He has no idea I am posting about him. I’ve seen him at Elwood Shule for many years, but have known little about him. He sits in the back of the Shule, about ten rows behind us. His name is Mordechai (Mark) Oyberman. A Russian Jew who immigrated to Australia from the Soviet Gulag, Mordechai was forced to add the surname “Borisovich” to identify him with his father. Mordechai and the Oyberman family are committed to Judaism. He attends Elwood Shule for Shachris, Mincha+Ma’ariv each and every day. He is one of the last, if not the last to leave the Shule.
For many Russian Jews, reading Hebrew is a hurdle especially given that they weren’t lucky enough to attend a Jewish School, like Mount Scopus or similar. If you are middle-aged when you are finally exposed to the brand of free Judaism in our democratic Australia, the task is that much harder.
Mordechai doesn’t cut corners. With a Russian/Hebrew Siddur perched on his paunch, he assumes a slow and determined sideways swagger, otherwise known as “shockling”. Each word is pronounced lovingly and slowly; but not without difficulty. Mordechai cares enough to ascertain whether at all times he is saying the correct prayer for that time of the year.
Yesterday, on Parshas Ki Tavo, Mordechai blew me away. I assume it was the anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah Parsha. I also assume that he never enjoyed a formal Bar Mitzvah in the way we know, and it was unlikely that at 13 years of age, he recited Maftir+Haftorah in a Shule. I do not know if Mordechai has done this before, but yesterday, he was called up for Maftir. I was taken aback. Sadly, there are not many at Elwood who can navigate the Haftorah at will. This task is usually rotated amongst Rabbis Gutnick, Karnowsky, Aron and myself.
Mordechai acquitted himself with great aplomb. Confident, and with no apparent reticence despite the larger than usual attendance, he sang at “the top of his voice” faultlessly and meticulously reciting the Haftorah. The scene certainly moved me, and in his sermon, Rabbi Gutnick felt likewise to the extent that he mentioned it explicitly.
This might seem like a trivial observation, but it is not. He and his wife’s determination and fealty to our religion, translates not only in deeds, but in tackling a hurdle that a Jewishly educated Bar Mitzvah spends almost one year perfecting. This was a humbling experience. Many of us fought hard to free soviet jews. When liberated the toxicity of freedom adumbrates into assimilation. When someone grapples to hang onto each vestige of our religion, we should exult.
In the month of Elul, preparing for the long day of Judgement, this was a perfect lead in, a segue if you will, into the High Holidays.
Hats off to you, so to speak.