September 27, 2010

Goodbye Gedaliah

From 2001 to 2004 we lived in Silver Spring Maryland. During that stint we lived in a neighborhood highly populated with Orthodox Jews.  I remember my confusion on the first Saturday there watching the exodus of walkers on their way to the Jewish Synagogue about a block away from my new home.  I made the mistake of asking a pre-teen girl if they were 7th day Adventists or something. (Hey, we'd just moved from Iowa)  She looked at me like I was crazy.  I soon learned what they were.  They were some of the nicest people you'll ever meet.  But, like us Mormons... very peculiar.

The first time I ran into the Rabbi who lived next door I went to shake his hand and felt his hesitation.  Even though he stood over six feet in his big black hat, his hand shake was hardly noteworthy.  Like a dead fish.  Later I would find out that it was taboo for him to shake the hand of a female other than his wife.  I had a lot to learn.  

Something I learned from a friend was that on their Sabbath they adhere to a strict set of rules.  One thing they cannot do is use electricity.  All the lights are set to go on and off with timers based on need.  Switching on the AC when it's hot isn't allowed on the Sabbath.  So during a hot Saturday in late October (that hadn't been forecast btw), I went over to ask if I could do anything (hint hint) with their thermostat for them.  See, it was okay for me to do it for them but I also knew through my savvy friend that they couldn't ask me for help.  I had to offer.  Strangely enough Rabbi A had just been discussing what to do and how they could persuade me without asking to come over and help them out.  It was one time I am glad I listened to a prompting, because it was the first move on the way to a most interesting relationship.

One day I made a bold decision way outside my comfort zone.  When the time had come for me to walk five minutes around the corner to the school and pick up my grade school children, my baby was still asleep.  I hoped to find Mrs A at home next door and planned ask her to take the baby monitor to listen for her for a brief time while I snuck over to get the kids.  Instead the Rabbi answered.  Trying not to act shaken, I shyly informed him of my request.  His question was classic.  He asked if the need should arise for him to enter my home and get Big Girl out of her crib (she was about 7 months old at the time) would the look of him scare her?  I had to suppress a grin and be honest with him.  "probably she would be afraid of you sir"  Here is what he looked like by the way...
I assured him that the chances of her wakening were slim to none and that even if she cried for a minute or two that I would be back very shortly.  So without shaking hands this time, we had an agreement.  They continued to help me in this way on occasions when I needed them.  It was Mrs A who nick named Big Girl 'Bubulah' (Hebrew for little doll).  

I also recall another deal that was of a much bigger nature.  During Passover one year, I volunteered to be a purchaser of chametz for not only his congregation but two others in the area.  For the duration of Passover that season I was the 'owner' of several people's summer house kitchens, left side desk drawers at the office, boxes in the garage, etc.  In some cases, it was easier for them to sell me an unused kitchen in Ocean City for 10 days than to go clean and set aside everything with leavening agent in it.  So they'd sell me the kitchen.  It was the least I could do for them.  We shook hands with a hanky between us to seal the deal.  "Enjoy all your new posessions" the youngest Rabbi said to me on the way out.  He was totally serious about it.  Even though I never saw my new purchases I had a thick stack of contracts written out in Hebrew to prove my ownership and responsibility for each member's chametz.  Or their kitchens with chametz inside... if you will.  "Your beer is safe with me" was my Mormon reply.  They laughed.  (You know there is barley in beer right?)  After my probationary ownership was up they came back and asked me if I wanted to make a payment on my property.  My twenty dollar down payment was a steal really.  I said the appropriate answer of "no" sold them back the items, got my $20.00 back, and it was a done deal.  A deal I will never forget and one that makes for a great story with friends at dinner.  

Tonight I found out that Rabbi Anemer passed away due to a stroke.  My thoughts are with his wife and their congregation.


Melinda said...

Thanks for sharing that -- fascinating. What a wonderful friendship.

c a n d a c e said...

What an incredible story, Aunt Kelly!! You know my Mom is from Falls Church right? (really close to Silver Spring) I love visiting my Grandpa back east & am sad he's going to sell his house, since I LOVE DC. He also lives just down the street from a really nice Jewish Synagogue. Thanks for sharing...

Kelly said...

You can come and visit me in Maryland anytime!

Dallas said...

I loved your story! Another great reason for living outside of "the bubble".

Cherie said...

Wow that was really really interesting. I don't think I have ever been around an Orthodox Jew.
Funny as I was reading I was thinking how ridiculous that they couldn't turn on the A/C but it was OK if someone else did it - I guess that is the way people sometimes view the things we do as LDS.
What a neat experience for you.
Sorry for the loss but isn't it fun to know that the Rabbi is learning the Gospel now!

Connie said...

What an interesting story! I'm sure their beer was safe with you!

We can learn so much from people who believe differently than we do. I hope his wife and congregation find peace.

Eileen said...

I wish we had a little more diversity here in our neck of the woods, but sadly we don't.

Dawn (Bee and Rose) said...

Kelly...that was a beautiful story! It's amazing what can happen to you when you take that first step outside your comfort zone:) I really enjoyed this post!

Kelly said...

Thanks Dawn. He actually passed away back in April but when I went to write this story last night I went to look up the spelling of his name and found he had passed. We are about 30 minutes North of them and I plan on visiting his widow soon.

He was a pretty famous Rabbi in the area, and a very tender nice man who loved children.

Cherie: My husband used to say the same thing. How is it that it's okay for us to use electricity but not them? I didn't even try and understand it. I just found it such a privilege that they would allow me to be their "Shabbos Goy" (meaning one who is not of their faith that helps out on the sabbath)

ginger tea said...

Kelly, I love your stories. You have lived in some really interesting places with so many diverse people and you have done well outside of your comfort zone. Thanks for sharing. I like the new look of your blog. I haven't been by for a while and just noticed. Your posts always make me smile. I love your snarky personality. I hope that's not offensive. I mean it as a compliment.

Kelly said...


Thanks for the compliments. At least I thought snarky was a compliment until I looked up the definition. I don't think I am choleric crabby cranky cross and crotchety.... But then again maybe you should ask my family about that.

: )

noyb said...


Melody said...

Kelly, I love this story! You would be the perfect neighbor for everyone -- always curious, friendly, and up for anything.

Kat said...

What a wonderful post. If only everyone would take the time to get to know people of other religions and races there would be a lot less fear in the world. I LOVE this.
I'm sorry to hear about the Rabbi. He sounds like a wonderful man. :)

Seth and Deb said...

This is why I LOVE the military. You have so many opportunities to meet such awesome and "peculiar" people and make lifelong friendships with people you would have never met or been friends with before.

I love how you have to step out of your comfort zone, it actually gets easier and easier for me. You also get the opportunity to learn about all sorts of different culture and religions and people. I just love it! What a neat experience.

Heather said...

As a member of R' Anemer's congregation, I was moved to tears to learned he touched others outside "our" community as much as those inside.

Kelly said...

I have noticed a lot of traffic from people searching for this specific post. I worried that perhaps I said something I should not have. I am so glad my entry didn't offend you and that you were moved. He was an amazing man!

Jay said...

Kelly, your account is very appreciated. I grew up here in Silver Spring and continue to go to Rabbi Anemer's synagogue. Rabbi Anemer meant a lot to us and now we actually know who bought our chametz for a few years. We named our son for Rabbi Anemer and when he gets older, we'll tell him your story.

Kelly said...

Thank you so much for your kind comment. I really miss all the lovely people from my old neighborhood. Best wishes for your new son!


LR said...

Even though you think you heard all the amazing stories about Rabbi Anemer but there is always more,each one more special then the next!

dovbenari said...

You are an unusually brave person to have approached R. Anemer as you did. He cultivated a rather stern public image. I am a former member of his congregation and it took me many years to get to know the warm and friendly person he really was. You must be a remarkable person yourself.
He was a man of unusual erudition and wide knowledge of Jewish law and arcana. He will be missed.

Kelly said...

You know, I saw that image at first too. However I had small children while living next to him and I do believe that he had a real soft spot for children. It wasn't hard to like him when you saw that side.

I found out much later what a respected scholar he was. Had I known that before I may have been more intimidated.

Thanks for your comment!

The Cahans in Israel said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Rabbi Anemer was not only my rabbi and teacher, but taught my 3 siblings as well. He constantly challenged us intellectually as well as helping shape us to be good people.

The story about shaking hands with him is an issue that I recall him discussing. He was adamant that he would shake a woman's hand so that he would never embarrass someone. Even though I live some 6,000 miles from Silver Spring, I continue to feel a void knowing that he is no longer with us. Best wishes to you and your family.

Shelley said...

Thanks for the lovely post. I Just want to explain the question of why we allow someone else to use electricity on the Sabbath on our behalf...

Orthodox Jews are careful to quantify who is obligated in various commandments, and who is not. Even among Jews, if one person is not under an obligation, they can do for others. For example: the Sabbath begins on Friday evening, either when I light candles and "accept" the Sabbath, or at sundown - whichever comes first. if I have already lit candles and "accepted" the Sabbath early, but my daughter hasn't yet done so, she can turn off the burner I accidentally left on.

Or, if I'm in Baltimore and my friend is in LA, I can make a call or a purchase on her behalf after Sundown on Saturday, when the Sabbath is finished for me but it's still going on where she lives.

But here's the real answer to your question and the reason for your confusion: we do not believe that one must "be a Jew to get to Heaven."

I.e., we don't believe that gentiles "need" to convert in order to save their souls.

However, Jews do believe that Gentiles are obligated in the 7 commandments of Noah, which are:
Not to worship idols
Not to blaspheme
To set up a judicial system
Not to murder
Not to steal
Not to commit improper sexual acts, such as incest, rape, etc.
Not to eat the limb from a living animal

(Apparently there was an ancient practice of hacking off an animal's limb while it was still alive in order to avoid losing the rest of the meat to spoilage. Ew.)

I hope this clears some confusion.

Kelly said...

Thank you so much for clearing that up! I appreciate the clarification. Looks like I am on my way to heaven!

(totally joking... I have a long ways to go)


Shelley said...

Don't we all!

Milhouse said...

Thank you for writing this.

Further explanation of why we're OK with you breaking the Sabbath, but not with us doing so: Exodus 31:17 describes the Sabbath is described as a sign of the special relationship between God and the Jews. It's like a wedding ring: if you're married, you wear a ring your husband gave you, as an outward sign of your relationship, but if you're not married to a man then wearing his ring doesn't make you his wife, it's just foolish and even a bit creepy. The map is not the territory. That's why the Talmud compares gentiles keeping the Sabbath to adultery. (Yes, to us you're the gentiles!)

Or, if you like, think of how Catholic priests aren't allowed to marry, but they have no problem marrying other people. Or of how active-duty US servicemen (such as your husband) aren't allowed to get involved in politics, but civilians are encouraged to do so. In both cases the rule only applies to a certain class of people, and was never intended to apply to everybody.

Kelly said...

Thanks Milhouse. It's making more sense to me. As a Mormon we also keep a Sabbath day, but I don't expect others to adhere to the same standards we have either.

Aviva said...

My brother in NJ just sent me your story "Goodbye Gedaliah". I grew up in Silver Spring down the block from Rabbi Anemer & his family on Whittington Terrace. In fact, my mother still lives there, and I imagine that being his neighbor, you were her neighbor as well. My family as well as my husband's were members of his congregation and his students at the Yeshiva high school he founded years ago (a strictly orthodox high school; the first in the DC area). He officiated at our wedding, held our only son during his brit milah ceremony (his cirumcision) and remained "our Rabbi" for religous questions we had over the years. We are lucky that our oldest daughter was his student during her senior year, until he passed away. We truly feel his loss. I so appreciate how you immediatly picked up on his tender, sensitive side, as his physical bearing could be quite overwhelming to those who didn't know him. And he was a brilliant Rabbi and served his community for over 50 years with fairness, dedication, and love.
Thanks for sharing your memories.

Kelly said...

Thank you Aviva,
I have been very touched by all these accounts. There were other Orthodox Jews I became familiar with. I wonder if I knew your mother as well. Small world eh?

I am sorry for your loss.