I ran across these videos from my time at Mt Sinai Synagogue of Cheyenne, WY. They are a couple of my students, I miss them! I suppose this needs a little back-story. I was teaching classes that had a number of different ages, and these two would always arrive early. Its sometimes hard to engage kids on a Sunday morning, and my students would often brave the snow to drive in from quite far away. Some of my students really liked tefillin, they loved the feeling of wrapping themselves in it and once they got the knack for it, they taught the other kids also.
The first video is particularly close to my heart because Benjamin had been really getting into the tefillin for several lessons, and he made this observation himself…
Ben and Samantha were very diligent in their learning…
It was a very interesting year. While I was doing my summer military tour at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, I was contacted by the Dean of Hebrew Union College letting me know there was a congregation in Cheyenne who needed a student rabbi to fly out for high holidays and twice a month for the following year. I drove up from Colorado Springs to Cheyenne (about 3 hours) to visit them and they hired me for the year. I had no idea how close I would feel to the congregation when I left.
I came twice a month, flying first from LAX to Denver and then renting a car and driving up. The High Holidays were a particularly memorable time. My wife, Noemie, came with me for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and the roads between Denver and Cheyenne (which is about 2 hours north) were washed out due to “biblical” flooding. “Biblical” is in quotations because that is what the news called it, it was a once-in-a-century fluke. Noemie and I landed in Denver and rented our car erev Yom Kippur and started driving north towards Cheyenne, not knowing the roads were washed out.
As we drove up highway 25, we found the road was closed. We doubled back looking for wifi to see if I could book a last minute flight from Denver to Cheyenne, which would require us to return to the airport and drop off the car. Anything to arrive in time for Kol Nidrei. Flights were a no-go. We sat in a cafe in a small town totally flummoxed. By now it was about 3pm on erev Yom Kippur.
After much searching, we discovered a way to get there. We drove back down to the 34 east, to the 52 east, to the 71 north, which goes through eastern Colorado into the Pawnee Grasslands. As we hit the grasslands we ran into fog so thick we could hardly make out the car in front of us. All the while headed north into Nebraska.
When we got to Nebraska we swung back west, making a loop to Cheyenne. We finally arrived, it had taken us 12 hours and we had missed both lunch and the dinner before the fast! Both my wife and I were wearing clothing for flying, jeans, sandals, that sort of thing. As we pulled up to the synagogue (not stopping at the hotel), I was met by the ritual director. The gentleman who traditionally sang Kol Nidrei had just finished and was I ready to go?
Dear God. No lunch, no dinner, wearing jeans and leather Israeli sandals…but what choice did I have? I slipped off my sandals and led Yom Kippur evening services barefoot in jeans.
I may have been under-dressed but it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I came back twice a month and led Shabbat services, two or three adult education classes, and was a one-man-band religious school. I led Purim and Passover services and seders, visited some congregants in their homes and (unfortunately occasionally) medical centers, got to know the community, and they got to know me.
My last visit was for their springtime Yiddish Food Festival and the synagogue was full to bursting. They presented me with a book on the history of the Jews of Wyoming and during the president’s goodbye speech to me I nearly cried.