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09/13/2023 11:01:00 AM


Neil Klar

“My Jewish Journey” is an ongoing blog series in which members of the Bet Torah community describe and share their personal connection to Judaism and how that journey may have evolved over time.

I grew up in lower Westchester and lived with my parents and two sisters. We had a Kosher home, but it was okay to eat non-kosher out of the house.  My father brought his religious practices and traditions from Brooklyn to Westchester. My sisters and I all started Sunday school at an early age, followed by Hebrew school 3 days every week.  While my sisters had a Shabbat evening “Bat Mitzvah” celebration, it did not include reading from the Torah. 

My Bar Mitzvah preparation started at one synagogue and due to my father helping to start a new synagogue, I was given the choice as to where I would become a Bar Mitzvah.  I had trained to lead the entire Shabbat service, but the new synagogue had set a rule about how much of the service could be led by a Bar Mitzvah, so I could only lead a part of the service, plus reaching torah.

At age 14, my Jewish life changed significantly.  I went to a boarding school, which while being great for my secular education, my Jewish involvement was no longer a part of my daily life. Ironically, at my new school we were required to attend a religious service every Sunday.  For the 20 plus Jewish boys at school, this involved going by bus to a small conservative synagogue in the next town, where there was neither a Rabbi nor a Cantor.  Two congregants opened the shul for us and had lox, bagels & cream cheese as well.  As there were no clergy, my roommate and I led every service, with him officiating as rabbi and me as cantor.  All of that preparation for my Bar Mitzvah actually paid off!  But in retrospect, these weekly services played a very important role keeping me connected to my personal Jewish journey.

The next chapter in my journey took place several years later when I met Eileen, the love of my life who would become my wife.  She was not Jewish. She was raised Catholic but was not practicing when we met.  When our relationship became serious, we told our parents about our intention to be married.  Both parents were opposed to our marriage.  Eileen was very spiritual, and her exposure to Judaism after our marriage was helpful in fulfilling this part of her life.  She decided to convert to Judaism.  So now I had a devoted partner to share the rest of my Jewish journey.

Fast forward to 1978 when we moved to Armonk with our two sons.  We “shopped” for a congregation where both Eileen and I would both be happy.  Ultimately, we joined Temple Shaaray Tefila.  We became  involved in that community, with Eileen teaching culture in the religious school and my leading their ritual committee.  I was asked to join their board and served as president for two of my 8 years on the board.  I co-chaired the Torah writing project for the Temple which involved a large segment of the membership. Our sons attended Hebrew school, and both became Bar Mitzvah at Shaaray Tefila.   Our family observed Shabbat and our Jewish holidays at home, and Eileen and I both sang at Shabbat and Holiday services.  Judaism played a very significant role in our lives.  In 1998, our family took its first trip to Eretz Yisrael… experiencing the history, beauty, energy and, yes, conflicts that continue in this incredible country.   

After our sons went off to college and beyond, Eileen and I found that we needed a different synagogue environment.  My parents had joined Bet Torah when they moved to Heritage Hills. Dad went to Shul every Shabbos.  When Mom passed away, Dad went to Minyan daily and sometimes, I would join him.  When Dad reached his mid-90’s, he was not able to continue this regimen. I sent an email to the new Rabbi at Bet Torah asking him if he could come and meet Dad, receiving an instant reply from Rabbi Brusso within 20 minutes asking for an appointment the next day (Erev Rosh Hashanah). Well, this was our first step towards finding the community where the next chapter of our Jewish journey would take us.  

We joined Bet Torah in 2010. In 2013 Eileen celebrated her 2nd Adult Bat Mitzvah with 5 incredible women, and in 2019, I celebrated my 2nd Bar Mitzvah with 3 amazing women.  These years of study and immersion played significant roles in this Bet Torah chapter for both of us. In 2016, Eileen and I joined Rabbi Brusso’s family, plus 9 other families, on a fabulous Bet Torah family trip to Israel.  My Bet Torah involvement took a giant step forward when I was asked in 2019 to serve on our Board to oversee Development, helping create the Bet Torah Foundation. In December 2022, I was encouraged to take another trip to Israel, this time with my son Jon and his wife, May.

All of these events were turning points in our becoming deeply entrenched in and very appreciative of the Bet Torah community, and all played a pivotal role to both Eileen’s and my love for the rich and meaningful Jewish lives we have been able to live here at Bet Torah. But nothing closely matches the epitome of our Jewish community than the outpouring of caring and love that I and my family received when Eileen passed in January 2022.  I have been blessed through the many twists and turns on my Jewish Journey, and how lucky were both Eileen and me that the last miles on our road took us to 60 Smith Avenue, Mount Kisco, NY, Bet Torah.

Sat, September 30 2023 15 Tishrei 5784