Making the Rounds

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02 Aug 2006

Revisiting my bar-mitzvah, on its 70th anniversary

The year 1936 was marked by many important events. Among them: FDR was elected to a second term as President of the United States, defeating Alf Landon; the runaway best-seller was Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind,” German Boxer Max Schmeling knocked out Joe Louis in their heavyweight boxing match, the summer Olympics opened in Berlin, Germany; Nehemia Cohen and Sam Lehrman opened the first Giant supermarket at Georgia Avenue and Park Road, in D.C. Also in that year Larry Rosen, that’s me, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Talmud Torah, Street, SW. Washington, D.C. on Shabbat Nachamu.

Last year on my 69th Bar Mitzvah anniversary, I discussed the different customs practiced at our shul, such as the Bar Mitzvah boy, wearing a square yarmulke, walking upstairs to the women’s section and kissing his mother after reciting the maftir, not having to dodge pitched candy snacks, the congregation feasting on a gourmet kiddish of herring, kichel and schnapps, and the men periodically sniffing snuff located on the Bema. This year I want to recall some memories while “Making The Rounds,” not at drinking establishments, but at various synagogues I attended while growing up in and around DC.

My family moved into the SW neighborhood around 1927. Not too long afterward, in the early 30’s, I began attending synagogue services at Congregation Talmud Torah 467 E Street. SW.

As time progressed, synagogues either moved to different locations or merged with other shuls. I too changed residences periodically, resulting in my attending different synagogues. Around the beginning of the year 2000, I had the occasion to attend services at Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah,16th and Jonquil. This synagogue, now Ohev Sholom–The National Synagogue — became the last stop on the synagogue trips. While living in SW, I attended services, on a few occasions, at a small synagogue, Voliner Anshe Sfard, 607 4 1⁄2 Street, which eventually became Beth Sholom Synagogue now located on Seven Locks Road.

In 1943, I bid farewell to my family and friends when I was invited to join the Army. I was sent to the 42d Infantry Rainbow Division, where I was fortunate to meet an outstanding Jewish chaplain, Eli Bohnen. When possible, this chaplain, who was ordained a Rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and later received his doctorate from the same institution, conducted interesting services for the Jewish servicemen.

He was appointed Assistant Division Chaplain when our division went to Europe and achieved the rank of Major. He participated in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp and then was assigned to the displaced person camps in Bad Gastein and other places in Austria where he set up many programs and activities. When I needed to recite the yahrzeit for my father, Chaplain Bohnen assembled other Jewish servicemen to make a minyan.

I received a furlough to visit my family during Sukkot in 1943. It was the last time I attended services in the SW Talmud Torah and the last time I saw my father. He passed away in 1944.

After being discharged from the service in 1946, I lived at 914 Decatur Street, NW, my mother having moved out of SW.

On November 26, 1950 it was back to Talmud Torah – the shul having been demolished during the SW redevelopment, and now located at 14th and Emerson Street, NW– for an important day — getting married. Rabbi Joshua Klavan and a Rabbi Segal officiated.

Around the mid 50’s I joined a huge “migration” of many young Jewish couples who purchased homes in a Northeast D.C. neighborhood called Riggs Park, also known as “Little Tel Aviv.” There, I joined Shaare Tefila, the neighborhood shul at 405 Riggs Road NE. I was a charter member, served on the religious and one time on the Rabbi Selection committee.

Many of the new congregants had served in the military and thus were eligible to buy a home under the GI bill; so the neighborhood grew rapidly.

In the 60’s a changing neighborhood triggered another exodus of most Riggs Park residents, who sold their homes and moved to Maryland. A new Shaare Tefila was built in White Oaks, Maryland on Lockwood Drive. It was dedicated in 1965.

Some time later, congregants attending morning services there were shocked to see some swastikas desecrating the outside wall of the synagogue. Rabbi Halpern didn’t immediately remove the hate signs. He kept them there so that the neighborhood and other residents could plainly view what hate groups could accomplish.

Not too long ago, this synagogue was sold. Plans have been made to build a new synagogue on a previously purchased lot in Olney, Maryland.

In the late 50s, my family, which now included our three children, moved to Silver Spring near Temple Israel on University Boulevard. That was the synagogue where my 2 sons celebrated their Bar Mitzvahs and my daughter, her Bat Mitzvah. And here we go again: Some members moved out of the area. Eventually, Temple Israel was sold and merged with a synagogue called Beth Tikva , now known as Tikvat Israel on Baltimore Road in Rockville, Maryland.

People move and synagogues move.

Several years later, I joined Beth Sholom, at 13th and Eastern Avenue in D.C., completed in 1958. That synagogue had moved from 8th and Shepherd Street N.W, dedicated in 1938. In 1972 Beth Shalom broke ground for a Hebrew school and chapel in Potomac, Maryland, and, you guessed it: the old synagogue was sold and a new synagogue was constructed and later enlarged.

Members who did not move to Potomac continue to meet in the Blair House Apartment complex, Eastern Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland. I attended Beth Sholom at its Potomac location and also at the Blair House.

I recall an interesting speech made by Rabbi Joel Tessler of Beth Sholom, when Sol Feldman, a very active member, passed away. At the funeral service, Rabbi Tessler related that shortly after he had become the Rabbi, he had been approached by Mr. Feldman at his first Kol Nidre Service. Mr. Feldman told him he could not start the service because there were 2 shul members who were not speaking to each other
and that he had to get them to settle their differences. The rabbi was kind of nervous, he said, when requested to perform this task, but nevertheless negotiated the truce.

It looks like we are running out of synagogues. Not yet. In the ‘80s, I moved to the University Towers apartments on University Boulevard and began attending services at the nearby Har Tzeon Synagogue. Although considered a conservative shul, Har Tzeon had a touch of orthodoxy: men and woman were allowed to sit together but women were not allowed to be called for an Aliya.

In the mid-90s, I moved to Rockville and began attending services at nearby B’nai Israel. On one Shabbat, I decided to visit Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah. In that Temple’s memorabilia room, I saw some impressive treasures. They included a number of photos of SW DC. But what made the biggest impact on me was my father’s secretarial book where, from 1933 to 1944, he had recorded meetings in Yiddish. I decided that this is where I belonged.

After many years it was good to see such old timers as Rabbi Hillel Klavan, Mel Lewis, Paul Sperling and others, again. And I felt honored to be elected recording secretary.

But there were problems. Because so many congregants had moved from the area over the years, attendance had vastly diminished. And it was often difficult to get a minyan.

In time, some of our members turned out to be good scouts and recruited Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld from Riverdale, New York to be our new Rabbi. The amazing results of his efforts to make this synagogue grow are obvious.

Thus my shul travels, which began in Southwest DC’s Congregation Talmud Torah so long ago, continue at essentially the same synagogue: Ohev Sholom-The National 16th and Jonquil Street, NW.

I thank HaShem for enabling me to celebrate another Bar Mitzvah. I am confident that this sanctuary will continue to grow. I wish the entire congregation a happy and healthy life, and I thank you for attending my second bar mitzvah anniversary.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.