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Journey of Larry and Cindy Halpern

L-r: Rabbi Ahron Wasserman, Larry Halpern, Cindy Halpern and Hadassah Wasserman (Avital Rotbart)IN 1993, Ahron Wasserman, then a yeshiva bocher, called Larry Halpern, head of Safe Systems, Inc., about a Shabbat-compliant home alarm system for his father Rabbi Isaac Wasserman, dean of Yeshiva Toras Chaim.

This was the first time that Halpern was asked to put in a home alarm unit for a Sabbath-observant family — and he went to work immediately.

Halpern and his wife Cindy, who were in the process of transitioning to Orthodox Judaism, did not regard the request as unusual. “Our systems are very customizable,” he tells the Intermountain Jewish News. “It was no problem.”

Over the ensuing years, he has received similar calls from Orthodox Jews who did not operate lights or other electronic equipment during Shabbat but wanted assurance that their home was protected.

The Halperns also installed a Shabbat-compliant system in their own home that automatically turns lights on and off and affords complete protection from intruders without violating the Sabbath laws.

“Instead of attaching a timer to every light in our home, we set everything an hour before sundown on Friday so that it automatically goes into Shabbos mode even if I forget,” he says. But he never forgets.

Halpern, 52, rarely makes sales calls outside of the office. One day, however, he visited an Orthodox friend who “wanted me to take a look at his business.”

After examining the Shabbat-compliant system, the friend asked what Halpern did with his own business on Shabbat, when commerce is forbidden. Halpern closed the company in accordance with Jewish law.

“But you have to be open,” the friend said. “You have to protect people even on Shabbos.” Halpern asked, “Do I have a problem?”

The answer was simple.

“Yes.”

“So I called Rabbi Ahron Wasserman, explained the situation and asked whether this was problematic. “Yes, you do have a problem,” Wasserman agreed.

Halpern sought the opinion of a rabbi on the West Side who drew up a halachic contract that enabled Halpern to sell the business on Shabbat and on yontif and buy it back once the sacred time ended.

“It’s like Pesach, where you sell your chometz to non-Jews,” he says. “We sell the business before every Shabbos and reclaim it at the conclusion of Shabbos and yontif.

“It’s an automatic transaction and there is no disruption of service to our 10,000 clients. And I quickly realized that my 80 employees can handle any concerns.”

From a personal standpoint, the contract frees Halpern of concern on Shabbat, the day G-d sets aside for prayer, inner reflection, learning and joy.

“Shortly after we enacted the contract, Cindy and I were at a friend’s house for the Shabbos meal and we both understood that things were better now.”

Sometimes “better” knows no bounds.

OPEN HEARTS and minds often undertake personal journeys. This was the case with Larry and Cindy Halpern, who first met at a high school party arranged by a mutual friend.

The two began dating and finally married in 1986. For Larry and Cindy, however, it wasn’t just a matter of accommodating each other’s religious backgrounds.

They ended up in a place neither could anticipate at that stage.

Halpern was born in Los Angeles and raised in a Conservative household. Cindy, a San Francisco native who grew up in Los Angeles, was raised in a “super, super Reform family.”

“I was somewhat naïve,” she says now. “I thought we were both Jewish and that was it.”

Halpern, who had lived in Israel for a year, says they joined a synagogue immediately after their nuptials.

“We drove to synagogue, celebrated the holidays. I didn’t realize how much we diverged in our approaches to religion until we got married.”

When the first major Jewish holiday rolled around during their new marriage, they observed it together, yet differently.

“In my family, we’d have a huge yontif meal with the grandparents and went to shul,” Halpern says. “This was not the norm for Cindy’s family.”

“Those two days passed in very different ways,” she says. “I had never gone that long celebrating a Jewish holiday in my entire life!”

The Halperns were living in Boulder, where Larry attended CU and launched his business as a student. “Even then, I felt I wanted something more,” he says. “I used to come to Denver looking for more in my Yiddishkeit and my Judaism.”

Taking the leap from Conservative Judaism to Orthodoxy is not as long a stretch as it is for Reform Jews.

“I’m a huge reader of all kinds of things,” Cindy notes. “Just through reading, I’ve always had knowledge and information about other orientations of Judaism.

“All this was in my head, but I didn’t understand it in actuality.”

A few years ago, while she was already on the journey, Cindy started attending classes in a more formalized setting with teacher Ellyn Hutt and at The Jewish Experience.

“One thing led to another and things just kind fell into place,” she says. “Yes, certain aspects of Orthodoxy were harder for me. But I’m fairly easygoing, so what might bother other people didn’t bother me.”

Halpern agrees with his wife that the key to obtaining this level of spiritual growth is education.

“Although I had more education than Cindy, we both attended Sunday schools,” he says. “We did not attend Jewish day schools.”

Those who lack a solid Jewish educational background “make a lot of assumptions without knowledge,” Cindy says.

DESPITE HALPERN’S year in Israel, his involvement at Hillel and ongoing Torah study, the transition to Orthodox Judaism was not a smooth ride, especially regarding ritual.

“I used to keep kosher at home, but when I was away on business trips I’d eat vegetarian,” he says. “I would go out to eat and hear Rabbi Wasserman’s voice saying, ‘You don’t know what goes into this food.’”

An observant assistant at Safe Systems offered to make arrangements for Halpern to find kosher food no matter where he traveled.

“Now wherever I travel they have a kosher meal for me,” he says, still amazed by the simplicity. “You think it would be a hassle not to be able eat out, or to run home on Friday nights for Shabbos.

“But believe me, that stuff on your desk will still be waiting for you when you get back to work.”

Before moving to Denver three years ago, Larry and Cindy were still living in Boulder, where it was harder to find kosher food.

“Cindy ordered lots of kosher items from Rabbi Laibel Crystal, who delivered it to Boulder,” he says. “She’d call me up and say, ‘Larry, go to the Hillel parking lot at CU, look for a white van and a package will be waiting for you.’

“I said, ‘Honey, I have a good reputation — what’s going on here?’” he laughs.

After a Sunday morning minyan at Boulder’s Orthodox congregation Aish Kodesh (now closed), where the couple were members, Larry was cleaning up in the kitchen and put a dairy utensil in the meat sink.

“Someone gently pointed out my mistake and it was no big deal,” he says. “I realized that even if you make a mistake it could be fixed. It’s not the end of the world.”

Halpern was already driving to Denver several times a week to study with rabbis and taking classes. His mind was made up. It was time to move here.

But he would not move unless Cindy agreed — and she did, “right readily” as a Shakespearean character might utter.

Cindy’s epiphany occurred on a Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip with TJE to Israel four years ago. “I was an anomaly,” she says. “Two Denver groups were on the trip but there was no one from Boulder.

“A woman asked me, ‘How do you like living in Boulder?’ and I said, ‘I’m ready for a change.’”

She called Larry and repeated her words. “I’m also ready for a change,” he said.

Their son Daniel was in the 11th grade. The couple didn’t want to tear him away from his friends, so they rented a Shabbos apartment in Denver and spent the rest of the week in Boulder.

“We found an apartment on the East Side that would take our dog,” Halpern says. “It was a very tiny place. But the East Side community was so welcoming that we didn’t want to leave.”

“We spent one-and-a-half years in that little apartment,” Cindy says.

Whenever Cindy went looking for a house in Boulder, she carried a long list of requirements. “She would spend five hours with the realtor, and if the house lacked one item on the list, she turned it down,” Halpern laughs.

“Cindy started searching for a home for us in Denver. The realtor showed her three houses, none of which met any of the requirements. But one stood out. ‘I’ll take it,’ Cindy said. I couldn’t believe it.

“I was telling this to a friend in Denver. He looked at me and smiled: ‘You weren’t looking in the right place.’”

SINCE EMBRACING Orthodox Judaism, Halpern says that life is much fuller and richer. He compares the change to an article Cindy read in Prevention magazine.

“The article advised us to put down our cell phones one day a week because it’s really good for our health,” he recalls.

“You disconnect the outside world,” Cindy adds.

“The beauty of Shabbos is so incredible that it’s hard to explain,” says Halpern. “I feel better. I feel healthy. I get up in the morning and learn. And we’ve both made such good friends in this community.”

They belong to the DAT Minyan and Kehilas Bais Yisroel.

Kids from non-Orthodox families who embrace Orthodox Judaism sometimes try to persuade their parents to adopt and adapt to their new lifestyle. The opposite situation confronted the Halperns, who have a 24-year-old daughter Elizabeth and son Daniel, 20.

“I think it was tougher on them at first,” Cindy says. “But after Elizabeth met Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm she got very involved at CU’s Chabad. She’s on her own journey now. Daniel is very respectful of our choices, but he’s doing his own thing.”

Asked whether they believe that G-d was the prime mover behind their own transformation, Halpern’s humor emerges yet again.

“I have a saying, ‘Coincidence or Hashem — you decide.’ It would make a great program: ‘Join us next week as we watch . . .’

“We are coming up on Pesach,” he says seriously. “Wow. As you go through the seder, you really understand that G-d is here.

“G-d is everywhere, as are miracles. You just have to open your eyes.”

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News



Andrea Jacobs

IJN Senior Writer | andrea@ijn.com


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