Monday, May 23, 2005

Since Summer's Coming:

Our most uplifting summer experience. Not 100% accurate, but approximates reality closely enough...

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Subject: IJN Online Feature Stories (fwd)

> Interaction: Reform and Orthodox Jews confront and transcend stereotypes
> IJN Staff Writer e-mail:
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------=
> KALISPELL, MONTANA -- Bet Harim, a Reform congregation in Kalispell, =
> helped make a western vacation possible for an Orthodox family from =
> Detroit, Chicago, New York and Seattle. The community provided a Torah =
> scroll, arranged accomodations at a conference center with space for an =
> Orthodox service and rounded up volunteers to complete a minyan.
> Rita Schreiber knew that planning a family trip to Glacier National Park =
> would be a challenge.
> What she didn't know was that her efforts would bring together not only =
> relatives from Detroit, Chicago, New York and Seattle, but also a =
> community of Reform Jews in Montana who would make her family's trip =
> possible.
> Schreiber, who lives near Detroit, is Orthodox. Any travel to the rural =
> West would require renting several vans and packing kosher food for the =
> entire trip.
> But food wasn't the only problem. Schreiber's son-in-law, Rabbi Yosef =
> Bechhofer of Congregation Bais Tefila in Chicago, would not be able to =
> take part unless the family could observe Shabbat during their travels. =
> This meant finding a community that could provide a minyan of 10 men, =
> complete with a Torah scroll and a mechitzah to separate men and women.
> Where would they be able to celebrate an Orthodox Shabbat in the middle =
> of Montana?
> "We contacted a lot of people," Schreiber told the Intermountain Jewish =
> News. "We looked through Jewish travel guides, contacted the Lubavitch =
> movement, talked to some communities in Canada. We talked to =
> Conservative and Reform congregations to see if maybe there was =
> something we could latch onto."
> They didn't have any luck -- until a break-through came in the form of a =
> suggestion from Rabbi Jack Isakson of Seattle. The rabbi thought that =
> Kalispell, a community just outside the west entrance of Glacier =
> National Park, might have a Torah.
> Rabbi Bechhofer phoned Mary Lerner, a member of Bet Harim, the Reform =
> congregation in Kalispell. Lerner was interested in helping the family =
> and said she would see what she could do.
> >From that moment, a massive community effort to host an Orthodox family =
> for a Shabbat in Kalispell took off.
> First, the question of forming a minyan was brought up at a Bet Harim =
> board meeting, but a quorum was not present to vote. A flurry of e-mails =
> began circulating among Bet Harim members and the Schreiber and =
> Bechhofer families.
> What exactly would be needed? How many men would be required? Was a =
> mechitzah necessary?
> One by one, Rabbi Bechhofer answered their questions. After counting =
> their own family members, it was determined that six additional men =
> would be needed to complete the minyan. Yes, to satisfy Orthodox =
> requirements, a mechitzah was necessary. The family would also need a =
> place to stay within walking distance of the service.
> David Yaakov, who handles rabbi relations for the congregation, did what =
> he could to help.
> "At first it was hard to get a commitment for a minyan, as the =
> congregation here is Reform at best," he told the IJN.
> According to Yaakov, some members of Bet Harim were offended by the =
> family's request. "A person from the community got all shook up and =
> started e-mailing everyone to boycott the Shabbat services in protest to =
> an all male minyan," Yaakov explained. He did not reveal the person's =
> name.
> The strategy backfired, as many members of the community felt the =
> reaction was uncalled for. "That was what made many people come, Baruch =
> Hashem!" Yaakov said.
> Bet Harim members also researched appropriate accommodations for the =
> event. They put the family in touch with the Deep Bay Center, a =
> conference center in Lakeside that included a space for the religious =
> service.
> It was uncertain to the last moment whether or not six men would show up =
> to complete the minyan, but Yaakov was convinced it would happen, so the =
> Schreibers and Bechhofers and their extended family decided to make the =
> trip.
> Rita Schreiber was thrilled that her vacation could go forward. =
> Realizing that the community was doing a great deal to accommodate her =
> family, she and Rabbi Bechhofer agreed that they would do what they =
> could in return.
> "My son-in-law ordered and had shipped to Kalispell 10 sidurrim that had =
> transliteration in them so people could follow along," Schreiber said. =
> "I made copies of the Torah section for the week. We thought we would be =
> lucky if we had 10-12 people attending, maybe eight or nine men and two =
> women.
> "Kosher food was an issue. We brought coolers and took food with us. All =
> the time we were in Glacier we had our own food, almost everything =
> except fresh fruit. We brought pots and tried to make it pretty simple."
> For the Shabbat celebration, Schreiber's sister drove a camper from =
> Seattle to Kalispell, bringing more kosher food. She picked up a cousin =
> in Spokane along the way.
> "We heard from people in Kalispell that they had planned a kiddush, and =
> I think out of deference to us they agreed that nothing should be meat =
> so maybe we could partake of the food," Schreiber said. "It turned out =
> we couldn't eat much of it, but it touched us so much that they went to =
> this trouble."
> The family arrived in Kalispell just before Shabbat. They had no idea =
> that
> through that Friday afternoon, David Yaakov continued to make calls in =
> the hope of securing six men for a minyan.
> When it came time to set up the room where the Shabbat service would be =
> held, the family tried to be sensitive to the concerns of the =
> non-Orthodox community, especially regarding the issue of dividing the =
> men from the women. They set up a long table with a cloth on it between =
> two sets of chairs.
> "We tried to do it in a way that would be the least unpleasant for those =
> not accustomed," Schreiber said, "so the women mainly wouldn't feel like =
> second class citizens."
> By all accounts, both sides were nervous before the event. The Kalispell =
> community was not sure what to expect, or how the tensions in their =
> congregation would play out on the day of the service.
> In the meantime, according to Schreiber, Rabbi Bechhofer was worried =
> about making this Shabbat a learning experience and something the =
> community would enjoy.
> "He was nervous it would be a bad experience for people, a negative =
> experience rather than a positive one if they were bored or didn't like =
> it," she said. "We were worried that people wouldn't come or would be =
> upset with us."
> Rabbi Bechhofer explained, "From my perspective as a rabbi, you are =
> conscious of playing a role, of wanting to come across in a way that =
> makes people understand that Judaism is a positive thing."
> Although the need for a minyan was born of his desire to take part in a =
> family vacation, he also saw the upcoming Shabbat as an opportunity.
> "We would not go anywhere if there was no minyan for Shabbos, but a =
> primary motive which I had all the time was, 'let's go and find =
> something we can do which is holy and uplifting and Jewish.'"
> David Yaakov's wife Sarah waited for the day with anticipation. Although =
> her husband couldn't attend, she was looking forward to participating in =
> an Orthodox Shabbat in Kalispell. The Yaakovs are observant and had =
> recently spent a year in Israel, but had returned because of the desire =
> to be near family.
> "I was a little nervous, not knowing who they were," she said.
> Her uncertainty stemmed partly from the fact that the Yaakovs are gerim, =
> or converted Jews. They participated in a non-Orthodox conversion in =
> America, and an Orthodox conversion in Israel had been interrupted by =
> their need to return to the States. "Always coming from a convert's =
> point of view, you never know how an Orthodox group might accept you," =
> she said.
> When Yaakov arrived just before Shabbat, her worries quickly evaporated. =
> "I had barely gotten out of my vehicle when one of the couples, from =
> Seattle, came to greet me. Right away they were asking where I would be =
> staying. They were incredibly warm and welcoming and down to earth.
> "I didn't know what to expect," she admitted. "Our whole community was =
> pretty nervous about meeting them and going out there, they really were. =
> Some of the women were pretty upset, and some were pretty nervous. Many =
> don't even know Orthodox people, but you get these ideas in your head."
> Finally, the designated time for the service had arrived. Hoping that =
> six men would appear to complete the minyan with perhaps a few guests, =
> the Schreibers and Bechhofers opened the door.
> They were surprised and touched by the crowd of about 40 people that =
> waited to enter. "All the chairs were filled," she said.
> Many of the women wore dresses or covered their heads in deference to =
> the visitors. Some attendees were from a Christian group, which has =
> adopted many Jewish customs. Descriptions of this unnamed group =
> differed, but Rabbi Bechhofer and his mother-in-law were not concerned =
> about their participation.
> "Everyone there was sincere," the rabbi said.
> Schrieber spoke to everyone present, expressing her family's =
> appreciation for the community's efforts on their behalf.
> "I welcomed people and told them how touched we were that they were so =
> kind, and they helped us out with this. I said I knew it was not the way =
> they would have chosen to have a minyan and it was such a mitzvah to =
> take in strangers like this and help us."
> The rabbi then helped bridge the gaps among the strangers assembled. =
> First, he explained that the mechitzah was required by Jewish law, =
> acknowledging the concerns of some of the women present.
> "His manner just put everyone at ease. He explained the whole service, =
> the prayers that were coming up, the Torah portion, and he put in some =
> rabbinical insight. It was just incredible," Yaakov said.
> "It was one of the most touching and moving services I can remember =
> being in. They explained what pages we were on, what book you were =
> using, they handled this community with kid gloves. Everyone I talked to =
> was so touched, so blessed and so glad they came. I think it broke down =
> a big wall between the Reform and the Orthodox."
> After the service, the group ate and talked, with the rabbi answering =
> questions and leading discussion.
> He said, "I think it was a very uplifting experience, the sense that you =
> are able to come together, people from disparate backgrounds and from =
> different elements and form a minyan, and daven together. It's a big =
> kiddush Hashem."
> Yaakov spent the day with the family, and some attended a Torah class, =
> or shiur, taught by the rabbi in the afternoon.
> "You see what you can accomplish even on a vacation when you put your =
> mind to it," he said.
> Schreiber agreed. "I thought it was a win-win situation for everybody. =
> We just felt like a million dollars that they made such an effort to do =
> this with us. I was glad to see my children and grandchildren =
> interacting in a respectful and normal way with people who aren't =
> religious."
> To the delight of the Kalispell community, the Schreiber and Bechhofer =
> families left all of the siddurs behind as a gift. They continued their =
> travels with a trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern =
> Idaho, a visit to Salt Lake City and a final stop in Denver before =
> returning home.
> All sides expressed interest in remaining in touch, and in fostering =
> their new relationship over e-mail and through visits in the future.
> "We would like to maintain contact," said the rabbi. "First of all, I =
> loved Montana, it's an amazing place. You don't realize how big sky =
> country is, the splendor and the majesty. I think we all felt we'd very =
> much like to keep up this connection."
> "It was one of the best Shabbosim of my life," Schreiber said. "I mean =
> that really, really from my heart."
> Yaakov said simply, "I was just blessed to my toes."


  1. Avery heartwarming story. A pleasure to read.

  2. That's a wonderful story. And I believe it proves conclusively that the only person in the world who is worried about a shabbos with Rabbi Bechhofer being "boring" is Rabbi Bechhofer himself. :)

  3. Very impressive...thanks.

    When did it happen ? Have you kept in touch with them ?

  4. Back in the Summer of '99 - unfortunately, we did not keep the connection up. But you inspired me to write them an email with a link to this post. They have a website: