In a development that can accurately be described as a small miracle – and an astounding Kiddush Hashem – the Niklesburger Bais Medrash in Woodbourne, New York has just completed a summer of service to the public that managed to surpass last year’s accomplishments in both quantity and quality.
Many thousands of Jews encompassing every type of religious background – Chassidish, Litvish, yeshiva students, Modern Orthodox and even those who are not fully affiliated with Torah Judaism – flocked to Congregation Bnai Israel to partake in its vibrant and exhilarating atmosphere of continuous tefillah b’tzibur, limud haTorah and hachnosas orchim.
Without question, the key factor ensuring the constantly accelerating hatzlacha of the Woodbourne Bais Medrash in its third year of operation is its Morah D’Asra, Rav Mordechai Jungreis, the Niklesburger Rebbe of Brooklyn, whose dedication knows no bounds. Utilizing the character traits that have brought him numerous followers in Boro Park, Rav Jungreis combines an attitude of genuine warmth and friendship with constant attention to detail to ensure that his shul in the Catskills satisfies all who visit both spiritually and physically. “This year, for the first time, we had such a massive amount of people coming to daven here,” Rav Jungreis marvels, “that we had to bring in construction workers and build several additional rooms to accommodate all the extra minyanim. Even though we had already done special work at the beginning of the summer to redo the roof which was in dire need of repair, it was well worth the extra expense for the sake of our wonderful mispallelim.”
Rav Jungreis continues to view the added responsibilities that come with greater success as a joy rather than a burden. “While previously the shul was open every day from early morning until 1:00 AM at the end of the following night,” he explains, “this year we had such a nonstop flow of guests that we had to extend our hours until 3:00 AM. As we did last year, we kept an amud and a box of siddurim outside the shul for those who came to daven ma’ariv after we were closed.”
As always, the Niklesburger Rebbe insisted that Congregation Bnai Israel’s gashmius (physicality) should match its lofty level of ruchnius (spirituality). Throughout the week, guests could enjoy a variety of delicious and filling snacks at all times; on Thursday night, they merited to eat the Rebbe’s rich and mouth-watering chulent, giving them an advanced taste of oneg Shabbos. In fact, there was such an increase of guests compared to last summer that the Rebbe cooked eight crock pots of chulent every week instead of the usual five. Of course, throngs of yidden packed the shul for the Friday night tish and the Motzoei Shabbos melaveh malka, where they were enchanted by the inspiring divrei Torah, sweet zemiros and magnificent delicacies.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the unique vitality of the Woodbourne Bais Medrash can be found in the comments made by prominent individuals who witnessed the goings-on first-hand. The Nitra Rav was overheard saying, “It is simply amazing to discover that over seventy chiyuvim were able to daven with a minyan and say kaddish in this shul on a daily basis.” The popular Boro Park spiritual leader Rav Binyomin Eisenberger confirmed that he purposely comes to the Niklesburger Rebbe’s upstate shul whenever he is traveling through the area. And – in a profound statement – the Chuster Rav of Flatbush speculated that “the enormous number of mitzvos performed in Congregation Bnai Israel may well have been responsible for protecting Jews throughout the New York area from the types of tragic accidents we have heard about in previous summers.”
While Rav Jungreis can easily recount any number of occasions when he saw visitors to the Woodbourne Bais Medrash become uplifted with extraordinary inspiration, one recent instance stands out in his memory. “It was in the middle of shalosh seudos, and a few of the older men complained that the air-conditioning was making them feel too cold,” the Rebbe says. “I immediately said that I would go outside to try and find a non-Jew who could lower the temperature. When I came out of the shul, I met a man who was not wearing a yarmulke; since I wasn’t sure if he was Jewish or not, I asked him if he would like to come in and see what the synagogue looks like. While I was showing him around, he uttered a few positive words in Hebrew, so I realized he was a Jew and of course I could not ask him to adjust the air-conditioning.” As the Rebbe relates, the man was so impressed with the surroundings that – revealing he had not been inside a shul in twenty years – he put on a yarmulke, joined the shalosh seudos for the final moments of Shabbos and announced his intention to attend the tefillos there next summer.
“We have been fortunate to positively impact so many neshomos this summer,” Rav Jungreis notes. “With Hashem’s help, the Niklesburger Bais Medrash in Woodbourne will be able to continue to serve as a source of Torah and avodah for thousands of Jews vacationing in the Catskills.” The Rebbe added that Congregation Bnai Israel will be open this coming Motzoei Shabbos, September 8, at 1:00 AM for the first Selichos service, with the famous Chazzan Stark leading the tefillos.