Chasidic songs were performed by a quartet honoring the yahrzeit of Rabbi Manfred Gans at Congregation Machane Chodosh on Sunday, August 6. The theme was Rising Spiritually after Enduring Adversity.
Rabbi Gans had many challenges in life: escaping the Nazis, escaping crime in Brooklyn, moving to Forest Hills, taking care of a special needs child, and caring for his wife when she became ill. Through it all, “Rabbi Gans found a way to turn the descent into a positive,” said Rabbi Yossi Mendelson, who succeeded Rabbi Gans.
Rabbi Gans served the synagogue and their Talmud Torah school from 1950, at age 26, until retiring in 2010. He was instrumental in moving the synagogue, and the k’hilah, from Crown Heights to Forest Hills in 1977. Their current building was completed in 1981.
Born in 1924 in Leer, Germany, his family came to America just before Kristallnacht in 1938.
During his lifetime, Rabbi Gans was the Principal of the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County’s elementary school in West Hempstead, Principal of Yeshiva Dov Revel in Forest Hills, President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and created Otsar (Hebrew for treasure) for people with disabilities and special needs. Rabbi Gans passed away on August 9, 2020, at age 96.
Rabbi Gans “was a Renaissance man. He loved his congregation, he loved Judaism, and he loved music. And he found a way to bring them all together,” said Rabbi Mendelson.
“Music is what has fed the Jewish soul and what has given us the ability to walk this journey,” said Rabbi Mendelson. “So much of what we encounter in life, so much of what we’re feeling, can’t be put into words.”
Rabbi Yossi Mendelson was the singer. Joseph Palmier was on piano, Ali Bello on violin, and Daeil Yang on cello, all professionally trained and educated. Eleven chasidic songs were performed.
Before each song, Rabbi Mendelson explained the meaning and gave words of Torah.
“One of the teachings of chasidus says that in order to worship G-d properly, you have to think about what you’re here to do,” said Rabbi Mendelson, before singing the “Rostover Nigun.” Rostov is a town in Russia where the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe lived and Chabad thrived.
“Nigun Yeridas HaNeshamah” (the soul’s descent into the body) “is the understanding that there are many mitzvos to be accomplished, which can only happen if we come down to earth and live in this messy, chaotic, and conflict-ridden place.”
“Nye Bayus Ya” (I fear not) was composed by a Chechen rebel imprisoned by Russia. “Every one of us is a free spirit, who was once in heaven, who wants to run free with spiritual bliss, and to really feel his soul at the time. But the reality is we’re all stuck in some way,” said Rabbi Mendelson. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson ended all of the Simchas Torah celebrations with this song.
“Our job here on earth, while we’re serving G-d, is to spread light wherever we go,” to “bring redemption and celebration, not only to ourselves but to the world around us,” said Rabbi Mendelson, before singing the final song, “Eimasai?” (When?).
Rabbi Gans was able to overcome challenges in life because he had “simple faith in Hashem. He always emphasized the hand of Hashem guiding the events of our lives,” said Rabbi Mendelson in an email interview. “He also had a great sense of humor.”
The President of Machane Chodosh, Yehoshua Perl, said Rabbi Gans loved Pirkei Avos and lived out “Receive all men with a pleasant countenance.” Rabbi Gans “was exceptional” in accepting all types of people and making them feel at home.
Congregant Betty Cyzner said Rabbi Gans spent hours on Fridays calling those with health issues and those who hadn’t been to Machane Chodosh for a while. Rabbi Gans also went to homebound people to read the Megillah.
Rabbi Gans “gave a place to Ricky Schneider, a place to start a Hebrew school that brought so many Russian children back to Yiddishkeit.”
Rabbi and Rebbetzin Gans “brought special needs children out of the darkness and into the light of the Jewish community, and the Yiddishkeit of Torah, by starting Otsar and having a big bar mitzvah celebration for their son who suffered from Down syndrome,” said Betty Cyzner.
Rabbi Mendelson and congregants at Machane Chodosh said portions of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch for several months before Rabbi Gans’ yahrzeit.
By David Schneier