An impromptu, intense conversation between friends on Purim in 2016 was the impetus for one of the most innovative annual programs in a Silver Spring, Maryland, neighborhood.
On that day, Yoni Tyberg of Kemp Mill took one of his friends, who grew up going to Chabad yeshivas, to the Yeshiva of Greater Washington for a different Purim experience. The growing Kemp Mill community is home to a diverse group of Orthodox Jews, and is now home to six Orthodox shuls with varying religious outlooks.
On the way home from the Purim festivities, the two ran into another friend of Tyberg’s, who grew up studying in non-Chassidic yeshivas. A deep conversation between Tyberg’s two friends ensued, with each man respectfully questioning the other’s religious outlook and customs.
Tyberg looks back on that key moment as an epiphany regarding the divisions within the Orthodox community. “On both sides, there was some questioning on different hashkafos [religious outlooks] of the other ... It really made an impression on me. I said, ‘We are all neighbors and it’s a shame that we don’t really speak to one another about these things.’ That prompted me to tell [Rabbi Berel Wolvovsky of Chabad of Silver Spring], ‘We have to do something about this. It’s a shame that we don’t intermingle ...’”
This chance encounter led to the Unity Lecture Series, hosted by Chabad of Silver Spring between the weeks of Pesach and Shavuot (the period known as the Omer). “We got the idea because it was the year of Hakhel, the year after Shmita [farmers’ sabbatical year, every seven years], the year of gathering and, in the time of the Beis Hamikdash [holy temple] when everyone gathered. We thought we should do something special to show that in the times of the Beis Hamikdash, Hakhel was a time of unity and we should do the same,” said Rabbi Wolvovsky.
Now in its third year, the Unity Lecture Series, coordinated by Tyberg, includes six speakers and takes place at Chabad of Silver Spring on Shabbat evenings at 6 p.m. The speakers include rabbis from the six Orthodox shuls in Kemp Mill: Rabbi Yankel Greiniman of the Silver Spring Jewish Center; Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington; Rabbi Michoel Frank of Ohr HaTorah; Rabbi Dovid Rosenbaum of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah; Rabbi Brahm Weinberg of Kemp Mill Synagogue (KMS); and Rabbi Berel Wolvovsky of Chabad of Silver Spring.
“These shiurim [lectures] help prepare us for Shavuos and make the time leading up to kabbalas HaTorah [receiving the Torah] much more meaningful. For years, I have been proudly telling my New York/New Jersey family and friends that Silver Spring is amazing. This inspiring and collegial speaker series highlights the unique and incredible community we have, supported largely by the amazing work of the Wolvovskys and Chabad,” said Leora Hellman, a member of KMS.
“One of the most beautiful things about the Kemp Mill community is the diversity of religious offerings with a beautiful spirit of mutual respect. The Chabad series exemplifies this in such a meaningful way. This uniting series is so appropriate as we reflect on the unity of the Jewish People as they prepared to receive the Torah,” said Rabbi Rosenbaum.
Rabbi Wolvovsky says that it has been gratifying to see “how willing and eager the community rabbis are to participate in something that brings the community together.” He added, “Seeing this gives me the hope and dream of seeing how we can work together and collaborate as a community as a whole. And everyone benefits.”
Rabbi Brahm Weinberg will speak this Shabbat, May 12, and Rabbi Berel Wolvovsky will speak May 19, closing out the speaker series for 2018. Both will take place at 6 p.m. at Chabad of Silver Spring.
By Kami Troy
Kami Troy is the senior editor of Kol HaBirah.