From a Texas publication…
By Herb Bennett
One of the nice things about growing up in a small west Texas town, there was no problem choosing the right synagogue. There were none. We usually met in the back of someone’s store, when we could round up a minion, and later we graduated to a room at the Elks Club.
But that didn’t last long as our little community grew.
With the dynamic efforts of several of our more energetic citizens a new synagogue emerged in April of 1929. It not only served our town but at least six of the surrounding hamlets that usually had one or two brave Jewish families.
This new structure from the ground up didn’t just happen overnight like a toadstool . The ramrod of the project was one C. M. Bender, who owned the largest department store in town, established in 1918. Charlie had the obnoxious habit of telling people what their “voluntary contribution” should be for the building fund….and often got away with it.
He was a character right out of ‘Lil Abner’ or ‘Damon Runyon,’ only with a Texas twist. He was about 5′-4″, wore a Stetson hat, cigar, and cowboy boots emblazoned with large Stars of David that couldn’t be missed when his pants legs rode inside. He was often known as the Texas Jewish Cowboy and was an ardent Zionist. His generous donation to the University in Haifa resulted in a wind tunnel for research that bears his name. Nevertheless, and in spite of his outrageous tactics and unrelenting chutzpah, he is probably the one most responsible for building the only synagogue between Fort Worth and Abilene at the time. As a sad sidebar, there are no longer any Jewish families living in Breckenridge, and the synagogue, briefly became a residence, before resuming its decline and “For Sale” status.
On his occasional visits to our home, C.M. left our furniture and drapes saturated with cigar smoke that lingered for what seemed like an eternity. Fortunately, we had no problem with pests, rodents, or termites who fled for their lives after his visit, an option we didn’t have. Usually, his visits were without his chauffeur, I.S., the son of his great cook, Mattie. So when he left our driveway, there were usually tire tracks across our yard and one or two of the neighbor’s before he hit the street. Sounds laughable now, but back then there was much gnashing of teeth.
All of which finally brings me to the great experience I had tonight observing the “Celebration of the Torah” for Simchat Torah at Congregation Adat Chaverim in Plano.
In my quest for a congenial congregation in the Dallas area, I have been visiting various groups, and it has been an interesting and often exhilarating venture. On a previous visit to this establishment I was having some refreshment at a table with a few of the members and happened to be sitting next to a very attractive young lady who appeared to be not far removed from her teens. In an effort to make small talk I said to her, “Who is the rabbi here?” Her response was, “That would be me.” Luckily, I didn’t spill any coffee on her, Rabbi Wendy Pein.
Well, tonight she showed me what a professional she really is, I have never seen a Simchat Torah service like this one, which probably exposes my innocence on the subject. (In my home town we were lucky to get the barest essentials.) After the parading of the Torah around the huge sanctuary with all the flags, noise makers, and many little munchkins, a circle was formed of the entire crowd of about 150 people. The Torah was then unrolled around the entire room with almost everyone supporting a section. Up to that moment I had never even touched a Torah, much less seen it treated so commonly. When one considers that the entire Torah is painstakingly inscribed by hand and when retired given a proper burial, well, it certainly deserves the respect and reverence it has received through the ages. Then the rabbi started at the first letter of the scripture and proceeded to let someone read a Hebrew passage, after which she did the English interpretation. Of course she didn’t cover the entire document, but she did hit the highlights until she went around the entire room. I felt like I had just completed a four-year college course in Jewish theology in about 45 minutes. The scroll was quickly rolled back and restored to the arc after which all retired to the social hall for a welcome energy boost at the Oneg Shabbat.
I don’t know if this is S.O.P. at all synagogues, but it was a new and joyful experience for this uninitiated soul.