My Uncle Asher Hirsch Z’L was a very special person. Too special for a short blog post. After his childhood was wrapped up and put on a Kindertransport, he grew up a child survivor in Atlanta, Georgia. He worried and cared for his siblings that survived with him. He saw them assimilate into American society, and he knew how much this would pain his deceased parents. (One brother, Ben, returned to his roots and raised a vibrantly religious family).
Asher returned to Germany as a soldier with the occupying American forces- only to find nothing remained of his previous life.
Marrying my aunt Hennie in Switzerland, they returned and he held positions as the leader of congregations in New York’s Astoria Queens and the Bronx. There, too, he worried. He worried that the services would be attended and run properly. He worried for his congregants and their life cycle events. And he worried for the education of their children.
His oldest son, Naftoli must have taken this to heart, and while he was not a Rabbi, he took his experience with him everywhere he went.
It wasn’t long after he and his wife Ruthie moved to Washington Heights that he would have the keys to the Breuer’s shul as the gatekeeper of the Hashkomo minyan. He stuggled and worried to keep this minyan vibrant and viable- even when members complained about the need to have a hashkomo minyan at all.
He soon became an active leader of another underdog minyan- the Mincha Gedola at the Agudas Yisroel of Upper Manhattan. Uncle Asher always preferred davening the Mincha Gedola (midday) and I remember walking him to the Agudah many Shabbosim when it was at its ancient location on 178th Street and Audobon.
The theme here is obvious. Daven Shacharis the first chance you have, daven Mincha the first chance you have. In his Yad Vashem testimonial Uncle Asher recounts that as a young boy, not yet Bar Mitzvahed he would ride his bicycle to the Hashkama minyon in Frankfurt’s Khal Adath Jeschurun.
And long into retirement, Uncle Asher would host the early mincha of Shabbos in his living room with his own Torah scroll.
Davening early, and faithfully consistent to they minyan was the connection between Uncle Asher and Cousin Naftali.
When Uncle Asher led his congregations he never allowed any song from the amud that would involve repeating words of davening. One Shabbos as they sang the Zemiros at their Shabbos table, young Naftoli remarked that the Zemiros tunes had repetition of words. Now, one could draw a distinction. But for the sake of consistency Uncle Asher took the criticism seriously and altered all of the family Zemiros tunes to avoid repetition.
The name Naftali comes from the words of our mother Rachel, “Naftuli Elokim Niftalti”- I have waged a spiritual struggle. It also seems to have the word Tefillah in it. Uncle Asher and Cousin Naftali took the struggle of properly attending to and worrying for the neglected services in Hashem’s houses of devoted prayer.
Yehi Zichrom Boruch