Thunder & Lightning on the North Shore

by Eric Weis

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It is early Monday morning, July 29, 2013. The sun is trying to penetrate the foggy dawn.

Only 18 hours ago, an exodus of Jewish men left Danvers, Massachusetts. It was the end of FJMC’s 2013 International Convention. After 15 years and seven of these conventions, I find myself again engulfed in the swirling mists of Jewish afterglow.

Three days ago, I had an unforgettable Shabbat experience. There, amid hundreds of men singing and dancing, the physical presence of God became manifest. I felt the warmth, the touch, as close as my skin. It enveloped me. The connection was palpable. Tears came. God was right there.

Prayers and pray-ers created a heartfelt chorus of daveners, singing in unison. The combination was irresistible. As we raised our voices in prayer, words and music filled the air until there was no room left for anything else. And that’s when it happened.

That’s when I realized that we were acting out Keddushah, the angelic chorus. That’s when I knew that the thunder and lightning at Sinai had come to the North Shore of the New England coast. This was revelation!

This was every Jew in the room being present at Sinai. This was the North Shore, transformed from the chol to the kadosh, from the mundane to the holy. This was Klal Yisrael, all of us, experiencing the gift of covenantal relationship. This was knowing, seeing, feeling Am Yisrael Chai (The people Israel lives).

During the Ashrei, we read: “Adonai is near to all who call, to all who call with integrity.” (Psalm 145) “I will praise Adonai all my life and sing to my God with all my being.” (Psalm 146) “Where the faithful gather, let God be praised… Let God’s faithful sing exultantly and rejoice both night and day.” (Psalm 149)

This was FJMC international convention. Just about two years earlier the previous convention had concluded in Costa Mesa, California. Jewish men’s hearts were full as they departed. I likened the experience to a Jewish Brigadoon, that fabled Scottish village which re-awakens for only one day every 100 years. Popularized in 1947 by two Jewish men (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe), Brigadoon tells the story of a mystical experience which draws men out of their ordinary life. It is a tale of separation and reunion.

Danvers was also a tale of two places. Men came from communities all over the world. They convened in a setting of magic, beauty and holiness. Brothers dwelled together in unity for four days and nights of ruach, inspiration and spirituality. The words of Hinei ma tov u’manayim became real.

Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) is a hallmark of these gatherings. Over 500 men and women sang with abandon, waving their ruach rags, standing on chairs and giving joyous thanks. Burt Fishman, aka Captain Ruach, inspired the crowd and with the magic of modern technology, the joyous pandemonium was captured for YouTube.

As we approached Shabbat, the anticipation and expectation built. Groups chanted “Shabbos, Shabbos, Shabbos is near” in the hallways. Kabbalat Shabbat exceeded all expectations, with hordes of us dancing in the aisles. Shabbat morning came, with three minyanim from which to choose. I attended the traditional service.

I had been honored with the fifth aliyah. As I walked up on the bimah, Aren Horowitz came up to read the Torah. We’ve known each other for years. We finished, and then Al Davis took over as the next reader. I stood for a Mishberach, and watched my friend read flawlessly.

Besides all the davening, there was just plain fun. Karaoke was capped off by the Mandell-Neustein chorus singing Hava Nagila. Executive Director Rabbi Chuck Simon was caught on film, belting out “Under the Boardwalk.” The International Kiddush Club reached new heights with baseball jerseys and a giveaway that will make ripples at Saturday morning services across North America.

Jewish Men at the Crossroads was the theme. Crossroads implies choice. Go forward, turn right, turn left. From the North Shore, FJMC men traveled back to their home communities, each a part of Or l’goyim, transmitting the light of convention to our friends back home.

Shevat achim gam yachad, brothers dwelling together in unity. That’s the spirit of connection that makes FJMC so very special. Dr. Ron Wolfson delivered a speech about relationship-based synagogue life. FJMC men are the pioneers, the shock troops, who are already leading the renaissance.

It is good to be a member of FJMC. There are only about 720 days left before the mists clear and the next convention opens its gates. I can’t wait.

Eric Weis is a past president of FJMC’s Northern New Jersey Region.