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From Chapter 1..

It was almost Shabbat when the doorbell rang. Yoni Kochlani, a carpenter originally from Israel, went to answer it. He was about to meet the man he would later call, “a holy person who had the aura of life; a man whom everybody fell in love with immediately.”

But now, when Yoni opened the door, he saw a tall young man in a wide-brimmed black hat and black suit, with a full beard, and wearing glasses with lenses as thick as Coke bottle bottoms.

“Hello, I’m Dovid Bryn.” Although his voice was raspy, it also had a pleasing, mellow quality. Only afterward did Yoni learn that Dovid’s weak voice was the result of numerous operations he had undergone to battle Marfan Syndrome—a disease that was to take his life only twelve years later. “I’m ringing the bell of every apartment that has a mezuzah at the door. I’m trying to put together a minyan for Shabbat.”

Yoni was intrigued. “I didn’t even know that there were other observant Jews here. I always daven at home with my son.”

Dovid smiled. “I can put you in touch with another Israeli family that lives in the building.”

In this way, Rabbi Dovid Bryn introduced himself to his new neighbors in California Club, a residential area in North Miami Beach.

Dovid was a Lubavitcher Chasid who had moved to California Club as a shaliach—a representative of the Lubavitch Chasidic movement—with the aim of increasing Jewish awareness, pride and activity. In the course of the next ten years, he would awaken the spiritual character of this small community with his love, compassion and empathy. But at that time, the Jews who lived in California Club—mostly from Israel and Latin American countries, such as Cuba, Guatemala, Peru, Columbia and Argentina—were mostly secular, with little interest in religion.

With some effort, Dovid was able to get a minyan for Shabbat. Yoni Kochlani recalled that first Shabbat morning minyan. “We all had to sit very close to hear Rabbi Dovid read from the Torah because his voice was very weak. But it was so divine. As low as his voice was, it was very clear. I’m Sephardic and I’m used to the Sephardic tune, but he just captured me.”

Dovid’s love for others became legendary. “No matter who you were,” Barry Snyder remembers, “Dovid would look at you and see the gold. He would find something in your soul that was special, some beautiful, redeeming quality, and he would bring it to your attention. No matter what you were before, he would make you a better person.” With Dovid—as he liked to be called— everyone felt special. “Everybody felt that Dovid was their best friend,” Snyder continued. “He made everybody feel like a king.”

As the minyan grew, it moved into an empty property in the California Club Mall, and so the California Club Shul was born.

Some congregants only wanted a place to daven on Shabbat with a part-time rabbi, but Dovid envisioned a Torah center that would reach out to all Jews: the Jews who worked seventy hours a week; their children who were growing up in a world devoid of spirituality; and the Jews who were impoverished, broken, disaffected and lost. Rabbi Dovid Bryn’s shul would welcome the whole world. “It was more than a Chabad House [a Lubavitch center],” Moshe Horn, a long-time colleague, recalls. “During those early months, it became a ‘home,’ like something that Avraham Avinu might have made.”

Dovid gave out copies of the shul keys freely. If, when he arrived in shul in the morning, he discovered that all the food in the refrigerator had been eaten, he was gratified. That was what he wanted: a shul that was available to anyone who needed a place to sleep and eat. He wanted a shul that didn’t close its doors to anyone: a shul without locks. 

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From Chapter 3..

In the summer of 1975, when Dovid was fourteen years old, his family moved from Long Island to Tampa, Florida, where his father accepted a position as rabbi and cantor of a Conservative synagogue.

Notwithstanding their commitment to an Orthodox day school education, Dovid’s parents wanted him to attend the local Conservative Solomon Schechter school so he could remain at home. But Dovid yearned to continue studying Torah in a yeshiva environment. So, despite Felicia and Nathan’s initial reluctance to send Dovid to an “out-of-town” yeshiva, they relented and decided to investigate the various yeshivas in Miami. Their main option was the Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach. This was a vibrant Modern Orthodox day school with a reputation for excellence in both secular and religious studies. That summer, Felicia took Dovid to the Hebrew Academy for an entrance interview. She was impressed, but the school lacked a dormitory, and this made it impossible for Dovid to attend.

While returning to the airport from the Hebrew Academy, by Divine Providence Felicia and Dovid passed the Landow Yeshiva, a Lubavitcher institution. As they drove past, Dovid cried out, “Look, there’s a yeshiva! Let’s go inside!”

They entered the school, where the Dean, Rabbi Shalom Ber Lipskar, greeted Dovid and Felicia warmly and enthusiastically. Dovid immediately felt at home and pleaded with his parents to send him to the Landow yeshiva. Although the yeshiva didn’t yet have an official dormitory program, Rabbi Lipskar “had a talent for persuading people,” Mendel Wolosof (later the dormitory counselor) tells, “and he convinced Felicia to allow Dovid to attend.” Dovid was where his neshamah needed to be.

Years later, shortly after Dovid’s death, Rabbi Lipskar told Usher, “In the beginning, the yeshiva had so many financial difficulties that it was tough to keep it going. But if it had been built only to educate your brother, Dovid, then all the struggles were worthwhile.”

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For questions or comments or to help reprint and distribute the book contact Rabbi Moishe Kievman at 305-770-1919 ext 9 or [email protected]