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The power of a minyan
October 16th, 2008
It is 6:25 a.m., on a Sunday morning in the middle of the Labor Day holiday weekend. It is a time to be sleeping, relaxing and vacationing. But we are not.
We are turning into the parking lot of Congregation Beth Israel. The rabbi’s car is already there. Several more cars approach as we park. The cars keep coming and we are awed — so many people, not a single one late.
We greet each other and enter the chapel, 40 people in all. The crowd includes several teenagers who rise early each day for school and normally would cherish the chance to sleep in. They come willingly, without complaint. It is Rosh Hodesh, the new moon, and the service will be longer than usual; still there is no grumbling.
What are we doing in the synagogue at such an ungodly hour of the morning? After all, it is Sunday, and the synagogue’s minyan won’t convene until 9:00 a.m.
But my son Daniel is leaving this morning for a year in Israel, and he can’t attend the regular minyan or he will miss his flight. But he needs a minyan—it is Larry’s yahrtzeit, the one-year anniversary of his father’s unexpected death.
How can Daniel possibly embrace the next important chapter in his life with a whole heart until he has fulfilled this final obligation in the year of mourning for his dad? The timing is a cruel coincidence — or so I think.
I ask the rabbi some weeks in advance if he is willing to convene an additional, much earlier, minyan on that Sunday and he readily agrees.
My daughters, Robin and Amy, could fulfill their own obligations two-and-a-half-hours later with the regular minyan, but both opt unhesitatingly for the earlier one, in solidarity with their brother.
Though I am uncomfortable with the request, I quietly ask a few friends if they will help. They assure me that they will be there, to meet Daniel’s needs, to support our family, to remember and honor Larry. I ask only enough people to ensure that we will have 10.
I couldn’t have anticipated the response. Word spreads of the early morning minyan, and people come. And come. And come.
A college friend of Larry’s who happens to be in Milwaukee for the holiday weekend. A visitor from out of town who hears of the minyan from his son and insists upon coming to help as well. Many congregants and friends. People who generally daven in a mehitzah minyan. And people who are leaders in their Reform congregations.
Today, it does not matter what labels we wear or what synagogue we belong to. It does not matter what time it is or how long the service will take. For some, it does not even matter that we are meeting for the first time that morning or that they never met Larry.
Today we are simply a community of Jews, whose generosity of spirit brings healing to a young man by enabling him to say Kaddish for his father. A minyan in its purest form, convened for the noblest of purposes.
In this span of an hour, in the presence of those who have given the greatest and most precious of gifts — their presence — we share an experience of the sacred.
It is warm and hamish, but it is more than this. It is a holy encounter. And finally, after a year of struggling to understand God’s role in this tragedy, I am comforted.
Larry would not miss Daniel’s send-off to Israel. God would not, either. It was an ungodly hour of the morning, to be sure, but “ahen yesh Adonai bamakom hazeh….,” “surely God is in this place.”
Karen Lieberman lives in Mequon with her three children. Her husband, Larry Lieberman, died unexpectedly in August 2007.