Our Simhat Torah Honorees

By Belinda Lasky and Emily Walsh | Issue Date: September 2011

Each year, the blessings of Simhat Torah Kallah (bride) and Hatan (groom) are bestowed upon two extraordinary members of the BJ community. The Kallat Torah (or Hatan Torah, if a man is receiving the honor) has the honor of reading the last chapter of the Torah on Simhat Torah morning, while the Hatan (or Kallat) Bereshit reads the first chapter as we start the cycle again. This year, we are privileged to celebrate two members who represent very different generations of BJ: Vivian Yale, Kallat Torah and David Lieberman, Hatan Bereshit.

Vivian Yale. Photo Credit: Belinda LaskyAt 89 years young, Vivian Yale is one of the most vibrant members of BJ. People lucky enough to spend time with her know they are hard-pressed to find a warmer, more intriguing personality. Her story at BJ began 20 years ago while working on crossword puzzles when she realized she was unable to answer many biblical questions and needed to do something about it. She began to look for classes and found BJ. After her first conversation with Roly she knew she’d found a new spiritual and educational home. She’d grown up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where her family was involved in union activities through the Labor Lyceum, and that social justice background made B’nai Jeshurun a perfect fit.

Through the years Vivian has bonded with the rabbis through services and classes and attends the Women’s Retreat annually. She is a dedicated member of Bikkur Holim, for which she makes

Shabbat Connections phone calls, as well as Hevra Kadisha and the former Ledor Vador committee. Vivian’s greatest love is Havurah Ma Tovu, which has been meeting for more than 17 years. This group is like a family, and she talks proudly about its years of studying Pirke Avot together.

Vivian says she finds it fascinating how BJ constantly experiments with ways of structuring community. She appreciates how BJ is alive and evolving all the time. It is a community that creates meaningful opportunities for individuals, and Vivian embodies that ideal.

Roly and David Lieberman, 1996 or 1997. Photo Credit: BJ ArchivesAt age 8, with no Children’s Services or Junior Congregation to engage him, David Lieberman often found himself getting bored and antsy during Shabbat services. Known as “Yeled Tov,” (good boy) he  was one of few children in the BJ community at the time. Fascinated by Rabbis Marshall T. Meyer and Roly Matalon (describing Meyer as “brilliant and imposing,” and Matalon as “sweet and approachable”), he asked them if he could learn to read Torah. Roly taught him to read, and Marshall taught him to teach. He recalls Marshall saying, “These are the greatest stories ever written, you have to be sure you’re really telling these stories when you read them.” There, on a wooden box for extra height, stood the 8-year-old, reading Torah for the congregation. Today, the 28-year-old stands in classrooms and on the bimah at Junior Congregation teaching today’s students to read, understand, and live the stories of the Torah.

David Lieberman in 2005 with Rabbi Shmuel Miller, Sofer, adding a letter to the BJ 180th Anniversary Torah.Any given week, you can find David tutoring b’nai mitzvah students, or reading Torah in Junior Congregation. If you’re under 6, you probably remember him from High Holy Day Children’s Services, and the teens know him as a leader for “The Brotherhood,” a program for middle-school boys, and last year’s service learning program to the Dominican Republic. He touches the lives of all our young congregants, helping them connect to Judaism in deep and meaningful ways.

David views his role as an educator as a gift. “We get to see things that their parents never get to see… and to tell their parents how amazing their kids are.” He describes them as kind, generous, and as possessing “inner strength. “They are the people their parents want them to be.” He has never forgotten what Marshall told him. He “really tells the stories” and so brings Torah to life. He also lives the stories and is an incredible gift to our community.

Be sure to join us on Simhat Torah on Friday, October 21 to hear Vivian and David represent the generations as they escort us through the end and beginning cycles of the Torah.