“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel
“Change your place, you change your luck”
(Continuation from Part 1)
On Friday afternoon when I was feeling particularly melancholy I turned to Jack and said that it would soon be Shabbat, and there we were completely detached from Jewish life. Despite my family’s assurances I had a hard time believing, that there were no Jewish people living in the City and that there were no Synagogues. We were in this desperate financial predicament, Jack felt the same way.
So we both started to inquire about the whereabouts of a Jewish community and that is when we found out the Jewish Community on the East side of Los Angeles known as Boyle Heights, this neighborhood was densely populate with Jews from Eastern Europe. In fact, by 1930’s there were almost 70,000 living there, making it the largest Jewish community in the Western Part of the United States. This is just what we were looking for! So we hopped on a street car that we hoped was going in the right direction. The fare was 20 cents each and we only had .30 cents between us. The kind streetcar conductor allowed us to continue, he only took .20 cents from us realizing our predicament.
We watched all the amazing sights of Los Angeles from our window but felt our optimism fade when we did not see what we were looking for, Some evidence of a Jewish Community.
Just when were about to lose all hope, we saw a bearded man and two small boys walking up the street. He was wearing the traditional black coat and hats of Orthodox Jews. The man even carried a familiar looking velvet pouch that we knew would contain a Tallith “a prayer shawl”.
We rushed to the conductor and demanded in our broken English and vigorous had gestures that he let us out immediately. Fortunately, he somehow understood us and he stopped the streetcar, letting us out on Webash Avenue. We scrambled down the steps excitedly dashed up to the very surprised man on the sidewalk and asked him in Yiddish if he was going to the synagogue, then in our beloved Yiddish, he told us that he was going to Rabbi Tarshes Temple (Congregation Talmud Torah of Los Angeles) down the street. In spite of our ragged appearance he kindly invited us to accompany him. When we saw the Temple, we breathed a sigh of relief.
How indescribably comforting it was to find ourselves in a familiar environment, as we tried to straighten our hair and clothes so we’ look more presentable before solemnly entering the temple. To our great relief, the rabbi greeted us warmly as if we two shabby strangers were just what the congregation needed! As it turned out that we were. With so many young people leaving the community for more affluent neighborhoods, most of the remaining parishioners were senior citizens, so young and eager faces were rare and very welcome.
Jack was so exhilarated to find himself in a Jewish Temple in the middle of an American Jewish Community that he dared to ask he Rabbi if he could lead the Congregation in the holy prayer and songs. For some reason the Rabbi had been instantly impressed by Jack and without knowing whether he had any talent at all, motioned him enthusiastically to the podium. Then right before our eyes, as he walked to the podium it seemed as if Jack was entering another spiritual dimension. He seemed to change physically, gaining more assurance in his posture. Holding his head higher, looking older and dignified, this was something I had never seen, so I was transfixed as everyone else.
When he reached the podium he paused, breathed deeply and then slowly and deliberately looked around the Sanctuary, seeming to gaze into each pair of expectant eyes, making a personal connection with each of us. It was as if instead of Jack being a newcomer, a greenhorn, he really belonged right there at the podium as if the congregants were all his guests. Then he began to pray and sing.
It was as though the words and music were coming through him from some otherworldly source and the mesmerized congregation went right along with him. In Hebrew the word KAVANAH means that it is not enough to merely read, listen or repeat the sacred prayers and songs by Rote. We must be totally absorbed, by the meaning of the sacred words because they are meant to convey our hearts, souls and spirits into the presence of God.
We try to make ourselves worthy of this honor by entering a state of such profound concentration that all other thoughts are blocked out.
Some people find it helpful to rock back and forth while praying in order to focus more fully. The more effective the cantor is in establishing this mood the more powerfully the congregation is filled with KAVANAH.
Stay tune for the rest of the story in our next column.
To read more about me, my history and adventures, please be sure to read my autobiography, “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare To American Dream.”
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