"Sometimes you want to go ... Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came..."

Had I not known otherwise, I would have thought Gary Portnoy's now-famous lyrics were discussing a quaint, beloved shul in Huntington, New York. What the shul lacks in population density, it more than makes up for with warmth, selflessness and dedication. Led by a Rav and Rebbetzin of uncommon love for every Jew that filters down to the shul's members, you're likely to feel right at home, right away. If you have the privilege to visit, I'm sure you'll also attest that "everybody will know your name, and they're always glad you came..."

How this congregation (now in its third decade) came to be is an amazing story. It all started ... with a swastika. As our Sags say, Hashem has no shortage of "messengers."

Yes, some 30 years ago, the lone Torah Day School in Suffolk County was vandalized and several swastikas were graffitied onto the premises' walls. A painful reminder that the American Jew is still, at the end of the day, in exile.

Who the perpetrator was we'll never know. Perhaps it was some disgruntled youth not fully cognizant of how that dreaded symbol tears at a Jews' heartstrings. Perhaps it was a deranged neo-Nazi interested in perpetuating the hate of yesteryear. Whoever it was and whatever the motivation, no one in his wildest dreams could imagine the ripple effects this seemingly isolated act of indifference would have on generations of Jews.

For these swastikas ultimately brought dozens and dozens of Jewish families back to Torah observance. That blood-curdling symbol of cruelty set into motion a Divinely-inspired chain of events that forged deep, meaningful relationships between the schools' principal and his Rebbetzin and several Huntington families open and eager to incorporate the wisdom of Torah into their lives and the lives of their children.

The shul's continued existence is beyond belief. In hindsight we see how those very swastikas were the unlikely catalyst for hundreds upon hundreds of prayers that have gone up to the Heavens. We see how those very swastikas spawned the sweet sound of Torah study that has reverberated through Suffolk County inspiring souls of all ages and stages and walks of life. We see how those swastikas, the very symbol most closely associated with the absence of Godliness in our midst, has sowed the seeds of a community whose very existence is an inspiring testament to the sanctification of Godliness in our midst.

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"I will raise my Hand toward the nations ... and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on [their] shoulder...[You ask,] 'Can prey be taken back from a strong one; can the righteous captive escape?' But Hashem said: Even the captive of the strong can be taken back, and the prey of the mighty can escape; I, Myself, will take up your cause, and I, Myself, will save your children." (Isaiah 49:22, 24-25)

Nearly 20 years ago, I recall Rav Nachman Bulman, zt'l teaching us Shir HaShirim and the inimitable emotional surge that came over him upon reaching the verse (2:7) stating: "I bind you [nations of the world] under oath ... that you do not cause hatred, nor disturb this love [between Me and my beloved Am Yisrael] while I still find her pleasing."

Rav Bulman thundered, "Nations! You'll see, if you start up with my beloved People while I still love them ... you'll see ... you'll drive them right back to me!"

For those of us privy to the Teshuva movement of recent decades, we are literally astounded by the droves of heretofore unaffiliated Jews - college students, young professionals, middle-agers and seniors - who have heeded the call to reclaim their Jewish roots. This miraculous return to observance is unfolding on the streets of LA, Buenos Aires and Cape Town. On the California campuses and the corridors of European universities. In a word ... a return from out of the exile.

It can be a geographic exile, a political one or one's own personal sense of estrangement or lack of belonging. The Book of Devarim and, especially, the Haftorahs of these post-Tisha b'Av weeks, remind us that a Jew, no matter how deep the exile (seems to be), no matter how aimless the wandering (appears to be), it is merely the raw material from which to forge an empowering, enriching and vibrant relationship with Hashem and the Jewish People whom He will never forsake.

This notion lies at the heart of the comfort of these weeks. To know that exile is always purposeful and that true connectedness to our Maker is always available for those who seek it. This knowledge that Hashem is waiting for each of us, from among our own exile, shall provide the foundation upon which to rededicate our relationship with Hashem in the days ahead.

Rabbi Viders’ book on the Torah portion, “Seize the Moment” has recently been published by Mosaica Press.