On Wednesday evening, April 26, Congregation Ahavas Yisroel celebrated its 36th anniversary Journal Dinner at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. The guests of honor were Dr. Richard and Batya Gewanter.

One participant noted, “In this shul you feel the warmth. It’s a feeling like family.” She added that the people in shul are nonjudgmental, and this adds to the achdus that is a reflection of the Queens community. “The Rav sets the tone of the shul.”

David Kirschner, President of the shul, welcomed everyone and thanked Mr. Mark Frankel, Secretary of the shul, and Mrs. Jennifer Jaffe for their hard work putting this dinner together. President Kirschner noted that “hearing is not necessarily listening. Listening means you internalize and you engage.” How many times do we listen only to wait to speak ourselves rather than truly listening?

He shared that Dr. Gewanter is a talmid chacham who performs so many chasadim. The midah in which the Gewanters excel is that they listen and empathize, and this is a special midah. Rabbi Herschel Welcher, Rav of Congregation Ahavas Yisroel and Rebbetzin Miriam Welcher also excel in this midah, and the shul exists primarily because of them. We owe endless hakaras ha’tov to the Rav and Rebbetzin for their involvement in the k’hilah.

Next, Rabbi Welcher thanked everyone for coming to the dinner and he thanked the Gewanters for agreeing to be the guests of honor. He shared that the Gemara in B’rachos teaches that Hashem accepts the prayers of the community. How do we know that Hashem doesn’t reject the t’filah of the community? A pasuk in T’hilim states that Hashem redeemed us with shalom. Hashem proclaimed that a person who is involved in learning Torah and in doing chesed, and in davening together with the tzibur, is considered redeemed to Hashem like he is in the Beis HaMikdash.

Hashem’s presence is with the Jewish people, wherever we are. All the pathways of Torah lead to peace and harmony. Torah produces people involved in shalom and harmony in their interactions with others. When a person exerts himself to assist others, this produces harmony and brotherhood. Rashi teaches on this that Torah and chesed take the place of the Beis HaMikdash. “When we come before Hashem as a tzibur, He will accept our t’filos. When we are involved with each other and assisting each other, this creates a community that comes before Hashem, and He accepts our t’filos.”

 The essence of a religious community is to study Torah together and being there for each other.

Our shul has a tremendous amount of Torah learning going on. People who visit from all over the world comment that they haven’t seen this much Torah learning in any other shul.

When anyone is dealing with a difficulty, our shul members step in for them quietly and forcefully to assist. Rabbi Welcher shared that all he has to do is inform people who can help, and they rally to help, no matter what the problem is. He shared that the dinner celebrates that we merited to establish a community. It is befitting to honor Rich and Batya Gewanter as they exemplify these values. They are very low-keyed, and Rabbi Welcher shared that he feels blessed to know them over the years. They have inspired their children and the rest of us.

Following this, the Rav listed specific hakaras ha’tov to the many, many people who do so much for the shul.

He concluded with a brachah that we should be able to serve Hashem in good health and happiness and that Mashiach should arrive quickly.

Then, Mr. Simcha Shapiro, member of the Board of Directors, spoke about the Gewanters. He shared that they are good friends. He and Dr. Gewanter coached Little League together. Dr. Gewanter is involved in the morning kollel.

Dr. Gewanter then spoke and thanked the dinner committee for all their hard, dedicated work. He said that he is thankful to the Rav and Rebbetzin. “Ahavas Yisroel is a wonderful k’hilah. The amount of chesed in our shul is truly amazing.” He said that the shul created a safe, warm place for their children. It gives them a sense of belonging, and it helped them to learn what is important in life.

Dr. Gewanter shared a d’var Torah on the parshah. The most famous mitzvah in the Torah of loving your fellow as yourself is in this parshah. Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l taught that this means not only appreciating your friends but appreciating yourself, as well. Each of us is a tzelem Elokim. The camaraderie of the shul is important. It is a place to connect to Hashem but also a place to see many people and to appreciate each one. The greatness of our shul is its extraordinary mix of Jews who are growing through Torah u’mitzvos and raising their children to do the same.

He expressed his gratitude to the Rav and Rebbetzin who set the tone for the whole shul experience. He thanked his parents who taught him that shul is the focal point our of life.

By Susie Garber