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04/24/2020 12:31:09 PM


Shmuli Fischman


Jeremy stared at his computer screen, tapping and deleting and deleting and tapping, not quite willing to comprehend what he was writing. Could he finally be here, a rabbi in full, leading the congregation in Hewlett that he sparsely attended in his youth, only to have it all changed with the flap of a Chinese bat?  

Surely it was chaos theory at work or at least a butterfly effect. The thought of a non-kosher animal in a distant and faraway land leading to a rabbi in Hewlett canceling all minyanim, shul services and functions struck Jeremy as ironic. Of course, it wasn’t irony, a word too often misused and misunderstood by former yeshiva students, but that vision was enough for him to crack his first smile in weeks. 

Jeremy grew up not two miles from his Shul, a modern orthodox product with no discernable interest in the "orthodox" part of that moniker. High school was the same for him as it was everyone in Woodmere: well-meaning Rabbis, adrift students and parents who didn't understand that their lack of religious message was the message. And like all of his friends, Jeremy attended a yeshiva in Israel after high school.

It was in Israel and in the face of the constant messaging from his rabbeim (and being away from home and some specific friends) that he began to adapt, change and evolve into what he considered his truer and more authentic self. During his years in Israel and up to and including today, what opened his eyes to Judaism wasn't the coming of Moshiach, the beauty and simplicity of the Torah, or the promised rewards for those who obeyed God’s commandments. Rather, it was tefillah b’tzibur.

His rebbe had explained that nothing could be denied and everything would be gained when davening with a minyan. Jeremy scoffed at first. Surely that was another ruse to get him to come to minyan, and on time at that. But on a cold and dreary Jerusalem winter day, he came to davening early, stayed late and said every word with meaning. 

It was transformative. 

Jeremy couldn't explain why, but after that, things were different. He was different. When he had a choice to make, he davened with a minyan and received his guidance. So he stayed in Israel and went to YU instead of Binghamton, received smicha from REITS instead of a law degree from NYU. 

When he started dating, he davened to ask if Leah was the right girl. And she was. When his mother got sick, he davened with a minyan and she recovered, though it was in a much weakened state. (Jeremy secretly blamed himself for his mother's stunted recovery for if he had davened harder his mother would certainly have made a full recovery.) When he was offered the pulpit of a shul near his parents’ house, he davened to seek guidance, but always knew he would take it. 

Davening with a minyan was with Jeremy his whole adult life; directing and moving him where he needed to go, where he was supposed to go. 

And now it was all stopping. Every minyan was being canceled, even the one in which he was the leader. Proofreading his email, Jeremy felt the notion he had been fighting since his years in Israel starting to creep back in. It was a terrible notion, a terrifying idea; one that threatened everything he had built and become. 

Jeremy knew the way to combat the virus. As he knew what to do when his mother got sick: Tefillah B’Tzibur. This was the way that Jews have beseeched God for thousands of years, and it was a surefire way to get your message through; a guarantee to change and impact your fate and the fate of others. 

Not anymore?

Today, all the great rabbis from all over the world were forcefully stating that the way to defeat the virus wasn't to daven with a minyan. Science and the scientist must be adhered to, no matter the spiritual cost. But wasn't davening the only real way to destroy the virus and stop this madness? Without tefillah b’tzibur, how would the virus be eradicated?

Jeremy couldn't give voice to this apostasy, but it would not leave him be. If davening b’tzibur cannot and would not help those so engaged, did that not undermine the core belief he had cradled and carefully nurtured for decades? Maybe he knew this simple truth his whole life but took comfort in ritual and connection. Maybe life was all a game of chance, haphazard and random, with the care of a doctor and direction of science bettering one's odds. 

As he finished up his email canceling shul for the foreseeable future, Jeremy tried and in vain to keep that tide of doubt from rushing in; a tide he had successfully kept at bay for many years. He felt his courage of conviction slowly drift away with every clack of the keyboard. That certainty he so cherished was melting like snow in the path of a rising sun. 

And yet. 

And yet, this was his life, this was the path he chose long ago, a life he had built, a position he had strived to attain for years. Was he really going to upend everything he knew and loved because of doubts rendered into full form by a Chinese bat? Was he really going to leave everything behind and all that he thought, all that he was, because of...doubts?

No, Jeremy thought, he would not. And so he furrowed his brow and embraced the dissonance—as many have done before—while pushing those doubts out of his mind. After completing his proofreading and tapping 'send,' Jeremy smiled the smile of certainty in the face of fear. Conviction in the shadow of doubt. 

He turned his attention to figuring out how to work Zoom. It was proving quite complicated for a 40 year old, so he started to daven, hoping as ever, that it would continue to help.


Original Fiction by: Shmuli Fischman

Mon, May 29 2023 9 Sivan 5783