This week marks the much-anticipated and highly celebrated time on the Jewish calendar. Yeshiva Week has become such a fixture and institution that it now has a Wikipedia entry defining it as “the informal term for a vacation period occurring annually in mid- to late January, in which many Jewish day schools and yeshivas afford time off to their students. It is primarily a North American phenomenon.”
In truth a more apt name would be “No Yeshiva Week,” as schools and yeshivas close while many students and their families go on pilgrimage to Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean and other exotic locations, while others enjoy a staycation. What began as Yeshiva Week has morphed into Yeshiva Weeks, with different states and institutions no longer coordinating the time off and intentionally staggering it to avoid overlap, a fascinating phenomenon in its own right.
Our community is a primary destination that feels the impact of Yeshiva Week. Local cynics describe preparing for it as one might for a hurricane. We load up on supplies early, hunker down, assume it will be difficult to be out and about, and wait for the storm to pass before emerging.
But the truth is, there are many beautiful aspects to welcoming so many fellow Jews to our South Florida community. For me, I look forward to meeting and greeting guests, love seeing familiar faces and old friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, and genuinely enjoy learning about new people and the places they are visiting from. Nevertheless, for some visitors and local residents, Yeshiva Week can be challenging and frustrating when waiting on lines, looking for parking, or struggling to get a table. In general, whether we see the beauty and blessing, or instead focus on the frustration and aggravation, is really all up to us.
Dovid HaMelech teaches us (Tehillim 34:13) the secret to life: מִֽי־הָ֭אִישׁ הֶחָפֵ֣ץ חַיִּ֑ים אֹהֵ֥ב יָ֝מִ֗ים לִרְא֥וֹת טֽוֹב׃, Who is the man who is eager for life, who desires years of good fortune? The simple interpretation of the passuk and its advice has the question mark after the words “Liros Tov.” Who is the person who wants to live a long life, loving days and seeing good? And then Dovid gives the answer: A good long life is achieved when one guards his tongue from speaking evil…”
Rav Nissan Alpert, however, encourages us to punctuate and interpret differently. Place the question mark after the words he’chafetz chaim, who wants a long and good life? The answer is ohev yamim liros tov, one who loves to fill days with seeing good.
The quality of our lives is determined by the attitude that we bring. Liros tov, look for the good, see the positive. There is a phenomenon that psychologists call the “Missing Tile Syndrome.” When a person is in a beautifully tiled room, his eye is not drawn to the ornate tiles or to the detailed labor. Rather, if there is one tile missing in the whole room, the natural tendency is to be drawn to and focused on that tile. We tend to fixate on what is missing, on what is lacking or deficient, instead of emphasizing the beauty, the abundance, or the plenty.
Our Jewish world too often has a culture of criticism. We suffer from the Missing Tile Syndrome, drawn to what we think is wrong or missing, instead of focusing on the abundance of blessing. Yeshiva Week(s) presents a fantastic opportunity to be liros tov, to bring parts of the Jewish world together, to form relationships and enjoy each other’s company while on vacation. We can focus on the blessings, the opportunities and the good, or we can be fixated with hyper criticism on what is frustrating or wrong.
There is always more we can do to make each other’s lives even more pleasant. Here are some suggestions:
To our Yeshiva Week visitors:
We hope you have a safe and smooth trip down here and enjoy your time in our community. We are very excited to welcome you and to benefit from the influx of your energy, enthusiasm and participation. We are grateful you have chosen to visit our community and to support our local establishments and attractions. If we can be helpful in any way during your visit or can offer any hospitality, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
If you don’t mind, here are a few reminders that may be helpful during your visit:
· Unlike the Beis HaMikdash, our restaurants don’t expand based on the pilgrimage of Jews. Our proprietors and their staffs are doing the best they can. Please be patient, understanding and courteous, and please be generous with your tips, since the waiters are doing the best they can during an overwhelming time.
· While you feel that they may do things differently or even better “back home,” and you may have the best intentions in sharing feedback in real time or later online, please be patient and supportive of our local proprietors, especially while they are trying to manage an overwhelming mob of patrons. Please don’t feel obligated to share your feedback and suggestions online or offline, particularly if you aren’t here full time, as it can negatively impact our friends’ livelihoods.
· Please note and be sensitive to the fact that while you enjoy our many kosher dining options and kosher supermarkets, it is the local residents who support them all year long and enable them to be available to you when you visit.
· Please observe all parking rules and regulations and don’t double park. The white lines are not suggestions; your car should be between them.
· Our shul has many minyanim each morning and each evening. Please attend one of the listed minyanim and don’t assume a new minyan should be formed based on the time you arrive.
· In South Florida, life moves at a little slower and more relaxed pace. If the light turns green and the person in front of you doesn’t step on the gas within a millisecond, be patient, take a deep breath, take in the palm trees, and enjoy being on vacation.
· If you encounter a line, see it as an opportunity to spend time with others in your group or to read, learn, or listen to a shiur. Talk to the person in front of you or behind you; they are as eager as you to get to the front.
· When shopping at the local establishments, please only enter the check-out line when you have completed your shopping. Leaving your cart in line while you run back and forth to fill it and using it as a place holder is discourteous and is not our definition of online shopping.
· If you enjoy the minyanim, shiurim, learning opportunities, programs, mikvahs, eruv, or kashrus available in our community, please feel free to express your gratitude by making a contribution of any amount to our Tomchei Shabbos or Chesed Fund that can use help and support.
Over the course of your stay, please come say hello and introduce yourself. If you are considering moving here, please let us know if there is any way we can help or any questions we can answer. We would love to get to know you.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
To my fellow Floridians:
This week begins the annual influx of visitors for Yeshiva week. This week is a great reminder of the honor and privilege we have to live year-round in the very paradise that others clamor to get a taste of for just one week a year. Yes, it may be hard to find parking, eat out, or have your usual seat in shul (and maybe another one for your Tallis bag) during this time, but those are small prices to pay to offer gracious hospitality to fellow Jews, some of whom specifically come here to experience the warmth our community is known for.
If you don’t mind, here are a few reminders for the coming few weeks:
· While we support the local establishments all year, don’t minimize or dismiss the economic boon that our proprietors have come to rely on from vacation week. Be grateful and gracious for the patronage and support of all of our visitors.
· Be warm and welcoming when you see visitors and new faces. Offer a smile and a kind greeting. When in doubt, fail on the side of assuming someone is visiting and say hello. The worst that can happen is the person lives here longer than you, but they will still feel appreciated.
· Be patient, gracious and hospitable, and treat every visitor the way we would want to be treated when visiting or vacationing elsewhere. These weeks are an amazing opportunity to practice authentic Hachnosas Orchim – which is not just having our friends over for Shabbos meals (though there is nothing wrong with that), but helping, making sacrifices for, and showing kindness to visitors we do not know.
· If someone is sitting in your usual seat in Shul, the appropriate response is not, “You are in my seat,” or a passive-aggressive “That row has a few empty ones,” or non-subtle gesturing with your hands in an effort to get someone to move; simply find another seat. Our visitors aren’t doing anything malicious or with bad intent, they are just trying to experience davening at BRS. (This applies the rest of the year too.)
· Recognize it will be hard to get a table or eat out and plan around it. We can enjoy our wonderful restaurants all year long, let others have them for the week or be patient when eating out.
· Don’t use social media to share any frustrations or displeasures. Post about all the beautiful tiles in your life, not the missing one.
Looking forward to welcoming our guests and enjoying this vacation period together.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg