Grapevine: Rejoice at the feast

President Reuven Rivlin likes to attend synagogue services on Shabbat and other holy days.

Chief Rabbi David Lau and President Reuven Rivlin discuss need to help Kurds at Lau's succah, Oct. 15, 2019 (photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
Chief Rabbi David Lau and President Reuven Rivlin discuss need to help Kurds at Lau's succah, Oct. 15, 2019
(photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
As mentioned in last week’s In Jerusalem, Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg has developed excellent relationships with synagogues that are geographically very close to the Chabad Center of Rehavia, of which he is the director. As a result, Goldberg has received permission to occasionally use the facilities of these synagogues.
On Simhat Torah, instead of congregating in the basement of the Great Synagogue, where he usually conducts services, he moved to Heichal Shlomo. That gained him use of the area on the second floor, where a makeshift synagogue was set up with portable screens dividing the men’s and women’s sections.
While many people went home for dinner on Sunday night after services in various synagogues, at Goldberg’s Chabad congregation they were still arriving. Why? Because between the service and hakafot (traditional dances with Torah scrolls), Chabad provided a sumptuous buffet kiddush that attracted tourists, people without families, and those who had not received a dinner invitation for the festival. Goldberg provided them all with a place to go and be together with other people.
Goldberg displayed another of his many talents when he stood up on a chair to auction off the honor of leading hakafot, with the speed of a professional auctioneer. Because his regular congregation is not affluent, the highest bid he received was NIS 1,500, though most of the bids were below NIS 500. But the pledges will help him to carry on with his work in religious outreach.
Almost every congregation other than those of closed communities comprises a demographic mosaic, and Chabad possibly more so than others, because its policy is to make everyone welcome. So there were Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Chabadniks in their black frock coats and wide-brimmed hats, secular, traditional, Modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and even non-Jews.
English, in mostly British and American accents, was the most common language, though French and Russian could also be heard, plus a smattering of Hebrew. Among the large number of non-Jews present, some had come to Israel for the Christian Embassy’s annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration. Others were simply tourists whose tour guides had told them that the only place where they might find any action was what they called “the Temple.” And indeed, people kept coming until the corridors and the staircase were full to overflowing.
■ AS PREVIOUSLY noted in this column, President Reuven Rivlin likes to attend synagogue services on Shabbat and other holy days. As there are many synagogues within walking distance of the President’s Residence, he does not always attend one particular synagogue, though he frequents Hazvi Yisrael, popularly known as Hovevei Tzion, more often than any other. He was there on Kol Nidre night – and so was his security detail – both inside and outside the building.
One of the members of the congregation had persuaded a friend to come to the service. The friend brought her boyfriend, a former member of an elite IDF combat unit who is not remotely religious but tagged along to humor his girlfriend. The security detail made no problem for her but detained her boyfriend for some inexplicable reason. After a very long period, the boyfriend was able to convince them that he was not a security risk, and was permitted to enter when the service was more than half over. He felt so humiliated and disgusted that he swore he would never enter a synagogue again.
When the friend of his girlfriend heard the story, she reported it to the congregation’s treasurer, Menachem Levinsky, who is actually in charge of just about everything that goes on at Hovevei. Levinsky responded that had he known in time, he certainly would have gone outside and brought the man in. “No outsider decides who can come to this synagogue,” Levinsky told her, “not even the president’s security people.” While it is obviously important to safeguard the president’s safety, if the security personnel had any reason to suspect the man, they could have simply sent one of their people inside to check with Levinsky. This was not done, as a result of which someone who was irreligious but not anti-religious has now become anti-religious because he was denied entry into a synagogue in Jerusalem.