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On The Road With A Guitar And A Shtreimel

Rachel Ginsberg

Like the famous picture of the chassidim flying off to the heavens in a rickety wagon, the Traveling Chassidim regularly pack up their families for Shabbos, heading off to outlying communities to share inspiration, joy, and the spirit of an authentic chassidic Shabbos. Through music, dancing, and Carlebach-inspired davening, this group of young Belzer chassidim from Monsey not only touch the hearts of those “coming along,” but also reevaluate their personal Shabbos experiences.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It took a bottle of beer to teach Aryeh Royde that he had it all wrong.

The young Belzer yungerman from Manchester thought he knew all about kiruv tactics. Eight years ago, he was newly married, had just moved to Monsey, and spent Shabbosim with his older brother, who had a constant stream of baalei teshuvah at his table.

“You have a good rapport with these guys,” he encouraged Aryeh. “You should get into it.”

And so sharp-witted, sociable Aryeh began to plow through the seforim diligently — Shaar HaYichud, Chovos HaLevavos — he wanted to be prepared to debate G-d’s existence. When he felt he had the philosophy down pat, he was ready for the showdown. He called Partners In Torah and asked to be matched with an intellectual. Within ten minutes, he proved to his new phone chavrusa from Dallas the truth of G-d’s existence and the veracity of Torah — but something in the equation didn’t add up. Aryeh debated his phone-pal every week for two years, but the Texan on the other end of the line still had no interest in keeping halachah.

Then something happened that would turn Aryeh Royde’s kiruv philosophy upside down.

Five years ago, Aryeh Royde and his friend Eli Bineth, another Belzer yungerman from Monsey, joined a friend from Boro Park who was traveling to Dallas for a community kiruv Shabbaton. As a fringe benefit, Royde would finally meet his phone-pal in person.

“During the Friday night oneg, there was such warm chassidishe energy. Everyone was into the niggunim, and this guy drives up in his car, comes into the shul, sits down next to me and asks me for a beer,” Rabbi Royde remembers. “I brought him a bottle, opened it for him as a gesture of friendship, and after that, we just bonded. On Motzaei Shabbos at the kumzitz, he sidled up to me and said, ‘You know, I’m forty years old and haven’t put on tefillin since my bar mitzvah.’ I told him I’d help him in the morning, so we went to a small shul where no one knew him and he wouldn’t be embarrassed. He went through the entire davening and then said to me with tears in his eyes, ‘Thank you for opening my beer.’

“If he was astounded by what was going on with his neshamah, I was even more,” Aryeh Royde admits five years later. “I had been learning with my Dallas phone chavrusa for two years and he still hadn’t put on tefillin. Yet here was this guy I barely knew. All I did was give him a bottle of beer, and the next thing I know, he’s putting on tefillin.

“What was going on here? We were just a bunch of friendly, outgoing guys. We didn’t give lectures, we didn’t prove Hashem’s existence — we were just nice. We smiled. We danced. We sang. The people saw Shabbos. And they saw real pleasure. When does a secular person sing with his family aside from when he’s drunk?”

Little did Royde know that that one Shabbos five years ago would become the formula for a national kiruv venture he himself would lead.


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