This past Yom Kippur I was in a very bad way, in excruciating pain and having great difficulty coping with my situation. All my life I was very resilient to strife. I was a survivor and believed that I could overcome any situation and there were many situations. Whether it was a death in the family, physical or financial crisis, I was always able to overcome my grief or sorrow and push ahead with what I needed to do.
Then came an infection in my foot. For almost two years I coped. Over this period I had 5 operations and many hospital stays, to no avail. I was forced to resign my rabbinical position and found myself no longer in control of my life. Then came the pain. Again I was in hospital due to osteomyelitis, a rampant infection in the bones of my foot. The prognosis was that I needed an amputation of my right foot, just below the knee.
I was released from the hospital in September with the scheduled amputation on October 21, which just happened to be Simchat Torah, the last day of the third pilgrimage festival of Sukkot. When I realized that that day was a festival I wanted to postpone the operation. I went to a renowned Rabbi to ask his Halachic (Jewish legal) opinion and he told me in no uncertain terms that I was obligated to have the surgery on the appointed day and not to delay for any reason.
Then came extremely intense pain. At first it was a dull ache that pain killers were able to control. I then noticed a black spot on the side of my foot and after examination was told that I had gangrene, that could wait until the surgery to be deal with it. The pain got progressively worse, my medication was not helping and I began to become despondent and entered into a state of despair.
Yom Kippur was approaching and I saw that I was in a very low spiritual place so I asked my landlord who was a Bobover Chassid if he would take me to his Shul for services. I wrote on my blog about the experience (https://yosilrosenzweigmusic.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/111011-jews-are-from-jupiter/) which proved very beneficial to my wellbeing, so in the short time before my surgery, I continued going to Bobov as much as possible.
Now over three months have passed, most of which I was either in the hospital or in rehab to prepare me for prosthesis fitting and therapy. On the Sabbath of Chanukah I went back for the first time to the Bobover Shul, which is the subject of this blog.
Though I had only been there a few times and there was a 3 month interruption between visits, I was very warmly welcomed by the congregation and was made to feel right at home. The Rav, Rabbi Yehoshu’a Fuhrer (I felt that he saved my life on my previous visit) greeted me with excitement and made sure that I was comfortably seated near him. The service began with much singing and joy. On my Yom Kippur visit, the service was beautiful but very solemn. This visit was on Shabbos Chanukah, a combination of the regular Shabbat service combined with Chanukah insertions and Torah readings, the recitation of Hallel (a praise to God service from the Book of Psalms) and the blessing of the new moon. All these components combined, made for a very musical and enlightening day of prayer and joyful acceptance of the many miracles that God bestows upon us.
The pace was slow but steady. The Rav lead the morning and Hallel services with much gusto. Again, an impromptu choir of Chassidim surrounded the Rav and with their varied harmonies and combined voices made for a very holy session of prayer. It was easy to get lost in the prayers, his Niggunim – tunes emphasized the Kavanah – the meaning and intention of King David’s praises to God. The passion of congregation added to the feeling that not only were we standing before the Throne of Glory, proclaiming: “Praise HaShem for He is Good, His kindness endures forever” (Psalms 118) but also, we were being listened to.
While I have had the blessing of spending Shabbat with other friends who attend different synagogues, affording me the opportunity to be exposed to many beautiful and serious Houses of Worship, Bobov remains particularly special to me. In my life’s journey I have spent most of my prayer-time in synagogues that were perfunctory, people gathered together to pray because of obligation, social responsibility, or, community commitment. That in itself is admirable and provides a very important service to their respective communities, but often left me with a feeling of not being connected as I should have. I hope that by writing about these experiences, you too can feel the energy of being spiritually connected and seek out such a place for yourselves.
When I speak to knowledgeable friends about my experiences at Bobov, they all raise their eyebrows, nod their heads and say, “Bobov is very special.” I remember a very important mentor and teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, speaking of his experiences with the previous Bobover Rebbe and how his own prayers were elevated to “higher and higher” planes when in contact with the Rebbe and his Chassidim.
My future is uncertain. I’m not sure if I will remain in Toronto or move closer to my children in the Windsor/Detroit area. What I do know, is that I have gained tremendous insight into prayer and how it must be prepared for, presented and refined. I hope to take this knowledge with me and use it both as a participant in my own synagogue and to help others looking for their place on Jew-piter.