In Conversation with Rabbi Shmuel Brody, Rav of Kehillas Ashreichem Yisrael in Seattle, Washington

Rabbi Shmuel Brody
Rabbi Shmuel Brody

 

By YOSEF GESSER

Would the Rav please provide a bit of background information?

I was born in Syracuse, New York; my parents are Rabbi Moshe and Faige Brody. My father served as Rav there for seven years. Later we moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, where I grew up. My mother’s father was the well-known Posek Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Braun, zt”l, the mechaber of She’arim Metzuyanim B’Halachah on Shulchan Aruch and Shas.

I learned at Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, as well as The Jerusalem Kollel under Rav Yitzchak Berkowitz. I also learned for a year at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington.

Who were some major influences in the Rav’s life?

Harav Ahron Lopiansky, Rosh Yeshivah of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, had a great impact on me by exposing me to the richness and depth of the world of sifrei machshavah.

Harav Menachem Goldberger, Rav of Congregation Tiferes Yisroel in Baltimore, exudes a sense of nobility and tranquility as well as an uncommon warmth. As an American chassidishe Rav, he has given me a vision and style that I have been able to infuse into my kehillah.

Harav Tzvi Meir Zilberberg, well-known mashpia from Eretz Yisrael, ignites a fire in people with his avodah and his drashos. I absorbed his approach to Chassidus, and by watching him daven I learned what genuine tefillah is. That image has never left me.

Please tell us about your kesher with your maternal grandfather, Harav Shlomo Zalman Braun, zt”l.

I spent time with my Zeide in my younger years, when I was able to observe — as well as absorb lessons from — his daily conduct. He was very meticulous in how he organized his seder hayom. Everything had its assigned time — learning, davening, even taking a walk. My most striking memory is that of him sitting in his sefarim room and writing his chiddushim. My Bubby, a”h, Rebbetzin Rivka, was a holy woman whose life was lived in service to Hashem through davening and caring for people. She was very devoted to my Zeide and to the shul.

I have fond memories of Yamim Tovim spent with them. The Rav’s life revolved around Yom Tov. He would look forward to each one, noting in how many weeks, for example, we would be sitting in the sukkah. One could find him humming the niggunim of the upcoming Yom Tov in anticipation.

On Yom Tov itself his whole being was saturated with the kedushah of the Yom Tov. My Zeide was a tremendous baal tefillah and baal menagen, who would uplift the mispallelim with his beautiful voice. In general, he was very expressive in his avodas Hashem. He would sing certain niggunim that had been handed down within the family. His Pesach Seder was conducted with great yiras hakavod.

Please tell us about his contributions as a Rav and Posek.

My grandfather was also expressive in the sense that he was an engaging person. He used his sense of humor to reach out to those around him. He bridged the worlds of prewar Europe and post-war America and was acquainted with the great chassidishe Rebbes and Rabbanim, with Gedolei Haposkim of the prewar era. Although he was a chassidishe Rav, he had great respect for the various approaches of avodas Hashem, of learning, of davening — viewing everything through the prism of Halachah.

Please tell us some of the history of your shul, Kehillas Ashreichem Yisrael.

Over ten years ago, Mr. Chanon Simon and a close-knit group began davening together on Shabbos mornings. Chanon and his wife Sarah opened their home for this minyan, with Sarah making a delicious cholent weekly to serve after davening. This group was motivated by a strong desire for a tefillah that was slower paced and incorporated song. Several years later, this small group, including Mr. Joe Reback, and Kent and Bracha Swigard, helped to establish this minyan as a shul. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Kehillas Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York, was very instrumental in inspiring and encouraging its founding.

At that time, the Reback family generously invited us into their home, providing us with their entire downstairs, renovated into a beautiful, quaint shul.

Around eight months ago, before this past Purim, we were, baruch Hashem, able to purchase a beautiful 10,000-square-foot building just half a block down the street from the Reback home.

Today we offer diverse opportunities for growth and connection for the entire family and for Jews of all backgrounds. From our daily Shacharis minyan with chavrusa learning before and after davening, to our weekly shiurim, women’s events and family programming, we have something for everyone. Recently we have expanded our activities to include a Sunday school and classes for beginners throughout the year.

What is unique about your kehillah?

What is most unique about our shul is our mode of tefillah. The beautiful davening is filled with sincerity, song and focus. There is no talking during davening — not because I as Rav have trained the mispallelim that way, but because our shul is the type of place that draws people who appreciate tefillah.

It is noteworthy that the shul is a comfortable and inspiring place for people across the spectrum of observance and knowledge — those who cannot read Hebrew as well as those who learn Gemara with Tosafos. I also make myself available to learn with any individual who is looking for one-on-one study, and I have numerous chavrusos throughout the week. The involvement of my Rebbetzin, Sarah, shetichyeh, is also unique. She enthusiastically throws herself into every aspect of shul life. Together we aspire to elevate and strengthen people.

Are there any meaningful memories you can share about your years in rabbanus?

Numerous geirei tzedek have been drawn to the shul. They, as well as other local bnei aliyah, have come to the shul as early as 4:30 in the morning to learn and engage in hisbodedus. They are a great source of inspiration for all of us, regardless of our respective backgrounds.

The chanukas habayis last March was a memorable experience. There was a spirited Torah procession, in which we brought our sefer Torah from the shul’s previous location to its new home. The dancing went on for quite some time. In my remarks I said that the tafkid of the shul is “to invigorate Jewish life in Seattle, by creating a friendly and fresh community that enables individuals and families to live satisfying, growing and meaningful Jewish lives.” With siyatta diShmaya, we hope to continue in this direction for many years.

Thank you, Rabbi Brody. We wish you much continued hatzlachah in your avodas hakodesh.