Owings Mills Times Speaks of Mourners and Minyanaires
Friday, September 09, 2005 3:02:00 AM
by Peter G. Engelman
|The September 8th online edition of the Owings Mills Times discusses the plight of Jewish mourners and the healing that takes place in the synagogue minyan.The article also talks about Author, Peter G. Engelman and his book, "The Minyanaires," which he published as a result of his own participation in the morning minyan.
Article from Online Edition, Fall Tradition, Owings Mills Times...9/8/05 By: Linda Esterson.
Following his mother's death in July 2001, Peter Engelman attended daily services at Beth El Congregation to honor her soul.
Following the passing of his father five years ago, Jonathan Lowenberg attended a morning minyan at Chizuk Amuno. Often, he'd bring his son, Zevi, then 6, and his daughter, Yali, then 4.
While in mourning, those honoring deceased loved ones are expected to say the kaddish, or mourner's prayer, at services each day. The mourning period lasts about a year, and mourners say the kaddish for 11 months in an effort to send a parent's soul to heaven. To mourn other family members, the period is 30 days.
These short, daily prayer services are called minyans. Hebrew for count, minyan signifies a group of 10 Jewish adults, the quorum for a minyan.
Orthodox Jews require a quorum of 10 men. Women are exempt because of familial duties.
In Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements, minyans may occur with 10 adults who are past the bar or bat mitzvah age of 13.
Minyans can be held anywhere: in a synagogue, at the office, on a train or plane during travel or at a sporting event, as long as the quorum is met.
Beth El Congregation Rabbi Steven Schwartz says minyans let the mourner know they are not alone.
"Some (minyan) verses suggest certain types of praise of God that are only effective when you have a group," says Schwartz. "In Judaism, there is a strong stress on community." A mourner prays, but he or she is surrounded by those who are also praying.
Prayers, Schwartz says, are composed in first person plural using the pronoun "we." "You almost never in a prayer book find 'I.' "
Synagogues may hold minyans three times a day: morning, afternoon and evening. Schwartz says the prayer services replace the offerings of ancient sacrifices in Jerusalem, which occurred in the morning and afternoon. In the evening the earlier sacrifices continued to burn.
Minyans demonstrate "the strength and the sense of community within the congregation, maintaining the ritual life of the Jewish people and the congregation," says Schwartz. "It gives people a place to come to pray on a daily basis if they want and need to."
Since 2001, Engelman has continued to attend the morning minyan at Beth El. On any day, he says, there are as many as 50 worshippers at the minyan, ranging in age from the 30s to their 90s.
"I found that the morning minyan for me is, and continues to be, a place of healing," he says. "It's a place where people who have suffered similar experiences come and bond together."
For those who have lost a loved one, the minyan provides a healing power. For others, he says, the minyan provides spiritual meaning to the start or end of each day.
It's also an opportunity to meet new friends, many of whom become very close after spending years together at services. Engelman met a man who lost his mother a week earlier than he. They have maintained a strong friendship in the four years since.
Eddie Offit has also developed strong relationships through minyan attendance. Offit, 99 and one of the founders of Beth El, has attended every morning minyan since his retirement in 1973.
"It brings me a lot of joy; I get a lot of pleasure out of it," he says.
Pass it on
Offit reaches out to those new mourners who attend to say kaddish. He says he wants to be sure they feel comfortable and welcome.
"I talk to them and try to comfort them as much as I can," he says. "We become associates and friends after a while."
The minyan also provides an opportunity for learning. At his first minyan, Engelman barely knew the prayers for the service and couldn't read much Hebrew. But in the last three years, he says, he's learned so much. Today he serves as one of the leaders of the Beth El minyan. He recites the Hebrew prayer and someone else translates into English.
The importance of minyan compelled Engelman to write a book, "The Minyanaires," published in 2003. For the book he interviewed 25 people, including regular attendees, clergy and children. He defines a minyanaire as someone who continues to attend minyan services after the period of mourning.
Chizuk Amuno Congregation's Rabbi Ron Shulman says he often witnesses a transformation in mourners at minyan services.
"When people come to say the kaddish out of love and memory, they are shown what to do and they learn," Shulman says. "Six months later, I see them teach someone else to do it."
Lowenberg, a Chizuk Amuno congregant, says minyan is a family affair.
One Sunday evening, the family attended the minyan service at Beth El. Lowenberg's cousin's daughter chanted the ashrei, a prayer found twice in the service that translates in English to "fortunate are." When Zevi, Lowenberg's son, heard his cousin recite the prayer's English translation, he expressed interest. His father told him he could do one better: learn it in Hebrew and recite it on his birthday, which was five weeks away.
Zevi studied diligently. On his birthday, he recited the ashrei before his family and the minyan.
Since then, Zevi has continued as his schedule permits. And his younger sister Yali has followed suit, assisting with the service and reciting the ashrei as her mother mourns her grandfather's passing.
"When she doesn't show up, everybody wants to know where she is," says her father. "It's become something of a family tradition."
Peter Engelman's book, "The Minyanaires," may be purchased through
www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com and Pages Bookstore in the Pikesville Shopping Center.
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