For three days last week, the West Hempstead community celebrated the new building of Bais Torah U’Tefilah (BTU) at 401 Hempstead Avenue. It began on Thursday evening with the first Minchah minyan that was followed by Rabbi Eytan Feiner as the guest speaker. “Hashem trusts us even when we don’t necessarily trust ourselves. He trusts us to turn this mikdash m’at into a place of k’dushah,” said Rabbi Uri Lesser, mara d’asra of BTU. “There are too many nissim that happened over the past year that show HaKadosh Baruch Hu wanted this.”
The program began with the installation of mezuzos on the main doors of the new building and Minchah. Rabbi Feiner, the rav of Congregation Kneseth Israel (The White Shul) in Far Rockaway, emphasized the importance of feeling the excitement and tasting the sweetness of Torah and t’filah, and encouraged the community to make this beautiful building their second home.
He quoted a vort from Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l that the highest level of
avodas Hashem is learning Torah and davening for its sweetness and love of Hashem. As Rabbi Feiner so eloquently put it, “Hashem gave [us] siyata diShmaya. Hashem gave [us] an unbelievable rav, a chashuvah mara d’asra shlita. Hashem gave us a binyan m’foar (beautiful building). Hashem gave us gevaldig s’farim. Hashem gave us golden doors. Sing with the Torah! Dance with the Daf Yomi! Celebrate the greatest gift in the history of the world.”
The sanctuary of BTU has the appearance of a beis midrash, with a sizable collection of s’farim and tables rather than pews, an encouragement for congregants to come early and stay late, to learn inside this sizable space. In contrast to the 1,000-square-foot house across the street that has been BTU for the past four years, the new space is a 2-story 9,000-square-foot building with a parking lot. Its sanctuary fits 200 people, with a social hall, classrooms, offices, coat room, and a planned playground. “We are so grateful and recognize the kindness of Hashem that we were able to secure this large, magnificent building, with room for growth, that will serve the growing frum community as a m’kom Torah and t’filah now and for generations to come,” said Rabbi Lesser.
BTU had its start in 2014, in the basement of Rabbi Lesser’s home, offering nusach Sefard davening followed by a learning session. A native of West Hempstead, Rabbi Lesser studied in Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim and Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. Closer to home, he was inspired by Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer zt”l, the longtime rav of the Young Israel of West Hempstead. In his remarks last Thursday, he noted that when Rabbi Kelemer arrived in West Hempstead nearly 40 years ago, he was asked if the Pompei catering hall would ever become kosher. “It brought him a tremendous amount of simchah,” said Rabbi Lesser.
An example of the unity among West Hempstead shuls was the fact that the various community rabbanim participated in BTU inaugural Shabbos events throughout the weekend, including dancing with Rabbi Lesser as the sifrei Torah were brought into the new BTU space on Erev Shabbos. “With this space, the k’hilah can grow. There was already a lot of Torah and t’filah, and there will now be more of it,” said Dani Goldman, who has been attending BTU for three years.
Alongside his position at BTU, Rabbi Lesser is also the Director of Pastoral Care at Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and has extensive professional experience in pastoral care, kashrus, and chinuch. This past Shabbos, the shul had a gala kiddush and the first chaburah where Rabbi Lesser spoke on the question of having mezuzos inside a shul.
In this growing shul, the beis midrash is open throughout the day for people to learn b’chavrusa and scheduled shiurim. More than a shul, BTU has become a close-knit k’hilah built upon the many young families who share a common vision in avodas Hashem. Its members include both longtime residents and the many families who have recently moved in from Kew Gardens Hills, Far Rockaway, and the Five Towns. On the blocks surrounding BTU, the number of Jewish families has grown, as they have in all directions across West Hempstead.
Thanks in part to BTU, West Hempstead has become a preeminent destination for Jewish families. The membership welcomes prospective members with hosting and events for new residents. To learn more about BTU, visit www.BTUWH.org.
By Sergey Kadinsky