This past Thursday evening, the Queens community marked the Shloshim of the 45 k’doshim from Meron with an awe-inspiring community-wide kumsitz held at Kehilas Torah Temimah. Singing sensation Eli Levin took the crowd on a moving journey with each tune.

Words of chizuk were delivered by Rabbi Moshe Sokoloff, rav of Agudath Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, and Rabbi Elan Segelman, rav of the hosting shul.

Rabbi Segelman did not shy away from stating how ironic it was that the incident in Meron, where Jewish brethren were crushed amongst one another, unfolded on the yom tov of Lag BaOmer, a day that Jews celebrate the conclusion of a plague that challenged friendship and loyalty.

“We are now 30 days later, but we do not have any more answers and perhaps only more questions,” imparted Rabbi Sokoloff. “The answers lie in the week’s parshah: ‘al pi Hashem yachanu, v’al pi Hashem yisa’u.’ Just as the people traveled in the desert when it wasn’t always convenient, did not always make sense, and was not always easy, but we follow Hashem.”

Eli Levin reminded the audience, “You as a whole are complete,” and we gather as a unit to get through pain. Every loss in klal Yisrael is a wound to Hashem, but when we act as one, then we are able to weather through tough times. Eli made it clear that Hashem always has a plan for his children, and in the end we will persevere.

Rabbi Sokoloff also discussed the healing powers of a melody and how it acts as a unifier, bringing us closer to Hashem. “Music has a power to bring people to do t’shuvah and to bring people together. It is very apropos that at a time when we are struggling to find answers, music brought us together.”

In response to the questions left by the Meron tragedy, Rabbi Segelman acknowledged that there was no objective response, “The Ribbono Shel Olam loves and cherishes us.” The rav cited the Midrash Tanchuma in reminding the group that it was a gathering such as this program that was vital for klal Yisrael to stick together, persevere, and get through a test. Rabbi Segelman beseeched, “Make life more special,” and followed by speaking of moments when the Jewish people, especially the L’viim, gathered in unity. Hashem said of them, “They are mine,” displaying a unique unbreakable bond. “We have no answers and are lost without direction, but we turn to song, learning, and being misaveid because we have nothing else to do and this is what Hashem wants,” said Rabbi Segelman.

Rabbi Segelman left everyone with a plea: “Every beis aveil is full of praise for the niftar. It bothers me that we have to wait for a tragedy to discover and promote the special attributes of a niftar. We should be able to take advantage of the positive attributes of people while they are alive.” The rav was reminded of revealing stories that surfaced during the week when hespeidim from the Meron victims were circulated. “Every single Yid has so much potential and is special to Hashem, we don’t have to wait.” Rabbi Segelman called on listeners to uncover the greatness of each individual we encounter instead of delving into his or her deficiencies. The rav pushed onward, explaining that even if we do not know the other fellow, we must exhibit ahavas chinam (nonjudgmental love); especially at a time with so much hatred and anti-Semitism, we must increase ahavah.”

A kumsitz with Eli Levin nearly always feels like it is at its climax as the audience truly stays enthralled. The heartfelt feeling around a song like “Rachel M’vakah” knows no bounds, while the passion behind a call out of “Sh’ma Yisrael,” makes one understand that “there is but one G-d above.”

But what sets Eli apart is his deep personal connection to each song, especially a recent release, “Afikoman,” dedicated in memory of his brother Yisroel Levin and his kallah, Elisheva Kaplan, who were killed in a horrible car accident on Chol HaMoed Pesach three years ago that shook klal Yisrael. At the l’vayah, Eli’s father committed to a project 10K Batei Yisrael that has since inspired 158 shidduchim on its road to ten thousand, nearly one match a week. “The father, he stands and he raises his hands; he says, ‘Eibishter, I don’t need to understand; I’m a Jew, I’m your child, I have faith, my emunah is strong. We can’t see through the nistar (hidden) to see the full picture. Only You can determine what’s right. I accept your decision to reclaim your Afikoman that night; And I thank you for all the shidduchim you helped us unite. Every shidduch will add to the z’chuyos we send all the time.” Eli encouraged all to take a moment, and if moved by the song, to think of someone you know who is waiting for his or her zivug and ponder on a potential match. Take advantage of to log your suggestions and motivate others to follow suit.

The event was organized by the shul board along with special efforts from Matan Fridman and Albert Reichmann, and was sponsored by Cross River Bank.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein