By Larry Gordon
These days, if there is any traveling to be done, it has to take place sometime between Shacharis and Minchah. As has been previously chronicled in this space, in the aftermath of the passing of my mom, ob’m, a few months ago (a bit more than four, actually), we are navigating our way through a year of aveilus or a level of mourning over our loss.
The commitment to recite Kaddish does not necessarily take over, but let’s just say that it is a somewhat dominating force. Everything I do these days, I usually have to measure or estimate the time in proximity to the next minyan, usually for Minchah or Ma’ariv, as Shacharis—the morning prayer—seems to be more of a staple in most other people’s lives. So for last week and part of this week, we were in Vermont with the good folks of KMR—the Werner Brothers—who have, over the last 14 years, redefined what an upscale strictly kosher getaway is all about.
I was drawn to this program because it is about a six-hour drive from New York and, most importantly, did not involve waiting in airports or dealing with airline delays, which seem to be a matter of course regardless of where or when you are traveling these days. One of my kids said to me the other day, “So you’re taking a real road trip.”
So we left the afternoon after Tishah B’Av and decided that it might be more comfortable and doable to stop for Minchah and Ma’ariv in Albany, which is about 170 miles from this part of New York and about halfway to our ultimate destination in Stowe, Vermont. But the story does not begin there. It actually starts the way in which many things begin in our modern times, with a Google search to see if it makes sense to stop in Albany and if I could catch a minyan for Ma’ariv somewhere nearby.
Now most metropolitan areas feature at least a small Orthodox Jewish community, but the drawback is that there is rarely more than one minyan a day for any of the designated prayers. It may seem strange to those of us in metro New York, but why would a community with 20 or so men require more than one minyan each day or night? If you are saying Kaddish, you basically have one shot at it in these towns and nothing more.
My Google search led me to Rabbi Yisroel Rubin, Chabad emissary in Albany since 1974. I did not know Rabbi Rubin nor did I know anything about Albany, though I’ve been here a few times over the years. I can report that I received a warm and accommodating welcome and Rabbi Rubin even asked me to speak (well, for three minutes) between Minchah and Ma’ariv last Wednesday night. I guessed that these parts receive few itinerant preachers these days, so I shared some of my thoughts with the 15 men present for the minyan.
After davening, Rabbi Rubin reminisced with me about his days in Crown Heights many years ago and his encounters with both my zaide and my father. I was touched by his recollections and the impression and impact my grandfather and father had made on him so many years ago. After the last Kaddish at the morning minyan on Thursday, as we were saying our goodbyes, the last thing he said to me as I was walking out the door was, “I loved your father.”
My goodness, those words struck me in a profound and emotional sort of way. I thought to myself that even 27 years after my father’s passing, I hear things like this time and again, almost every place I go. I got into my car and murmured to myself for a minute with tears welling up in my eyes, “What? He loved my father? He loved my father? If that’s the case, what about me? What should I say? What should I do? How should I feel?” And to just think, all I was looking for was a minyan for Ma’ariv.
• • •
So we are in Vermont. Driving through one of the small towns on the way to Stowe, I spotted a banner hanging on a front porch, fluttering in the wind. It said, “Resist.” That is the crazed leftist catchword that makes reference to the Trump presidency. Bear in mind that Vermont is Bernie Sanders country—he’s the former presidential candidate who almost beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Another extreme leftist representing this mountainous state is its other hopelessly liberal U.S. senator, Patrick Leahy. But when the Werner Brothers and KMR move into one of these world-class resorts, the place is transformed into a makom Torah with great shiurim, davening, lectures, and upscale cuisine.
So even though this is a solid place for minyanim and the ability to say Kaddish on schedule, one is still out of the usual routine. While I was pretty sure everything would go well, on the first morning—last Friday—it took a few extra minutes to patch together a morning minyan. No one seemed to be worried, but as I recited some of the preliminaries before the first Kaddish of the day, I could not help turning around a few times to take a head count.
Up here in Vermont, or for that matter anywhere else you go during the year of Kaddish, you never know what kind of dynamic you are going to meet up with. As it turns out, from among the close to 100 men here davening with a minyan daily, it seemed there were four of us saying Kaddish for a parent.
There were two daily minyanim for each of the tefillos, so it’s pretty much up in the air when you will have to daven at the amud. Then again, people were coming and going all week, so at the same time none of us knew when we would be getting a break, meaning that someone else who was saying Kaddish would show up.
Vermont is an interesting getaway location. It is a piece of America that we ordinarily do not travel to, as there is really little reason for us to be here. Most of the time it is cold and icy up here, and even the other day, on a summer August morning, it was 49 degrees. One of the hotel staff told me that up until a few weeks ago, there was still snow on top of nearby Mt. Mansfield.
If you want to daven with a minyan or if you have to daven with a minyan, this is not the place for you. Yiddishkeit in this part of Vermont seems scant or possibly nonexistent. So except for the Jewish religious dimension, this place is G‑d country. The mountain ranges and sharp jutting peaks that look like they are trying to reach the sky can only be attributed to something out of that artistic six days of creation 5777 years ago.
For this past week anyway, a vestige of holiness came up to the mountains. We brought kosher food, daf yomi, Shabbat zemiros, and perhaps an aspect of Jewish life never seen before in these parts. We praised G‑d and His wonders in a multiplicity of ways. And one of those ways was by saying Kaddish.
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