From Humble Beginnings
By Elliot Dweck
The story of our congregation is a story about the birth and growth of a community. Just a few families and new neighbors 25 years ago, we have now strengthened our ties and developed our respect for one another. Today, with our rabbis to guide us, we have grown and prospered.
When I reflect back on our first years here, a few memories immediately come to mind. I remember our first Yom Kippur, when we had to borrow a half-dozen Sifrei Torah for Kal Nidre. We had a total of 80 people for services, 60 men and 20 women. Nowadays, more congregants attend our second minyan on Shabbat in the middle of winter.I recall our first fundraiser, a raffle with a Cadillac as grand prize. When the idea was proposed, Joe Betesh, a”h, thought it best to share such an undertaking with another synagogue. Fortunately, we persuaded Joe that we should take on the entire project ourselves; if we could not succeed, how could we aspire to leadership? With G-d’s help, the fundraiser was a great success and paved the way for “The $52,000 Gold Giveaway”, an event which further established our reputation throughout Brooklyn and Deal.
But of all my memories, the most stirring is my first-ever conversation with Rabbi Labaton, a”h. It was the last Shabbat of the summer of 1979, three months before his oldest child, Sara, was born. The Rabbi had been invited to lead our congregation for the summer, during his break from studies in Boston. His personal warmth and boundless enthusiasm convinced me then and there that he was the only man for the job.
Though he refused our advances time and again over the next few summers, we would not be denied. In all my time with the Rabbi, probably the only time I have not listened to him was when he told us to proceed without him. By August 1982 we had finally persuaded him to become our leader and inaugurated the event with a lavish sebit. In his opening speech, he promised to serve our congregation as its Rabbi for at least seven years.
Well, Rabbi, that seven went on to twenty-one (and later to thirty). Again we celebrated with a lavish sebit, not in an old house, but rather in a modern and spacious synagogue building. We celebrated with not only our children but also with our grandchildren. We celebrated the values that have kept us together, the values that the Rabbi has taught us.
An entire community sends you its deepest gratitude. Thank you for being our Rabbi.
*This article is slightly adapted from its original.