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Left to right: Evan Cantor, Max Palay, Ken Klein (our host in NY), Jonathan Bellan, Shael Minuk, Zach Fleisher

Shatnes sign at drycleaners in Battery Park

Cranberry Bog at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Zach Fleisher (sunglasses), Max Palay, Jonathan Bellan, Evan Cantor, Shael Minuk.
Photo by Rabbi Pinsker.


Zach Fleisher

A Place Like No Other: Shaarey Zedek’s Unique New York Post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah Trip

By Zachary Fleisher, November 22, 2010

Over the past five years, I have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to attend both the Post B’nai Mitzvah Classes at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue run by Rabbi Lawrence Pinsker. During this time, we have seen countless classic movies that relate to contemporary Judaism and discussed relevant current topics and Jewish events, all while enjoying weekly dinners together. At the end of the two year program (which is a free program to all recent post Bar/Bat Mitzvah young adults and teens), the participants “graduate” with a trip to New York City, long considered the international centre for Jewish food, life and culture outside of Israel.

This was my second time on this “graduation” trip. The first trip took place in October 2007, where four young adults (Gabe Alper, Jonathan Lipson, Gary Bellan and I) journeyed with Rabbi Pinsker to the Big Apple. It was an incredible, life changing trip that I still consider to be among the highlights of my young life. When Rabbi Pinsker came forward with an offer for me to go on the second trip as an advisor, I jumped at the offer. This time, the trip consisted of 5 young students (Shael Minuk, Evan Cantor, Jonathan Bellan, Max Palay and myself again), with Rabbi Pinsker again leading the tour.

The trip was tightly filled and packed with all sorts of activities. There were several highlights to the recent October trip. We toured Temple Emanu-El, the largest synagogue in North America, which seats 2,500 worshippers in its sanctuary and has additional spaces to accommodate thousands more for the High Holy Days. We were also able to tour NBC studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and caught two high quality Broadway shows, Avenue Q and Wicked, as well as an off-Broadway comedy-variety show featuring the Flying Karamazov Brothers. While a previously planned trip to the iconic Statue of Liberty didn’t work out, the group was able to visit the groundbreaking Museum of Jewish Heritage, as well as Wall Street and the Ground Zero memorial where a complex new World Trade Centre, memorial site,  and tourism centre are being built.

We also visited several other New York City landmarks. Among other locations, we were able to take in the Museum of Modern Art, considered one of the premier art museums in the world. The MOMA was incredible and I especially enjoyed the Andy Warhol “pop art” aspect of the exhibit. We stood and debated what constituted art in front of an exhibit featuring objects we had thought of as everyday tools: an ax, a hammer, and a number of kitchen utensils. We went shopping along world-famous canal Street, bargained for genuine imitation high-end wrist watches (one of them stopped working after fifteen minutes), ate as the guest of our host Ken Klein in the amazing dining hall of one of the world’s most dynamic banking institutions, and walked around the southern tip of Manhattan for a visit to the unique Museum of Jewish Heritage, which offers a memorial not only to the victims of the Holocaust, but also honours the dynamic life of Jews both before and after World War Two. The manager of the gift shop in the museum knew Winnipeg because of the Jets and had a great conversation with us about some of our favourite sports teams.

When we left, we walked north to the site of the World Trade Center and were astonished by the speed with which a new tower and other buildings memorializing 9/11 and the undefeatable spirit of New York City were rising on the former site.

We also visited one of the many Barnes and Noble stores scattered around the city, one of the world’s largest and most interesting bookstores (and bookstore chains). We had time to shop at Macy’s and the most amazing sportswear stores.  As well, we had first-class accommodations for an Empire State building tour which provided us with a breathtaking (and amazingly clear) night view of New York and its overwhelming skyline. We were in a sea of people from many different countries speaking unfamiliar languages, all of them dazzled by the view in every direction. The group was especially amazed with the efficiency of the New York mass transit system, as we were able to get anywhere in a short amount of time, using buses and timely subways each time. Without consulting a GPS or PDA, Rabbi Pinsker seemed to be able to get us onto the right subway car or bus to get nearly anywhere we wanted.

The Shabbat that we spent in New York was absolutely mind-boggling. On the Friday night, we attended the musical service at the world-famous B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue. B’nai Jeshurun is a trendsetting Conservative-styled synagogue that extensively incorporates musical instruments in its services. Sitting in a shul with lively instrumentation, beautiful music, and 750+ other people, all singing together in prayer, has to be one of the more spiritually uplifting experiences of my life.

As we sat there in the balcony, Rabbi Pinsker suddenly got out of his seat and ran to greet people he’d recognized several rows below us. It turned out that they were a group of post-bar/bat mitzvah students from Indianapolis, Indiana, led by their two rabbis, who were old friends and colleagues of Rabbi Pinsker’s – in fact, they were the first rabbinical couple in history, a rabbi born in Panama and his wife from Philadelphia who met and married while they were both in rabbinical seminary. Their group was much larger than ours – 22 students, parents, and the two rabbis, and we had a few minutes to talk with them.

On Shabbat morning, we were fortunate enough to be honoured with an aliyah at West End Synagogue, a synagogue that Rabbi Pinsker helped found in the mid 1980’s. The West End synagogue was packed as well, due to the Bar Mitzvah taking place over that Shabbat. It was very interesting to contrast the atmosphere of a Bar Mitzvah in Winnipeg to that warm, informal one in New York.  We capped off the Shabbat with some much needed rest at the apartment, and after Havdalah, we took the subway down to Soho to see the Flying Karamazov Brothers and then went to see Times Square.

Even Monday when we were flying back in the afternoon was exciting – before we were picked up by the Supershuttle, we slipped in a trip to the American Museum of Natural History and the Rose Center for Earth and Space to see its planetarium show and walk a spiral path from the Creation of the Universe to the year 2010.

The other incredible aspect of New York was definitely the kosher culinary experience. Coming from Winnipeg, where the range of quality kosher food is somewhat limited, New York was a godsend. Never before had I seen so many quality kosher institutions, like Fine and Schapiro’s and the famous Second Avenue Deli. During the course of the trip, all the participants became well acquainted with such fine delicacies as cow tongue, stuffed kishke (derma), hot pastrami, kugels and various other delicious foods. The availability of incredible meats and other classic Eastern European treats gave me an impression of what Winnipeg’s fabled North End was like in the early 20th century. The food in New York showed us how the Jewish culture is extremely gastronomically focused.

While it is extremely important to identify Rabbi Pinsker as the chief architect of this incredible trip, we must also recognize Ken Klein and Harriet Bograd. Ken and Harriet graciously opened up their Manhattan apartment for us so that the trip was financially plausible. I am eternally grateful for their welcoming nature and attitude, their generosity, and their incredible spirit of co-operation. Without them, I am certain that this trip would not have been nearly as successful. We are so thankful for their hospitality as well as their incredibly uplifting spirits. Ken works for a major international bank on Wall Street and Harriet is a lawyer specializing in not-for-profit companies and agencies. Their apartment is the world headquarters for Kulanu, Inc., a Jewish organization they helped found which supports emerging isolated small Jewish communities in Africa and Asia who ask for their help. Kulanu works in Uganda, Ghana, India, Latin America and other places to help dispersed remnants of the Jewish people.

In conclusion, the trip was an outstanding success. But, more importantly, the Wednesday night Post Bar/Bat Mitzvah class is a success. Programs like these are important because they help us develop a next generation, as well as providing youth a place to go, learn, socialize with and enjoy other young adults their age. Attending the Wednesday night class aspect of the program is free and dinner is served during the movie and discussion.

Rabbi Pinsker spoke with us about how he really wanted the trip to be a full week long because our five days weren’t enough to visit everything he’d like us to see. Then he said that if it became a week-long event, he’d start wishing it could be two weeks long because there was so much more to see and do…we all got the impression that that all the love songs to “New York, New York” were real.

If anyone is interested in being a part of this incredible program, it meets every Wednesday at 5:45 at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Please let the office know that you’re coming so that they can prepare enough food. They can be reached at 452-3711.

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