A communal effort

More synagogues should undertake projects to preserve their legacy, as Hazvi Yisrael congregation has done with this book.

By
March 26, 2010 16:16
Hazvi Yisrael – Kehilat Komemiyut: A History of a

hovevei synagogue hazvi yisrael 58. (photo credit: .)

The synagogue had been established in 1827, but the Jewish community abandoned Busseto at the end of the 19th century, leaving the keys of the synagogue in the hands of a Christian resident of the city. A man of great integrity, he took care of the building and made sure it was not appropriated by the municipality. After the creation of the State of Israel, former residents of the city of Parma, which is close to Busseto, arranged for the furniture to be sent to Jerusalem. The late Yitzhak Rafael, who was then minister for religious affairs and a member of the synagogue in Talbiyeh, was instrumental in ensuring that the furniture, including the Holy Ark, was transferred to what was then known as the Komemiyut synagogue before it became Hazvi Yisrael.

Dolgin-Be’er’s book is written in an easily readable style. It should become a guideline for other congregations.

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History serves many purposes. Too often, we allow the players on the stage of history to exit before they have shared their memories with us. Congregations trying to build up a future leadership should encourage their teenagers to engage in history projects about the synagogue and its congregants. The deep involvement of young people at this point will pay dividends in the future.

For several years, my neighbor Shoshana Dolgin-Be’er had been telling me about the book she was compiling. It was a history of how two different groups of worshipers came together, formed a congregation and built a synagogue. She had been telling me this for so long, that I doubted that the book would ever see the light of day.

It seemed to take forever for the synagogue board to give its final approval to the text, but the day finally came.

Dolgin-Be’er is a veteran member of Hazvi Yisrael – Kehilat Komemiyut congregation in Talbiyeh, better known as Hovevei, in reference to the street on which it is located, Hovevei Zion.

Hazvi Yisrael – Kehilat Komemiyut: A History of a Jerusalem Congregation throws a fascinating light on the congregants of the synagogue that I have attended for 15 years.

Only a handful of congregational activists know the identities of all the worshipers. In a tiny congregation, everyone knows everyone else. But Hovevei is not exactly tiny and has five separate minyanim on Shabbat. Unless worshipers on one side of the main synagogue have social interaction beyond the synagogue with people on the other side of the synagogue, they are unlikely to ever know who they are.

Dolgin-Be’er has included some pictures of leading congregants, which will help some of the readers put a name to the face.

All the leaders of the congregation have made important contributions to its development, but the most important leader was obviously the founder, Prof. Hillel Blondheim, who, together with the late Irwin Gordon of the Yavneh Minyan, of which Blondheim was also a member, joined forces with Beit Knesset Hamerkazi to create Hazvi Yisrael.

Dolgin-Be’er has provided a biography of Blondheim, a former internist at Hadassah-University Medical Center, as well as biographies of his successors: Reuven Asch, who was the chief national psychologist for schools throughout Israel; Stuart Dove, an accountant who is active on behalf of numerous causes, primarily the Jerusalem College of Technology, the Hadassah Neonatal Unit and Melabev; Larry Wachsman, who serves as vice president of Yeshiva University Alumni in Israel and chairs its charitable distribution fund; Prof. Adrian Becker, a professor of orthodontics at Hadassah; lawyer Oded Feldman, who was the first Sabra elected to the post; and Hovevei chairman David Zwebner, whose grandfather was a member of Israel’s first Knesset and whose family can trace its Jerusalem ancestry back nine generations.


Zwebner, a computer systems analyst and CEO of several major corporations, also serves on the boards of numerous organizations and was a founding member of Avnei Hakotel, a Hassidic pop group. He is also a licensed tour guide. He was named after his uncle, a medic with the group of 35 who fell in the defense of Gush Etzion.

Another hero of that valiant mission was its commander Danny Mass, the son of founding congregants Hannah and Reuven Mass.

Without reading the book or having an intimate knowledge of the families concerned, one would never know how much tragedy has visited the members of this congregation or, for that matter, how many famous people are associated with the congregation.

One of its members was world-renowned author Chaim Potok, who wrote a short story based on a dispute between the founding congregants and their rabbi, Yehezkel Reich. Potok had been called in to settle the matter and, though reluctant to be involved, actually proved to be a successful mediator, finding a compromise that both sides could live with.

Funding for the construction of the synagogue was largely provided by Congregation Cnesses Israel of Arverne, New York, via Israel’s custodian general, which is responsible for disbursing funds from unclaimed bequests. The Hazvi Yisrael congregation was formed in 1962 but did not have its own building for a long time because it did not have sufficient finances and, consequently, held services in various venues in the area. There was a cornerstone dedication in June 1965 and a skeletal structure by Rosh Hashana 1975. But real progress came when Cnesses Israel disbanded in 1976, sold its synagogue and dedicated the proceeds and contents to the erection of a synagogue in Israel. In those days $150,000 was a lot of money, and it made a great difference to the speed with which the building was completed.

The congregation’s first Torah scroll was loaned to the congregation in 1962 by Holocaust survivor Yehuda Blum, who would go on to become a professor of law and Israel ambassador to the United Nations. The scroll had belonged to his family in Czechoslovakia. Five years later, the downstairs section of the synagogue, known as Mishkan Daniel, received a gift of antique furniture that had graced a synagogue in Busseto, Italy, and was brought to Israel after World War II.

The synagogue had been established in 1827, but the Jewish community abandoned Busseto at the end of the 19th century, leaving the keys of the synagogue in the hands of a Christian resident of the city. A man of great integrity, he took care of the building and made sure it was not appropriated by the municipality. After the creation of the State of Israel, former residents of the city of Parma, which is close to Busseto, arranged for the furniture to be sent to Jerusalem. The late Yitzhak Rafael, who was then minister for religious affairs and a member of the synagogue in Talbiyeh, was instrumental in ensuring that the furniture, including the Holy Ark, was transferred to what was then known as the Komemiyut synagogue before it became Hazvi Yisrael.

Dolgin-Be’er’s book is written in an easily readable style. It should become a guideline for other congregations.

History serves many purposes. Too often, we allow the players on the stage of history to exit before they have shared their memories with us. Congregations trying to build up a future leadership should encourage their teenagers to engage in history projects about the synagogue and its congregants. The deep involvement of young people at this point will pay dividends in the future.


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