By Mike Morgulis
My wife and I and our kids started to attend Shabbat morning Family Services upon the suggestion of a friend, some 22 years ago. The Youth Chapel looked differently than it does at present, but the pews were full and there were many generations of congregants actively participating in the services ranging from newborns to grandparents and great-grandparents. What held our immediate interest was that the music was more folk-style with melodies from when I was in youth group… Debbie Friedman mixed with Shlomo Carlebach and a few worship melodies like those sung in the main sanctuary. The service was a good mix of Hebrew and English, people actively participated and the singing was at full volume, with the occasional harmonies added. Children were asked to come to the bimah to lead a prayer or chant the Ashrei, they paraded with the Torah, and during the Torah service, the younger kids went out with David Gershon for some quiet Torah study and story-telling activities. After the Haftarah was completed and the Torah put back into the ark, the pre-b’nei mitzvah kids went out with Suzanne Hersh for some more mature Torah study. And that’s when our favourite part arrived, the weekly congregational d’var Torah.
Rabbi Rosenberg would introduce the topic based on the weekly parashah, and a good debate would soon occur. Sometimes there was a general consensus, other times congregants actively flipped through the Plaut Chumash searching for backup to support their argument. It was engagingly dynamic and it was truly brain candy; the study of Torah for its own sake. And then all the kids would return, the service would conclude and we’d all retire to the Activity Room on the second floor for a potluck lunch. Sometimes the debate would continue, but then the kids would play together and the adults would gather and chat, sometimes until 2 PM. We’d pause for the Birkat Hamazon and then continue our visit with each other. Friendships evolved and grew, newcomers were welcomed, and those too grew into meaningful friendships.
When HBT pioneered the ShinShinim program, Thuy and I would welcome these young Israeli teens into our pew. Most had never been to a service, so we guided them through the service. Although we never billeted any of them, we formed deep relationships with many of them and included them in our family adventures. The second pew, the rabbi’s right side, became known as the Morgulis pew. We each have our own favourite seats. More often than not, we’d have someone in our pew as a guest who soon became part of our extended family.
Many of us who chant Torah, Haftarah, and other scrolls, got our first steps in Family Services, myself included. Most of the HBT Board of Directors past and present were stalwart members of the Family Service crowd, including our current president Phyllis Denaburg and her husband Jeff. Family Service members also started the Greeter initiative, a cooperative effort between Sisterhood headed by Corinne Black and myself as the head of Brotherhood.
When Thuy and I were married at HBT, our ceremony was held in the Youth Chapel under the chuppah made with Rabbi Rosenberg’s tallit, held by my two brothers and two of our family service friends, Alberto Quiroz and Dennis Gordon-Chow. Our guests were our relatives, outside friends, Family Service friends and HABSTY. When my mother passed away, we were surrounded at the graveside by our Family Service friends, and they each took a turn at the shovel. When our kids celebrated becoming b’nei mitzvah we were again surrounded by our Family Service friends. Lest you think that we were the only ones who benefitted from this, we all attended each others’ life cycle events from birth to death. You know who your true friends are when you witness them taking a shovel to help bury your loved one.
Time passes and the then-younger kids are now twenty-plus-year-old adults trying to make their way in the world. There are currently newer and younger faces in Family Services, but there is an opportunity to continue a fantastic legacy that was started many years ago. Many of us older heads are still in the pews, some of us are still chanting Torah, but we’re all still actively participating and then after services we’re still overstaying our welcome at the luncheon, chatting up our friends and engaging the newcomers who are enjoying Family Services for the first time.
The next Family Service is Shabbat morning on January 21st; we look forward to meeting you, praying with you, debating Torah with you, and strengthening our community with you.