexico City.
The resourceful spouse prevailed, and the fun began the evening of Thursday evening, October 18, when Dan came home from work and was stunned to find his mother waiting for him (because of health concerns, his father was unable to attend). The following day, his mother-in-law arrived, followed shortly thereafter by his father-in-law; the cherry on the sundae was the arrival of his closest friend who traveled from Denver to join in the festivities. “He was in heaven,” Yaffa recalled. “He was so excited and said, ‘I can’t believe you did this for me!’”
On Shabbat morning as he walked into Beth El, Yaffa recalled that, “Dan couldn’t understand why so many people greeted him with ‘mazel tov!’ He was saying, ‘What did I do?’” While reading the synagogue’s weekly announcement sheet, he received his next surprise: his wife had sponsored a congregational Kiddush luncheon in his honor.
To mark the 35th anniversary, Schuller read Torah that morning, a gesture that was a symbolic and essential part of the family’s celebration. “Torah is not something you read in private; it is read in the community,” said Yaffa. “Being a Jew means being a part of the community, and the best place to celebrate and share with your community is the synagogue. It’s the natural thing to do.”
Three fellow Beth El congregants – all longtime members – also chose to share special milestone events last year at Beth El: Shirley and Leonard “Buddy” Goldstein marked their 65th wedding anniversary in the fall, and in August, Barton “Bucky” Greenberg, commemorated the 70th anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah.
Shirley Goldstein and Greenberg expressed deep affection for the synagogue to which they have both belonged since childhood.
“We talked it over with the children and decided to celebrate our anniversary at Beth El. The synagogue has been part of our lives; we were married by Rabbi Goldstein, and we’ve always belonged to this congregation – it’s always been there for us,” said Goldstein, who noted that as a young child living in a small Nebraska town, Beth El was her only connection to the Jewish community.
Goldstein applauded her daughter-in-law, Ann Goldstein, for coordinating the Shabbat morning festivities, and called her “the mastermind of the weekend!”
Choosing Beth El for the celebration was ideal, Ann said, because “it would be so inclusive for anyone in the community who wanted to join in the celebration.
“We have celebrated other simchas at Beth El, and always like the warmth and comfortable atmosphere that it provides,” she remarked. “The staff makes it easy to arrange a special celebration and to enjoy it as well.”
Members of the Goldstein family participated in the Shabbat morning service, Ann said, noting that, “The rabbi spoke to Shirley and Buddy and also allowed Donald to add personal comments, which were quite meaningful to everyone.”
Helping to prepare desserts for the Kiddush luncheon one of the most enjoyable parts of the planning, she continued. “It was fun to gather friends together at Beth El to bake for the sweets table. One highlight was Anna Mosenkis’ baking, because it gave the dessert table a Russian influence, which was quite appropriate, considering Shirley’s and Buddy’s many years of involvement with Soviet Jewry.”
The efforts of the baking brigade did not go unnoticed by the honoree: Shirley exclaimed that, “It was the most gorgeous sweets table I’ve ever seen – it was beautiful. Ann did such a beautiful job, the women baked like mad, and everything was wonderful!”
Commemorating his remarkable 70th Bar Mitzvah anniversary at the same synagogue where he became a Bar Mitzvah in June of 1937, brought special joy to Bucky Greenberg.
He chanted the morning’s Haftarah, and bypassed the traditional D’var Torah to instead share his memories of Beth El – and having belonged to the synagogue at all three of its locations (including the JCC on 20th and Dodge Streets, where he became a Bar Mitzvah), he had compiled a wealth of recollections. He spoke of his family’s involvement in the establishment of the synagogue, and recalled riding his bike down Dodge Street after school to study with Cantor Aaron Edgar, at his duplex near the Blackstone Hotel. Greenberg’s dedication to Beth El was evident throughout his presentation, and the rich history fueling that commitment continues today.
These special anniversaries of Schuller, Greenberg and the Goldsteins join the long list of memorable life-cycle events that have been observed at Beth El over the years. With a thriving congregation and a beautiful facility to accommodate all kinds of simchas, the celebrations will undoubtedly continue for generations to come.