05 Oct ICONIC SHULS MERGE Q & A WITH THE RABBI, RABBI KENNETH AUMAN
Mazel Tov on the big news! For those people that do not know, this past Shabbos, Shabbos Parshas Beraishis, the Young Israel of Flatbush merged with the Talmud Torah of Flatbush.
Can you please share with everyone the story behind how this happened?
For several years there have been discussions that it’s logical for two big shuls that have memberships that are less than what they used to be to merge. But every shul has its own institutional life and it takes time. Eventually everyone was convinced that it was a good thing to do. Finally, everybody felt that it was time to do it.
How long has this plan been in the works?
It’s been discussed over the past few years, but it wasn’t serious until about a year ago.
How many years have you been the Rav at the Young Israel of Flatbush?
I just began my 38th year. This was my 38th Rosh Hashanah.
Outside of being the Rav at the the Young Israel of Flatbush, what else are you busy with these days?
I teach halachah at Stern College part-time and I’m on the board of Kehillas Kashrus. I also head the Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach center training Yoatzot Halacha.
What happened to Rabbi Shulman, the Rav at the Talmud Torah?
He retired. He was there for twenty years, and served with distinction. He is a wonderful individual and a Talmid Chacham. We enjoyed a very warm relationship as rabbis of neighboring shuls for 20 years.
What is the name of the new shul?
It’s being called the Young Israel Talmud Torah of Flatbush and it will be a Young Israel and OU shul.
How many members are there currently in both shuls?
The combined membership of the shuls will be over 300 – some of these represent individuals and others, families.
Over the last five to ten years has the shul’s membership drastically changed?
It has been dropping, steadily decreasing over the years. Unfortunately, older people pass away, people move out to the Five Towns, some of the members’ children are in the Five Towns, Bergen County, or Westchester Country. This is not only in the Modern Orthodox world; people in the Yeshivish world are moving to Lakewood. The only group that’s staying fully strong in Brooklyn, especially in my area, is the Syrian community, as far as I can tell.
How has Brooklyn changed over the past 38 years that you have been the Rav at the Young Israel?
There has been a growth in the Syrian community. It is booming on Ocean Parkway at Congregation Bet Torah, and across the street from them at the Torah Center, the two main Syrian shuls in the neighborhood. Further down Ocean Parkway, all the other shuls are doing well, as far as I know.
What is happening to the Young Israel of Flatbush location on Ave I & Coney Island Avenue?
It’s staying there for the next year or so, and then we’ll see afterward. Eventually, it will probably be sold, but we don’t know at this point. There’s a school that rents it now, so we have a commitment to the school. Who knows what’ll be. We’ll have to wait and see.
What is happening to all the beautiful windows, Sifrei Torah & Yizkor memorial boards that are currently at the Young Israel location?
Since the building is still there, it will remain intact for the meantime. What happens in the future will probably depend on who buys it. If a shul buys it, it will probably stay the same. If some other group buys it, some arrangements will be made, to either take the windows somewhere else or to sell them separately. They’re beautiful windows; they certainly can’t be demolished. Same thing with the Aron Kodesh up front; the whole front of the shul is marble. Some shuls might want it. But who knows at this point? We have room for many of the Yizkor plaques in the Talmud Torah building and we will slowly move them over time. Since we’re not in a rush, we will wait to see where there’s a place to put [it] them and gradually things will get moved over. The good Sifrei Torah we have will get moved over there and we will have to decide what to do with the pasul Sifrei Torah. We’re not under any pressure since we know the building will be around for a while. There’s no pressure to do anything; we have that luxury of time so we don’t have to make those decisions now.
Is the shul planning on having any special events this year to try to bring a new vibe?
This past Shabbos was the first time we were all together. It was a glorious Shabbat, with a large attendance and a beautiful davening. We are essentially a new congregation. Now we’ll begin discussing all these things. Together as a shul we’ll decide what we want to do. The Talmud Torah always had a great lecture series which they always held on Motzei Shabbos terrific speakers. It stopped during Covid last year, but there are plans to have that again beginning in November. I will be giving various daily, weekly shiurim. Now that we’re all one group, we’ll see what we want to do.
What will you miss most about the old location?
Well it has a lot of memories for all of us. They’re both beautiful shuls, so it’s not like we’re not going to a beautiful shul. However, we’ve been in this shul for so long and there are a lot of wonderful memories. I was at the Young Israel for 37 years, and I was a relative newcomer compared to those who were there for sixty, seventy years. Memories are important, but the things that were achieved there, all the activities that were there, we can have them somewhere else. The problem is the emotional associations we have with the building. This will be hard for a while, but one can get used to a new place. People adapt to things and it’ll be relatively easy to adapt to this change. We’re moving a half block away and it’s a beautiful shul, so really, what could be bad?
What would you say is the biggest challenge of being a Rav in the year 2021?
In a sense I’m very fortunate that at my age, in my late 60’s, I’m able to get a ”new” job. Technically it’s a new job because this is a new congregation. Who at my age gets a new job? But if I were really applying to a Rabbinic job today, besides my age and experience, I don’t have the skills that new shuls need. Younger people today are involved with Twitter and social media; I don’t have the faintest idea what to do with social media, nor do I have any interest in learning. Luckily, most of the people in our shul have the same mindset as I do. I’m an old-fashioned Rabbi. But in certain respects I have changed; I’ve adapted to communicating through emails and Whats-app, but social media is entirely different. So much has changed with technology; Going back to 9/11, which was twenty years ago, I was still writing speeches by hand! Everything is now computerized with files on the computer. I use the internet for resources; Bar Ilan has a wonderful program. I use technology to prepare classes, copy and paste, and make source sheets. I’ve adapted somewhat to the 21st century, but I would still say I’m pretty much a dinosaur.
Do you find that most shailos you get these days from your mispallilim are related to halacha or psychology?
A combination. I still get a lot of halacha questions. I don’t have any degrees in therapy, it’s a lot of common sense, but I’m one to refer people when necessary. Being a Rabbi is always in a sense this way; you get a gamut of questions. I wouldn’t say that has really changed over the years.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with Jewish Vues readers that we did not discuss?
I’m looking at this new stage as a challenge. I know many of the people, but there will be many people I don’t know. I’m looking forward to meeting with them, working together with them, and serving them. I’m looking at it as a challenge that I’m eagerly embracing and I’m looking forward to having a productive relationships not just with the people I already know. I’m looking forward to meeting those who I don’t know, in the very near future. I’m looking forward to working together and serving the whole community. In whatever way we can do that, I’m happy to do so.
What is your go to peuirush/sefer for your weekly dvar torah on the parsha?
Misinai Bah by Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv from Alon Shvut
Name a Goy (dead or alive) that has inspired Yidden.
Name someone in Tanach that you would like to know more about than what the kriah says.
What middah should someone look for, when looking for a shidduch?
Every person needs something else in a spouse so I don’t think there’s one middah. Depending on who you are, you’re going to look for different things for different people.