At the behest of Queens Jewish Link co-publisher Yaakov Serle, I attended the first part of a special series The Emunah Tool given by noted author, lecturer, and columnist Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier at Forest Park Jewish Center.
Just a short ten-minute drive from Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the shul has been kept since my last visit for a Twins from France performance.
The shul began operations in the mid-1950s, filling a desperate need for a number of families from the Forest Park Cooperative seeking a venue for Jewish thought, prayer, and teaching. What began as a humble venture in the basement of their apartment building soon evolved into the purchase a plot of land for $20,000 and a vision for the structure that continues to serve the community today. By the Yamim Tovim of 1958, Rabbi Yitzchak A. Sladowsky was elected to the pulpit before a crowd of 90 families. Under his guidance, the shul’s growth quickly surpassed 300 families, its vibrant sisterhood became the talk of the town, and their Hebrew School, its preschool, adult educational institute, and Men’s Club all successfully took off.
Nowadays, under the leadership of Rabbi Meir Glazer, minyanim, social, and cultural events have found renewed progress.
The event was nicely attended. “It is a really good feeling to see so many faces join us here tonight,” said Mr. Allen Wolf, who is both the shul’s building manager and official gabbai. “It is only my hope to see more faces from our community show up. I know they are out there.” Mr. Wolf was excited to witness the hustle and bustle once again fill the facility he once knew to boast hundreds.
Avrumi Jacobs, a Kew Gardens resident and bochur at Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, has been regularly taking part in the shul’s minyan for nearly five years. Beginning in high school, Avrumi would join his friends in the mitzvah of completing the minyan at the shul and help lead tefilos. Today, he assists in arranging for eight of his peers to help the shul maintain its davening schedule, and acts as a gabbai. “I would be amiss for not mentioning my dear friend Chayim Moshe Steinberg, who takes my place without a moment’s hesitation and is always prepared to help in the mission of the Forest Park Jewish Center.” The walk for Steinberg, who like Jacobs is from Kew Gardens, is roughly 15 minutes. They both as well share the yeshivah connection to the Rabbinical Seminary of America.
Sunday evening, I also encountered a friend of Jacobs’, Avidan Elgavi of Kew Gardens Hills, and as well as RSA talmid. “I am a real fan of Rabbi Shafier and The Shmuz. I could not miss an opportunity to enjoy the wisdom of Rabbi Shafier in person.” Throughout the year, Elgavi is an avid participant in Rabbi Shafier’s classes via TheShmuz.com. He invited his cousin Lior Elgavi to join for the program. “You gotta experience The Shmuz live for yourself. That is what Avidan told me,” said Lior. I can attest the two cousins sat enthralled for the duration of the lecture and followed up with questions during the subsequent interactive portion.
Mr. David Wizel, president of the congregation, was present for the discussion. A survivor of the Shoah and an IDF veteran, Mr. Wizel makes an effort to attend as many minyanim as possible, overcoming the physical struggles involved. It was truly special to watch Mr. Wizel listen attentively as Rabbi Shafier discussed new ways to appreciate tefilah.
There was a sizeable contingent of women at the event. I felt inclined to ask them how they had discovered this remote event. I was pleasantly surprised to see how they all shared the event flier via WhatsApp groups and came to the lecture mostly in pairs. We traced back to fliers to one originating from Rebbetzin Glazer and another from a Queens Jewish Link eblast. Watching the Torah learned that evening makes me proud to share a Torah shiur flier on my status and groups. Rabbi Glazer added, “Having Rabbi Shafier join us was a tremendous z’chus that we will all cherish.”
Rabbi Shafier encouraged listeners to understand the tefilos said daily on a deeper level. “Learn their meaning in English.” The rav explained that comprehending the meaning will all us to see how our davening relates to the world. “We make 100 brachos a day where we recognize Hashem’s presence.”
Rabbi Shafier discussed how it takes 10,000 hours of studying a particular topic to reach mastery; spending two hours daily for two years will allow one to have a decent proficiency. Doing this for 13 years will help you become an expert. We daven two hours each day; by now we should all be masters. Are we?
We must always recognize that Hashem is present in our daily lives and find new ways to relate to Him. It is our obligation to make davening useful in our lives. One way to do this is by studying creation. This will help us ensure that our prayers are not an exercise in futility.
Rabbi Shafier urged attendees to use the brachah of shema koleinu in shemona esrei to speak with Hashem in our mother tongue and really communicate with our Creator; this is the best form of tefilah where we can make meaningful change and impact.
Rabbi Shafier left us with a challenge to know our tefilos, concentrate as if Hashem is before us, and grasp their meaning on a deeper level. This will help us see their grandeur, beauty, and greatness.
“Derek Jeter spent four hours before each game prepping. Let’s take 10 minutes to prep before we begin to daven,” said the rav. One way offered to accomplish this would be to choose a book and invest in learning something new to change our relationship with Hashem. I would humbly suggest that one read the Queens Jewish Link column Weekly Tefillah Focus by Rabbi Eliezer Szrolovits, where a deeper insight is given to davening. Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky is known to alter his siddur to see davening anew.
I must add that the magnificent main ballroom of the Forest Park Jewish Center is ideal for simchas of all kinds. From Bar and Bas Mitzvahs to sheva brachos, vorts, and brisim the Forest Park Jewish Center should be your next go-to hall. Please contact Rabbi Glazer at 845-659-9119 for more information.
Join the Chazaq Organization and their partners TheShmuz.com, Emet Outreach, Torah Anytime, and 10K Batay Yisroel this upcoming Sunday, October 17, 8 p.m. at the Forest Park Jewish Center for more interactive tips and inspiration from Rabbi Shafier on how to use the wonders of creation to live a life with Hashem.
By Shabsie Saphirstein