Some Jews were wrapped up in more than football on Super Bowl Sunday.
For the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, an association of ’70 Conservative synagogue groups, America’s secular holiday was a perfect opportunity to draw attention to the often-overlooked mitzvah of tefillin.
The wrap aims to promote the donning of tefillin, a pair of black boxes containing prayers that are affixed to the head and arm by leather straps during prayer.
Irving Sklaver, right, helps Ilana Schwartz, 9, put on tefillin at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center Men’s Progress Club’s annual tefillin wrap. Photo by KEN HILFMAN
The seventh annual event "is a signature program to involve Jewish men in Jewish life by building and strengthening men’s clubs in the Conservative/Masorti movement," said Peter M. Gotlieb, president of the Northern New Jersey FJMC.
"This year," added the Livingston resident, "more than 160 clubs and synagogues, involving men, women, and children, met in solidarity with one another to complete the mitzvah of wrapping tefillin."
Joining the hundreds of groups around the world in the "tefillin wraps" were the Men’s Progress Club of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center; the Brandeis Men’s Club of Temple Israel, Ridgewood; the Men’s Club of Cong. Shomrei Torah, Wayne, and the Men’s Club of Temple Emanu-El of Closter. The clubs provided tefillin for those who did not own a set.
The Men’s Club of Cong. Beth Sholom in Teaneck decided to hold its "wrap" on Feb. 18, as part of its Sunday Shacharit service, said Stu Kaplan, honorary regional president of FMJC, and a Teaneck resident.
"The club does this annually, and someone gives a talk on an aspect of tefillin," Kaplan said. "Our members find this of interest, and develop an expanded appreciation of what putting on tefillin is all about."
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Temple Israel, said, "It is a joy, and I get a lot of nachas teaching this. We want to get the message across that putting on tefillin is doable, even if you’ve never done it before. It can be learned simply, and easily. We create a safe atmosphere nobody is judging each other."
Some clubs provided "Build-A-Pair" kits for children to create tefillin-like craft projects, decorate them, and then learn about the prayers. In some instances, women brought their deceased husbands’ tefillin to the event. At the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, Barry Schwartz taught his daughter Ilana, 9, how to put on the same tefillin used by her great-great-grandfather.
"I should get back in the habit of doing this every day," said Jeffrey Kroll, president of the FLJC’s Men’s Progress Club. "Now, I keep my tefillin in the glove compartment of my car."
Eric Weis, executive vice-president of the regional FJMC and a member of the Men’s Club of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne, said the event has many benefits for synagogue members.
"It sensitizes congregants, young and old, men and women, to this incredible mitzvah," he said. "It’s a physical ritual, different from simple davening. It fosters community and builds minyans in each shul that holds it. It trains people to lay tefillin, even in a crowd, so nobody is embarrassed. It’s all about leadership and helping people along."
The World Wide Wrap traces its origins to an attempt by a men’s club president in Michigan to promote the practice of laying tefillin. But the program really started to roll eight years ago when a shul in Charlotte, N.C., drew 1’0 men and women to the synagogue parking lot for a miniature tefillin festival, complete with food and T-shirts.
Since then the wrap has grown into an international phenomenon, with congregations in Australia and Canada participating.
As of Monday, 186 congregations were listed as participating, which organizers say encompasses 10,000 to 15,000 people. "The turnout this year was the best ever," said Bruce Pomerantz, an FJMC regional trustee and Men’s Club president at Temple Emanu-El in Closter. "It was a magical experience."