It was my grandfather, Hyman Brenner, who roped me in back in 1980.
The beloved Lenny Goodman was leading Shabbat services each Saturday at Beth Sholom Home, but he did not read from the Torah. I could, and at the urging of Grandpa, one of the first male residents, I commenced what has become a nearly 40-year relationship with the Virginia Beach organization.
Soon, one of Lenny’s colleagues from Beth El, Brad Lazernick, an excellent service leader in his own right, joined us to provide more pulpit depth for what was a sizable and observant Jewish congregation.
“We had some very learned people here, many of whom I grew up knowing very well,” says Lazernick, now director of the Center for Aging at Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia. “And I felt an obligation to give them the type of service they were used to before they moved into the Home.”
That zeal drove Lenny, Brad, and me in the early days and even inspired my two children who began riding their bikes up to Beth Sholom from our home. “I remember Molly and I pedaling around the grounds and even the multi-purpose room where we first did services,” Danny Rubin recalls. “And I became familiar with the prayers just by being exposed to them so often.”
Hymie Brenner, who died in 1983, would be so proud to know that Danny (Chayim Yehudah ben Yosef) leads Shacharit, the Torah service and Musaf with me once a month. His four-year-old son, Niv, is now there too, carrying the same stuffed toy Torah around the sanctuary as his dad did and no doubt absorbing the songs and tunes as well. One-year-old Shai can’t be far behind.
To lighten the load and allow Brad and me to be at our home synagogues or elsewhere on other Shabbats, we are fortunate to have a pair of very ritually able volunteers on the roster, Attorney Bill Nossen from Congregation Beth El and Temple Emmanuel’s Dr. David Maizel.
“My family up in New Jersey was Conservative, but I attended an Orthodox day school and Yeshiva High School in New York,” says Maizel, one of the area’s most respected family doctors who looked after the health of Beth Sholom residents in its early years. “My father lived here for his final years, and that’s when I started leading Shabbat services.” He’s been a regular for 15 years and counting and also sits on the Beth Sholom Village board of directors.
The glue that keeps it all running well on Saturdays, and is a pro on the bimah himself, is uber volunteer Ben Kozak, who kept his home temple, Gomley Chesed, going for five years after it sold its building. His family’s connection to Beth Sholom Village is deep. “My dad lived here from 2008 until 2013, and my mother drove from Portsmouth every day to see him until she was 90 years old,” says Kozak, a penultimate people person who has never met a stranger. “Mom came for rehab in 2015 and has lived here permanently since 2016. So, I’m in the building most days, helping my mother.” And many others.
Following the recent passing of his wife, Joann Klein, longtime gabbai Ken Klein relocated to Atlanta to be near his children. Fortunately, former Navy civilian logistics manager David Rabinowitz has replaced him ably, taking the aliyah card into the congregation for frail residents to recite blessings and ensuring that everyone has a role in the day’s proceedings.
“I started attending services at Beth Sholom when my uncle Morris Papier lived here. Lenny actually officiated at my son’s bar mitzvah,” says Rabinowitz. “Being here every Shabbat is personally rewarding for me.”
When at the front of Beth Sholom’s well-appointed chapel, Maizel says he raises his eyes from his siddur whenever he can. “I love watching my elderly congregants singing along because they recognize a melody. It’s a major source of naches for me.”
It’s a reassurance for Cantor Elihu Flax, who conducts the weekday afternoon minyans, but depends on volunteers on Shabbat. “We are truly blessed to have such a wonderful cadre of people to do this mitzvah.”
For me, continuing what has become a Rubin family tradition is not just a pleasure but also a learning experience. I include a brief and interactive d’var torah when I am the lead davener, which forces me to bone up on the stories and lessons of the weekly Torah portion. As for my personal motivation, I second the sentiment of my friend Brad, who like all of us, fondly recalls the many vivid male and female Jewish characters from every area synagogue to whom we have ministered since 1980.
“If or when I am in Beth Sholom someday,” says Brad Lazernick, “I hope there are people here to do this for me.”
Joel Rubin is a past president of Beth Sholom Village.
– Joel Rubin