|Cantor Israel Singer teaches sixth graders at Temple Emanu-el of Closter about the mitzvah of t’fillin.|
It is hard to know which program will stir up the most emotion this Sunday – the Conservative movement’s World Wide Wrap, or the Giants and the Patriots going at it in the Super Bowl.
At Temple Emanu-El in Closter, youngsters will be singing original “Wrap songs” to celebrate the morning event, a global celebration of the mitzvah of t’fillin; while at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation B’nai Israel (FLJC/CBI), the same men’s club that sponsors the Wrap early in the day will be hosting a Super Bowl party later on.
It is no coincidence that the two events fall on the same day.
According to Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC), which created and sponsors the World Wide Wrap, “We chose the date because it is an excellent programming date with minimum conflicts in North America.”
Calling it a “signature program,” Simon said last year some 240 congregations on five continents joined in, with more than 10,000 people using the opportunity to teach or learn about the mitzvah of t’fillin.
Bruce Pomerantz, who has chaired the Wrap in Closter for the past 10 years, said this is the third year the program has a “relatively new addition.”
He explained that earlier in the year, the synagogue purchased t’fillin kits from FJMC for its sixth-graders. “It’s called the ‘Build a Pair’ project,” he said. “The kids assemble, decorate, and paint them, and then the school gives a lesson on the value of t’fillin.”
Most of the sixth-graders then come to the Wrap, with a parent, bringing their own set of handmade t’fillin.
“The adults help them put it on and teach them why they’re doing it,” said Pomerantz, an Alpine resident. “We’ve been getting 80 to 90 people at the Wrap,” including students, their parents, and other congregants.
The t’fillin are not “kosher” in any way, but they are said to provide an excellent learning experience for the pre bar- and bat mitzvah youngsters.
The majority of attendees have been men, although women are welcome, he said.
The Wrap chair said that students have been asked to write “Wrap songs” about the mitzvah of t’fillin. The winning team will receive a prize.
The event has grown significantly over the years, said Pomerantz, beginning the first year with some 15 attendees. This year, he expects between 80 and 100 participants.
According to the event chair, while not everyone who participates is prepared to “lay t’fillin” on a regular basis from then on, “We do get men who want to buy t’fillin for the first time since their bar mitzvah. It’s also important to encourage kids, teaching them why they should be doing it. It’s incredibly important to make it accessible to everybody, not only to religious people.”
“Not a lot of people do it in the Conservative world, but a lot more get involved [after the Wrap] and end up looking for more connections to religious life,” he said.
Seth Seigel-Laddy, executive director of the Men’s Progress Club at FLJC/CBI, chaired the Fair Lawn shul’s Wrap program for two years. This year, he passed the mantle on to Michael Gruber, the club’s vice-president for religious affairs.
“In past years, we had between 50 and 60 participants,” said Seigel-Laddy, noting that the synagogue promotes the program through both the shul and the religious school.
Ira Lieman, men’s club president, pointed out that the time of the regular Sunday morning minyan has been changed for Super Bowl Sunday to accommodate the event.
Seigel-Laddy said that the majority of past attendees have been students, many of whom bring the t’fillin they built in fifth grade through the Build a Pair project.
Still, he said, the adults who attend are clearly moved.
“It amazes me to see parents who [maybe] did not have a bar mitzvah come and participate for themselves, some for the first time,” he said. “It also creates a sense of community” to know that the project is being done on the same day around the world. The FJMC’s World Wide Wrap website has live streaming video from across the globe.
The club executive speculated that Super Bowl Sunday was chosen for the event because “it’s a date that resounds in everyone’s mind; it helps it stick in their head.”
He noted also that people who come together at the synagogue in the morning regroup later for another event, further enhancing the sense of community.
“The kids look forward to it each year,” said Seigel-Laddy, adding that while he does not know whether adults who attend are inspired to keep putting on t’fillin, at least one attendee was motivated to become an usher, “because she was inspired to get more active in the shul.”
Lieman suggested that some people do not do the mitzvah of t’fillin because “they’re a bit scared.” At the Wrap, however, he said, “There’s a sense that everyone is helping each other put it on,” lessening the nervousness.
Joel Seltzer, Wrap chair at Fair Lawn’s Temple Beth Sholom, said that this is the synagogue’s third such event. While the first one drew about 15 participants, this year the shul expects some 30 attendees.
“It will be part of the Shacharit service and the rabbi will talk about t’fillin as part of his [post-davening] discussion,” said Seltzer.
He recalled that last year, one man was particularly moved. “He said he hadn’t worn t’fillin since his bar mitzvah,” said Seltzer, adding that the shul’s Sunday minyan benefits from “returnees” inspired by the Wrap.
The Wrap chair said he expects more adults than children to attend this year’s event, although Hebrew school students and their parents have been invited. He noted that three years ago, members of the shul’s men club had met with the president of the FJMC’s Northern New Jersey Region and were introduced to a host of new programs, including the Wrap.
“Once you hook in, it seems to snowball,” he said, pointing out that the region introduced the synagogue to a host of program possibilities.
Seltzer suggested that “rabbis have taken advantage” of the connection between the World Wide Wrap and Super Bowl Sunday, finding multiple ways to weave it into their sermons.
“Rabbi Zelermyer [the shul’s interim rabbi at the time] was a big football fan,” said Seltzer. “He said we should pray for our teams. Rabbi Zeilicovich spoke about the preparation and rituals for the game. In the same way, with the Wrap, we have a chance to bring in our own rituals.”
Also registered to participate in the World Wide Wrap this Sunday are Temple Israel Community Center/Congregation Heichal Yisrael (Cliffside Park), Temple Israel and Jewish Center (Ridgewood), Beth Sholom (Teaneck), and Shomrei Torah (Wayne).