From my perspective, one of the best things that happened when Temple Tifereth Israel of Malden merged with Tempe Beth Shalom of Peabody was the wonderful Saturday morning service, snack, and study the Malden temple brought to us.
Admittedly, since I didn’t know anyone in the group, I stayed away. That is, until I received an email from Michael Szycher asking me to come to a session at Temple Tiferet Shalom where he was the speaker. He wanted to make sure someone in the audience would ask questions. I guess you can’t take the reporter out of a congregant.
One session was enough to convince me this is where I belonged on Saturday morning. I’m upset if I can’t make it.
Though they say you can’t go back, in some ways I did. When I was a preteen, I began to attend services at the little Litvishe shul across the street from the imposing and impressive Woodrow Avenue synagogue in Dorchester.
I don’t know how long my love affair with that little synagogue lasted, but I do have wonderful memories of services there. Rabbi Herbert Simches was the kind rabbi who inspired his audience, whether adults or children. After the morning service, everyone went home for lunch, only to show up at the rabbi’s house on Blue Hill Avenue afterward.
Making the sessions more enjoyable were the rabbi’s children: daughter Sima; son Joseph, who later became a beloved rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Randolph; and a younger son. The rabbi’s wife was a lovely woman, who made sure that there were light refreshments for everyone. I don’t remember the snacks, but I do recall our meaningful discussions.
So now, Saturday attendance at Temple Tiferet Shalom is like déjà vu, only better. Though our numbers vary each week depending on the weather, the vacationing snowbirds, and sometimes illness, we usually have a cohesive core group of folks who really care about each other. Anyone missing for a few sessions gets a call. We also care about those suffering throughout the world because of unexpected tragedies caused by nature or man. Our little world expands with our concern, which is reflected in our weekly “Mi Sheberach,” prayers for those who are in need of healing.
We happily participate in expressing gratitude when our members share good stories, happy stories and those odd things that mean a lot, like finding something that was lost. We share each piece of good news with a rousing “Modim Anachnu Lach” [We Are Grateful To You].
And of course, we stand together for yahrzeits and yizkor, sharing the mourners’ grief.
What makes this group uniquely special is the people. When Rabbi David Kudan doesn’t have a conflict, he joins us. Most of the time Gary Gillette, a guitar virtuoso, is our learned leader. Gary also sings with the Friday night choir and he’s never missed a service. He has an amazing accompanist in Mike Boudo, a producer for Channel 7 news and our only Christian member. Mike reads Hebrew and sings Hebrew songs better than many Jews. He also adds a lot to the service with his guitar.
The third part of an amazing musical trio is Shalom Zilber, who was born in Israel, fought in the 1967 war, and sings and chants the prayers with such a powerful voice that when I first heard him sing, I checked the windows for cracks in the glass.
Shalom was a rock star and the three guys have formed what is known around the North Shore as the Zilber Beatles.
Everyone in our study group is unique, even those who come sporadically. There are Arnie and Barbara Sager, who wed as teenagers in Malden and are still going strong in their mid-80s. We love having attorney Jordan Shapiro with us. Jordan always has a joke to share and he even remembers punchlines. Ellie Comeau is proud of having become a Jew by choice. Ellie has a strong belief in God and truly believes in turning her troubles over to the Lord. It works for Ellie.
Ruth Nager sings in the choir and is a credited Tai Chi instructor, which she is happy to share. Iris Fitzmeyer and Kevin Coco try never to miss a session unless they are away. Cynthia Garber loves being with the group, especially since it meets during the day.
Why is this group so important? I recently asked myself. And then it hit me: With our caring, concern, and advice, we have become, in essence, a therapy group. We leave the temple stronger and more positive than when we enter. We are all so different and yet, just like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, we fit so well together.
Myrna Fearer writes from Danvers.