Berman Shul - Beginnings
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE RABBI JACOB BERMAN COMMUNITY CENTER
Prior to the start of what is affectionately called the Berman Shul in 1970, there was only one other shul in the area, that of Rav Prins Z”L. This shul was already filled to capacity, so much so that one could consider oneself lucky to find standing room on the porch of the shul upon arriving 10 minutes before Shacharit on Shabbat morning. This led to the decision to split the shul in three. The "Dutch" contingent remained in the shul and later: underwent several stages of expansion to what one sees today as Mercaz Avraham. The "Israeli" contingent threw in its lot with the Rabbanut Rashit of Rehovot whose building was then in the planning stage. This left the Anglo- Saxons with no specific plan.
It was Rosh Hashanah 5731 (1970). The few Anglo-Saxons in the area had either purchased seats for the High Holy Days at Yeshivat Hadarom or at Rav Prins' shul. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, word spread around the Yeshiva that Rav Yaakov Berman Z"L was ill and requested that a minyan be sent to his house on the Yeshiva campus for Kriat Hatorah and Mussaf. A group of us, Anglo-Saxons and Israelis, responded to the call.
Rav Berman, the founder of the teachers seminary on the campus of the Yeshiva, Moreshet Yaakov, had a Sefer Torah in a cupboard in his salon and soon the Kriat Hatorah commenced, followed by Mussaf.
It occurred to me while I was at Rav Berman's house that it might be a good idea to establish a minyan on a permanent basis there. For me, the compelling reason was that my wife and daughters didn't have a proper place to daven either on Shabbat or Yorn Tov. The women's section in the Yeshiva was like a storage room; the women's section of Rav Prins' shul was actually outside under a part of the roof. I discussed the idea with Meir Edelman, Pinny Rabinowitz, and Julie Finkel and we put together a delegation to discuss the matter with Rav Berman. He was 92 years of age at the time.
When he heard the object of our visit, he was most enthusiastic. He recalled that he was one of the founders of the Yeshurun Synagogue in Jerusalem and that he would be happy to have a hand in the formation of the proposed shul. Rabbanit Berman, was also quite happy with the idea, and volunteered to provide Kiddush every Shabbat.
The next problem was to convince enough people to join this new venture. I found that I had to solicit both Anglo-Saxons and Israelis to get a guaranteed minyan. When that was assured, I called the first service for Shabbat Bareishit. Buddy Green claims that Menachen Viener was our Baal Kriah at the time. Meir Edelman took over as gabbai and so a new shul, heavily weighted with Anglo-Saxons, was now under way. The men davened in the Berman’s salon, while the Ezrat Nashim was located just inside the front entrance of the house. The promised Kiddush was tendered every Shabbat. If my memory serves me well, the following appeared for the first minyan:
Reuven DeRoos Julie Finkel Pinny Rabinowitz
Harry Dym Bennie Green Bill Rosenblum
Meir Edelrnan Buddy Green Gerald Stanhill
Yaakov Feiglen Jeremy Pfeffer Menachem Viener
Well, the news spread and within a few months it just got too crowded to continue davening in the house. I asked Rav Berman if he could get us the necessary permission to use a basement room of the seminary buildings. This he did and we moved in there shortly after Purim 5731. An ad hoc committee (Jeremy Pfeffer was treasurer) went out and purchased the necessary requirements for the Mechitza, drilled holes in the ceiling to hang it, and so the women were able to daven with us in the same room.
The first time our new shul was filled to capacity with standing room only was Purim night 1971. The gabbaim (Edelman, DeRoos and Rosenblum) prepared a flyer (unheard of in those days) inviting the community at large, and the residents of Shikun Ovdei Weizmann in particular, to join us with their children for the reading of the Megilla. Since we saw that it pays to advertise, we decided to open the sale of seats for the High Holy Days to the general public. The response was more than we had anticipated, and so we had to seek another room to satisfy the demand for seats. Luckily for us, the seminar was just finishing a second floor addition which had a large room just suitable for our needs. The chief problem there was that it had neither electricity nor lighting fixtures. Using Rav Berman's influence, we received permission to use this room. The shul committee then went to work and "appropriated" fluorescent fixtures, chairs, fans, extension cords, etc. for the two week period that we were permitted to use that area. Every member of the minyan came down to put the whole thing together and ready it for the High Holy Day Services.
More families moved into the neighbourhood and it became imperative to have larger quarters. With Rav Berman's firm but gentle pressure on the Hanhalla of the Yeshiva, we got permission to use the adjoining room and convert it into an Ezrat Nashim. To speed things up, several members of the shul, without heeding Rav Berman's warning to wait for the architect's O.K. before breaking through the wall, borrowed sledge hammers and proceeded to break through the wall. Luckily they were stopped before demolishing a supporting post, or we would still be paying for the damage to the building. That Shabbat, Rav Berrnan davened in the Yeshiva, in protest against the total disregard for his instructions. It was only after 1 had led a delegation of members to beg his forgiveness that he agreed to return to the shul.
Rav Berman gave us inspiring sermons from time to time. Here was a man in his 90's, whose speech and outlook bespoke a man one-third his age. He had been the Rav of Berditchev prior to coming to Israel in 1925. Here he involved himself in the Mizrachi educational network serving as its chief inspector for many years. Rav Meltzer Z"L, the late Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivat Hadarom, brought him to Rehovot to open a teachers seminary, so that students of the Yeshiva could continue their education within the Yeshiva's framework. Even when he retired from his official position as head of the seminary, Rav Berrnan remained very active in its operation. Despite Rav Berman's initial opposition, it was decided to set up a formal shul organization with elected officers. For want of an agreed upon name, the shul took on the name Beit Knesset Hamachon. Scientists were told it referred to Machon Weizmann and others were told it referred to the Machon Lemechanchim (the seminary). There are still some Siddurim and Chumashim around which bear this name.
At the outset, shul services were limited to Shabbat evening and morning. It took a year before we were able to convince people to come for Mincha, Seuda Shlishit and Maariv. The first organized shiur in the shul was held after Pesach 5732. It was for women and the topic was Pirke Avot. The shiur was in English and I gave it.
Once the shul was formally organized, we set out to acquire necessary equipment and supplies for it. At the outset we owned a Mechitza plus some Siddurim and Chumasim. Rav Berman donated a new Aron Hakodesh; Rabbanit Berman donated a Sefer Torah in honor of Rav Berman.
Rav Berman passed away on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5734. We founders will never forget him - his wisdom, his patience, his sense of humor, his relative youthfulness. Rabbanit Beman never recovered from his passing, and so her appearances among us were few and far between, before she too, passed away. May their Memories be a Blessing.
Our archives only begin with February, 1974 but we founders fondly remember the Lag B'Omer outing, the Lag B'Orner bonfires, the Friday night Onegs, Chanukah parties, Kiddushim, etc. It was a very good beginning!
This article was written in 1981 by Dr. William Zev Rosenblum one of the shul's founders and one of its leaders for over two decades. Bill and Dale made Aliya in 1966 and came to Rehovot two years later. Over the next 20 years Bill taught English at Yeshivat Hadarom, Midreshet Yaakov and Bar Ilan University. Upon Bill's retirement from Bar Ilan, the couple moved to Jerusalem to be near their children and grandchildren. Bill passed away in November 1992.