Hilly Gross' Speech

At the 10th Anniversary of the Lincoln Square Beginners Service, Hilly Gross describes what happened when he invited (as he often did) participants of Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald's Beginners Service to his home for a Shabbat meal.

I am here tonight on what I fear is a totally vain effort to restore some perspective to this orgy of self-congratulations that you have staged for yourselves this evening. Because I think that somehow it’s important that you beginners, B.T.s, leave tonight with at least a sense of how we, the F.F.B.s, as you call us, the frum-from-births, the “lifers,”day-by-day Lincoln Square everyday congregants, feel about you–we don’t like you!! And if you’ll just indulge me for two to three minutes, I will tell you why it is that we don’t like you–aside from the fact that you won’t talk to us during davening!

For ten years now, you have been coming to my house on Shabbasim and Yomim Tovim; just this once try to see it from my perspective. I am what the sociologists and the demographics experts would call the “tired Jewish businessman.” My fantasy of the ideal Friday night is to daven as fast as I can, eat as fast as I can, jump under the covers, assume a pre-fetal position, and conk out until Shacharis.

So, I come to shul Friday night and invariably Rabbi Buchwald approaches and says: would I mind taking three or four of his beginners home for Shabbat dinner? Since Rabbi Buchwald insists on posing this question in front of the people involved, it makes it very difficult to say no! Fine, I’ll take them.

Introductions are made and we begin to make our way home. Invariably, one of you will screech, “Wait!! Don’t go on Broadway–that’s the goyish way, go through Lincoln Towers, that’s the Shabbos way.” Fine, Lincoln Towers.

We get home, and again one of you is screeching, “Stop!! Don’t go in the elevator. Take the stairs, like Effie does.” Effie lives on the third floor! . . . Ten flights later, we arrive home… breathlessly, introductions are made and we take our places around the Shabbat table. You want to sing Shalom Aleichem–each verse three times, because it says so in the siddur. Fine, Shalom Aleichem three times. Then, you want Ayshes Chayil read in English–because it’s more meaningful. Fine. Then one of you has a question — “We just made kiddush in shul, why are we making kiddush a second time?” Well, to paraphrase Renee Leicht, “How the hell do I know why we’re making kiddush a second time?” After kiddush, one of you decides you’d like to make your own kiddush, because you forgot to ask me before my kiddush if I had you in mind. Fine, make your own kiddush–at the rate of three Hebrew words a minute!

Then, after washing, we sit down, and during the course of conversation, usually mine, one of you will interrupt with undeniable sincerity and politeness and say: “Excuse me, but isn’t what you’re saying Loshon Hara?” Yeah, I suppose you could say it’s Loshon Hara. Fine, no more Loshon Hara! Then you want to sing Zmiros, the ones with eight verses–all of them! Fine. Then you want to do D’var Torahs; every D’var Torah you ever heard up there you want to do. Fine. Then you want to bentch, singing each verse, “cause that’s the way Effie does it.”

Fine. At this point, I bleary-eyed excuse myself and again, with unfailing politeness you say, “Thank you for having us, we’d love to come back next Shabbos!!” You’ll be back next Shabbos all right, over . . . .

But you see, it’s not that we dislike you, Chas V’shalom (G-d forbid), it’s that you make us uncomfortable. We’re uncomfortable because after 20-30-40 years of saying Shemoneh Esrei three times a day, when we’re with you we sense that perhaps our Shemoneh Esrei has become flat, routine, mechanical, while yours is vital and exuberant. We’re uncomfortable because in the solitude of our souls we ask ourselves (and don’t believe for a second that we don’t ask ourselves), we ask ourselves if we could do in our 20’s and 30’s and 40’s what you’ve done. Could we uproot the habits of a lifetime, the occupations, change our jobs if necessary, confuse our friends, antagonize our families, just to commit ourselves to our Judaism? And if we articulate this question, few of us dare to answer it.

So, I suppose in the last analysis, we’re uncomfortable because you practice what we preach. By your enthusiasm, by your embrace of everything that’s Jewish, you challenge us. By your insatiable thirst for knowledge, you provoke us. And by your open-hearted love affair with Judaism and everything about it, you ultimately shame us.

We pray that under the inspired leadership of Rabbi Buchwald you will continue to shame us, to provoke us, to challenge us, to lead us, until the coming of the Redeemer, Moshiach, speedily in our days,

Amen.

What this is:

With brilliant humor (virtually every line is a zinger!), Hilly Gross describes what happened when he invited (as he often did) participants of Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald’s Beginners Service to his home for a Shabbat meal. Many will recognize themselves in this extraordinary piece, and just about everyone will see how these encounters profoundly impact on both hosts and guests.
This video was recorded at the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Lincoln Square Synagogue Beginners Service on February 23, 1986 held in Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Manhattan. While the audio and video quality is at times uneven, the message is resoundingly clear.

Why is it important?

Hachnasat Orchim–welcoming guests into one’s home–is one of the premiere and most fundamental mitzvot in the Jewish religion. Its origin, in fact, is traced back to Sarah and Abraham. Hachnasat Orchim impacts profoundly on Jews who are distant from their religion. Many Ba’alei Teshuvah, if not most, relate that they were deeply influenced in their quest to learn more about their identity by experiencing the warmth and beauty of Judaism in a Shabbat home setting. For many it was the Shabbat experience that made “the difference,” resulting in their religious transformation. As Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald has often said, “For the price of a chicken you can bring a Jew home.”
Welcoming guests for Shabbat and Yom Tov helps not only the guests. Hosts and host families are also impacted significantly, resulting in a higher level of commitment, and a more spiritual Shabbat for them as well.

How we can help you:

NJOP is available at any time to help coordinate hospitality between hosts and newly observant Jews or those who are just beginning to explore their Jewish heritage. We will happily offer prospective hosts copies of A Gourmet Shabbat  to use at the Shabbat table, and gladly help you answer the inevitable questions that arise at the Shabbat table (or at the kitchen sink). NJOP can tell you where local Beginners Services may be found. We will also recommend texts for Divrei Torah, or even just advise you how to successfully ask someone to be your Shabbat guest.

With brilliant humor (virtually every line is a zinger!), Hilly Gross describes what happened when he invited (as he often did) participants of Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald’s Beginners Service to his home for a Shabbat meal. Many will recognize themselves in this extraordinary piece, and just about everyone will see how these encounters profoundly impact on both hosts and guests.This video was recorded at the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Lincoln Square Synagogue Beginners Service on February 23, 1986 held in Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Manhattan. While the audio and video quality is at times uneven, the message is resoundingly clear.

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