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Thought for the Day: Congregation Ohev Shalom -- Providing a Home to Jews of All Backgrounds for 30 Years (So Far...)

I flew back from Florida a few weeks ago, and the flight went through Kansas City.  As we were taxing, the flight attendant announced: "The weather in Kansas City is very similar to here.  The sun is shining here and the sun is shining there."  Yes... that was the end of the similarity.  Chillingly funny.

Congregation Ohev Shalom was started 30 years ago in Dallas, Texas.  I know it was 30 years ago because they just had a gala celebration to commemorate this milestone; which I attended.  Why?  Congregation Ohev Shalom is the first Orthodox Jewish shul that I joined.  Now, in case you have never noticed, I tend to jump in with both feet.  For those of you who know me a little better, you know that I jumped in with more than my feet.

Since I was the second president (actually a co-president; long story), I was invited to speak at Shalosh S'udos.  Before I present the highlights (i.e., the main message that I wanted to deliver), I'd like to give you a small taste of how I felt.  I have been away for over 20 years with only a few visits in the intervening interval.  The feeling was not unlike seeing a grandchild who has been away for some years.  You know him as an infant, and you know his parents, so you recognize him; but, my oh my, how he has grown.

The first thing that struck me as we gathered on Friday night was the number of black hats.  To put that into context for you, we once had a board meeting where the rabbi gleefully announced that the meeting notes should show that we had reached a milestone: everyone at the Sunday morning minyan had been wearing t'fillin!  The entire board felt a real sense of accomplishment and pride.

After mincha on Shabbos afternoon, the rabbi made the same announcement I had heard weekly all those years ago, "Everyone is invited to shalosh s'udos."  There was a still, small voice that echoed our weekly joke in those days: "Everyone?"  The joke was that "everyone" often meant all six of us.  On my way to the shalosh s'udos table, I walked by a boys shalosh s'udos (a dozen boys from six to 1 having a s'uda geared to them), classroom with older boys learning mishnayos with a rebbi, through a small beis medrash in the back with chavrusos learning, and finally to the room where I would be speaking during -- attended by 20 or more.  This was as similar to the Ohev Shalom I had known as the weather in Florida was to Kansas City.

With one crucial difference.  I got up to speak and noted all my observations.  Then I noted what hadn't changed.  While it was true there were more black hats, it was also true that everyone felt just as comfortable with each other and with their davening.  Everyone was there as a member of Klal Yisrael and Ohev Shalom.  Ohev Shalom has always stood for one thing:  Unbending adherence to HaShem's Torah as understood through the ages by our sages in each generation, coupled with boundless love for every Jew and empathy for his particular struggles.

In the shabbos morning drash, the rabbi had said over a Zohar: moments before leaving this world, the neshama cries out.  Why?  It has been shown, in those last few moments what it could have accomplished.  When Rabbi Rodin moved into a house in Dallas miles from the nearest Orthodox Jewish shul, he could never have imagined the current Ohev Shalom and associated yeshiva, the Texas Torah Institute, and the hundreds or thousands of lives he has transformed.  When I moved into the neighborhood, barely able to sound out the words in a siddur, I never imagined I would be able to make a siyum on Mishna Brura, mishnayos, and several mesechtos of gemara.

The continuing story of Ohev Shalom is the story not so much of an organization, as it is the hundreds or thousands of stories of individuals intertwined and combined.  I am very proud to have been involved with Ohev Shalom from its beginnings and look forward to seeing continued growth as new stories join with the existing and grow from strength to strength.

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