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Thursday, June 21, 2018

(l-r): Dr. Steven Singfer, Rabbi Jonathan Schwartz, Rabbi Henoch Plotnik, Dr. David Hirschorn (head of the Elizabeth Chevra Kadisha mens’ division), Rabbi Avrohom Herman. (Credit: Ellie Wolf)

Rabbi Avrohom Herman of the JEC Elmora Avenue Synagogue. (Credit: Ellie Wolf)

The chevra kadisha in nearly every community worldwide gathers annually on Zayin Adar for inspiration and strength to sustain the quiet communal service they provide. This year, the Elizabeth Chevra Kadisha was fortunate to have as its keynote speaker Rabbi Henoch Plotnik, the well-known maggid shiur from Chicago, originally from Boston. Rabbi Plotnik brings with him a lifelong mesorah of compelling and poignant divrei Torah and divrei chizuk. One of his special talents is in addressing some of the more difficult topics in our history as a nation or in the Torah itself. Through his fascinating elucidation of the text and commentators, combined with light humor and the nuance of current events, Rabbi Plotnik weaves for the listener a perspective that transforms his words from “information to inspiration,” imparting a message that resonates and endures.

This year’s theme was titled “Left But Not Abandoned: Appreciating Hashem’s Presence in Difficult Times.” Rabbi Plotnik’s address to the community was poignant as ever, describing the backdrop for the events of the Purim story through the lens of its sometimes bizarre past. Everyone—including Esther, he pointed out—only saw the impending disaster looming over them. In addition to the nine-year basic storyline with which most of us are familiar, Rabbi Plotnik also pointed out one of the early sages noted in the Talmud—who was a righteous talmid chacham and an actual grandson of Haman—who predicted a thousand years ago some of the events we are now experiencing.

In addition to the community lecture, Rabbi Plotnik addressed the members of the Elizabeth Chevra Kadisha during the traditional Zayin Adar seudah. He brought to light the visionary approach of the matriarch Sarah and her influence on her distant descendant Esther. Esther was orphaned at birth and though her life seemed an abandonment, it gave rise to the outlook and spiritual strength she garnered, which eventually saved the entire Jewish nation.

Rabbi Plotnik compared this outlook to that of the members of chevrot kadisha everywhere—who are dedicated to the importance of the details and kedusha with which they are charged. The chevra assures that everyone is cared for in their final hours in this world and properly prepared for the transition to the next, eternal one. In discussing the level of commitment a chevra kadisha has, Rabbi Plotnik referred to the mindset of chevra members who are continually prepared, day or night, to put their own lives on hold at a moment’s notice in order to provide the proper segue into the next world for holy Jewish souls. He compared this way of living to the type of commitment that Esther displayed to her Torah values.

Role models such as those of Sarah and Esther also provide a paradigm for the outlook and attitude we can maintain in enduring the challenges of the current world of terrorism and seeming lack of world justice. Concluding, Rabbi Plotnik implored upon us to rest our faith in the future on the lessons of our past. He reminded us that we cannot always see how or why the difficulty or absurdity of the present will morph into some glorious future, that often it takes years, lifetimes or even centuries to bring that into clarity.

Michael Rubin of Morristown, son of Renee Rubin, z”l, spoke briefly on behalf of the family, commenting, “The rav’s words were of great meaning and comfort, bringing perspective to the upcoming chag of Purim.”

The Elizabeth Chevra Kadisha Zayin Adar program was graciously sponsored by the family of Renee Rubin, z”l, a pillar of the Elizabeth community, in commemoration of her first yahrzeit on Shushan Purim.

By Ellie Wolf