By Tammy Holzman
SUNY Downstate Medical Center is located on the outskirts of Crown Heights. Until several years ago, there were no Jews residing in that neighborhood. The Jewish area of Crown Heights had developed organically but with clear physical boundaries. In recent years, as is well known, the prices of homes in Brooklyn – and NY as a whole – have become extravagantly costly. Simply impossible to buy a house in Crown Heights these days! But Baruch Hashem, the Jewish population in our neighborhood has continued to grow, and people need a place to live.
So it started as a drip.
A few brave people dared to enter the invisible neighborhood borders, where home prices were still reasonable. Like Nachshon Ben Aminodov in his time, they “crossed the sea” and paved a way for others to follow.
Little by little, additional young families purchased homes near the university. The first family came, and then another… the third family turned the two into a mini community. From there, the road was paved, and a surge of newcomers began.
Well, a mini surge.
Currently, there are thirty plus Jewish families residing in the area of East Flatbush, bordering Crown Heights.
My husband, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Holzman, who has always regularly worked on organizing Minyonim for physicians and students, realized that the medical community and the new settlers’ community, new neighbors, could benefit from each other. A joint minyan was arranged in the living room of one of the residents’ homes. After some time, the minyan was moved to another fellow resident’s basement, and when the crowd grew even more, it moved to the basement of a clinic across the street of the medical center. The local community davens there regularly on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and the doctors cross the road to catch a quick minyan.
The pieces had come together. Baruch Hashem, this community already had a devoted gabbai, Rabbi Dov Ber Blau, an official Rav, and a crowd of regular daveners. It was time to transform the space into a real shul. The question was, where to begin? With Rosh Hashana around the corner, all work had to be done fast.
As a first step, I turned to second-hand websites. On one such site, I found a beautiful armoire. Its size and appearance matched exactly what an Aron Kodesh would need. Free of charge! My husband went to pick it up, schlepped it down the basement stairs, and now there was a beautiful Aron Kodesh ready to use.
Torah scrolls were also acquired. Someone who’d moved to a new home donated his bookcases, and a doctor from the hospital filled them with siddurim and seforim.
Then, we realized that there was no paroches for the Aron Kodesh. For the month of Tishrei, a white parochet is needed. So, seasoned online shopper that I am, I ordered a white velvet curtain that usually covers windows, which fit our Aron Kodesh perfectly. I bought the rod for the curtains, some screws, and voila! – we had a beautiful Aron Kodesh, Sefer Torah and a new paroches!
Yom Tov was soon over, and we realized that we needed to replace the white paroches with a standard one and save the white one for next year. So I went online again. This time I ordered a curtain in a red color resembling a real paroches.
I went with my husband to shul recheck the size. While we were there and discussing different aspects of the shul, my husband mentioned that the Torah was difficult to read on a regular table, which was what they had been using. The shul had two tables attached, covered with a tallis, but it’s hard to read when it’s laid on a flat surface, and not sloping like a real bimah.
So what’s next?
We turned to a skilled carpenter, R’ Shmuel Edelman, who in no time produced a quality bimah for us. Not a big nor a fancy one, for lack of funds. But a real, very well-made bimah. The kind that is placed on top of the table.
Now we needed to cover the bimah, usually in a fabric similar to the parochet. Not a problem. I ordered another, similar red velvet curtain. But when it arrived, I found out, to my dismay, that these curtains only come in certain sizes, not enough to cover the entire bimah. It was too long on one side, and too narrow on the other, so the wood underneath was partially exposed, unless I connected some pieces as patchwork, which will significantly cheapen the look.
But really. Red velvet shouldn’t be such a big problem to find.
So I dedicated one day to the cause. I decided to look at fabrics, instead of ready-made curtains, and headed into the fabric district in Manhattan. There, one can find store after store filled to capacity with hundreds and thousands of fabrics.
I started browsing, sure that in 15 minutes my mission would be accomplished. After all, it’s an easy-to-find type of fabric, in a popular color.
Turns out, most fabrics come in one width, a maximum of 54 inches. Just the width of the curtain I already had, which fits the Aron Kodesh beautifully, but not the bimah. There are some types of fabrics that are available in a wider width, but the supply is very limited. In addition to this challenge, it turns out that the red color I already made into a parochet is not a “classic red.” There was a certain undertone of rust in the red.
This easy mission was not so easy after all.
Seller after seller gave me the same answer. After a single glance at the sample I brought, I was told: no such color and no such type, and certainly not the width I needed! There were many other shades of red, or wine, nothing remotely close to what I have been looking for. Average price was $25 per yard.
After an entire block of such stores and answers, going through thousands of fabric rolls, going into basements of stores to find endless more, I was convinced that I was not going to find what I was looking for. Even if I was ready to make a new parochet AND a matching cover for the bimah, there were no suitable fabrics wider than 54”. I loved the paroches that I already made, I had added a gold ornament around it with my far-from-perfect sewing skills. It was simple but done with love. Did I need to start all over again?
There was one store left. Before I went in, I did what I usually do when I really, really want something badly. I looked Upward (in a hidden corner of the street, mind you, before all pedestrians stopped to check with me what was flying up there) and I told our Heavenly Father:
“Abba, if you want me to create a cover for your bimah, and you would like my gift, please just point me in the right direction, because what I’m looking for clearly does not exist.”
And then, into the store I went, knowing that the matter was no longer in my hands.
Right at the entrance was a sullen guy helping a client. He asked me what I was looking for. To shorten the process, I asked directly: “Do you carry fabrics wider than 54“?” The answer was an immediate, grumpy “NO” before he turned his back on me with even a sulkier look.
I stood there for a minute, admiring all the beauty sitting there on rolls, and then I turned to leave.
Suddenly, I heard someone asking, “Can I help you?”
There was another seller there. An elderly man, looked like the business owner. I asked him the same question I had already asked so many times that day: “Do you carry velvet wider than 54 inches?” I didn’t even bother to mention the red color yet.
He said, “Yes. All the way at the end, to the left.”
I stared at him in disbelief.
I started making my way towards the back of the store, plowing among ancient rolls of fabrics like an archeologist digging towards his find.
There, to the left of the end of the world, stood the velvet cylinders.
And among all the velvet fabrics, stood a red velvet roll with a rusty brown tint, looking like a twin to the sample in my hand!
The width? 72″! (EXACTLY the size I needed!)
Price? $10 a yard!
And… it was WASHABLE!
Our Father in Heaven did want this gift. And He left this here for me to find.
Still not believing what I was seeing, I asked him to cut the fabric for me. I requested the cut be a little larger than what I thought I needed, just in case. Can never be too careful.
That evening, I took myself, my husband, and a box of sewing pins to shul, ready to mark exactly what was needed and what to cut off.
I laid out the fabric… and it fit perfectly on all sides.
Not one inch more. Not an inch less.