Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Tribute to my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik

Rabbi Gil Student tweeted about this this morning. I never saw it until today - even though it was produced in 2011 in honor of the anniversary of his 10th Yahrzeit. It is just short or 14 minutes long; very inspiring; and worth every second of it.


Friday, July 27, 2018

European Antisemitism Today

Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence
If the President ever leaves office for any reason during his first term he will be replaced by a man whose credentials with respect to the Jewish people are impeccable. Not to mention the fact that his own religious values are very similar to ours. 

I cannot think of too many others like Vice President Mike pence - who can see these things as clearly he does - and is willing to speak out about them regardless of where the chips may fall. I could not agree with him more. From the World Jewish Daily:

Vice President Mike Pence condemned antisemitic violence in Europe, saying it "must end."
Speaking at a State Department conference on religious freedom, Pence said, "The world has watched in horror as these attacks on Jewish people have taken place."

"In France and Germany, things have gotten so bad that Jewish religious leaders have warned their followers not to wear kippahs in public for fear that they could be violently attacked, and in too many cases, that’s exactly what’s happened,” he added.

Drawing a comparison with the Holocaust, Pence stated, "It is remarkable to think that within the very lifetimes of some French Jews — the same French Jews that were forced by the Nazis to wear identifiable Jewish clothing — some of those same people are now being warned by their democratic leaders not to wear identifiable Jewish clothing."

"These acts of violence and hatred and anti-Semitism must end," he asserted.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Unconditional Love

Mendy Klein (Jewish Link)

What a beautiful and most inspiring story by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman:

I never met or even ever saw in my life, Mr. Mendy Klein.

He was known far and wide as a true baal chessed, a philanthropist of extraordinary proportions, a later in life self-made multi-millionaire and a total and complete mensch.
He was scheduled to be one of the honorees at the Agudah dinner a few weeks ago.
That was the dinner I went hatless.

I would have loved to have met Mendy Klein, and I would have definitely taken my hat off for him.

As one of his closest boyhood friends related to me, “Mendy was not a regular black-hat wearer.”

As the dinner was coming closer, I kept thinking about Mendy more and more.
The reason I kept thinking about this man I had never met, was the simple fact that anyone to whom I mentioned that I would be attending the dinner, would undoubtedly say something to the effect, “Oh, you’ll be at the dinner; too bad Mendy won’t be there. We lost a great one when we lost Mendy.”

Or another person said to me, “I was his best friend when he drove a taxi in New York back in the 70s for 22 hours a day. You know he never slept more than two hours a night! It’s too bad you never met him.”

I kept hearing more and more about this man who I had not only never met, I had never heard of before the dinner, and somehow, everyone I met leading up to the dinner was only interested in talking about Mendy.

I was driven to find out more about this uncommon philanthropist of monumental proportions, who was able simultaneously to maintain a straightforward and approachable manner about himself.
I called friends of his and found out as much as I could about this giant of Chessed.

I decided to piece together my own vision of this legendary figure who I regretted never meeting.
Everything I relate was heard from friends of Mendy; some of them going back to the 1970s.

Any inaccuracies which may appear are due to my deficiencies and should be understood as my best effort to understand and appreciate a great man who I was never privileged to know.

He was the children of Holocaust survivors who settled after the war in Williamsburg.
His parents were members of the fledgling small Satmar Chassidic community.

His father, a man who had survived the horrors of the camps and had high expectations for Mendy, nevertheless realized his son possessed unusual and unique qualities.

His father would eventually inform  Mendy, as Zvi Gluck, (who worked with Mendy very closely) mentioned in one of his eulogies, “My son, G-d blessed you with a brain and cursed you with a mouth, so you won’t be able to keep a job down.”

Perhaps this statement portrays the complexities of the relationship between a Holocaust survivor who had certain expectations of his American born son and his son’s yearning for individuality.
Mendy went to cheder and grew up like many young children of immigrant parents.

On the one hand, Mendy had a desire to become his own person; on the other side, his father was resolute that Mendy follows in the ways of his chassidishe family.

And as many young people have done and continue to do, Mendy struggled during his adolescence over his true identity.

At 16, he made a decision.

He informed his father that he was leaving Williamsburg and the insular protective eye of the community.

As he packed his things and was preparing for his departure, his father walked over to him.
He hugged Mendy with all his love and then stepped back, opened his wallet, and removed an item never before seen in the Klein home — a $100 bill.

This was 1967; to give you an idea of how much money that was for a Holocaust survivor who was struggling to makes ends meet: $100 in 1967 equals $749.31 in 2018!
One can imagine the look of amazement on Mendy’s face as his father removed the $100 bill from his wallet.

His father looked at his son and said the words that would echo in Mendy’s mind for the rest of his life.

“Mendy, I always kept a hundred dollars in my wallet for unexpected emergencies. Your leaving the house certainly qualifies as one. Please take this hundred dollars and remember, no matter what you do or where you are, how you dress or how you act, I want you to know that I love you unconditionally and my door is always open to you. 

You will always have a bed here to sleep in and a hot meal to eat. Take this money and keep it with you so if and when the time comes and you want to come back, you will be able to. And never worry, I promise you, the door will always be open to you, whether you are Mendy or Marvin, whether you have peyos or blue jeans, my door will always be open for you.”

Mendy’s father had never attended parenting classes.

He had never read a book on modern child-psychology.

He had never heard of Dr. Spock, only of Dr. Mengele Yimach Shemo.

Mendy’s father was a graduate of the school of Ahavas Yisrael that met in Auschwitz, and after completing years of instruction there, he knew that unconditional love of his son was a necessity of life.

He pressed the $100 bill into his son’s hand, kissed him on the cheek and silently said a kapitel Tehillim.

The next four years were years of spiritual searching for Mendy.

Mendy investigated different lifestyles, but, somehow he kept coming across the unused $100 from his father.

After four years of searching, he reclaimed his heritage with all of his vigor and with complete passion.

He became a mighty lion as he set for himself the goal to accomplish his life’s mission: to become a person who would make a difference in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives.

He never returned to a full Chassidic lifestyle; but, he did return to a total and sincere commitment to Yiddishkeit, to Chessed and especially to Tzedakah.

Mendy Klein eventually became a businessman, yet his real passion was being a pillar of Tzedakah and Chesed of global impact.

Countless people, especially young people who are struggling with those issues others preferred to sweep under the rug, owe their physical and spiritual survival to his compassion and generosity.

Over Pesach, a friend of his asked him, “Mendy, If you had to name the one thing that made you who you are today, what would that be?”

Mendy thought about the question.

He pondered his not-perfectly-behaved-student- childhood.

He even recalled some uncertain and tense times with his father, who initially had different aspirations for Mendy.

And then, without hesitating, Mendy pulled out the worn and tattered 50-year-old $100 bill.

“It was this bill and the knowledge that my father’s door was always open. That is what made me who I am today.

My father and I may not have seen eye to eye on every issue as I grew up; however, there was one thing I knew for sure. I knew that his love for me was unconditional.

I knew with certainty, even as we sometimes engaged in passionate debates over lifestyles, one thing remained clear in my heart, my father’s love for me was unconditional. That is what made me who I am today.”

Mendy Klein passed away on the third of May of this year.

He never made it to the Agudah dinner, and he left behind masses of grieving people who many never realized how he was their secret benefactor.

I thought of Mendy Klein one more time recently.

It was at the conclusion of the wedding of my son Aryeh to his Kallah Tova Akerman.

At the end of the festivities, my son Shaya asked me if I had any cash to pay for the babysitters which were hired to watch my grandchildren so that Shaya and his wife Yitti could enjoy the Chasunah without constantly worrying about the whereabouts of their children.

I opened my wallet, and I had $100 left which was the exact amount Shaya needed.
As I handed him the money I thought of Mendy Klein and the $100 he received from his father.

This was not the same $100 from 1967.

It was also not a $100 given to allow Shaya to come home; he was not leaving home.

Nevertheless, I thought of Mendy Klein and his father for as Hashem would plan things, after all of the expenses which were paid that night, this was precisely the last $100 I had in my wallet.

Mendy Klein’s father’s gift of $100 symbolized his unconditional love for his child; no matter whatever different outlooks they may have possessed.

That same feeling came over me as a parent as I handed Shaya the $100.

Sometimes, I know as a parent, I have made mistakes.

There are times I am sure I said the wrong thing at the wrong time to my children.

I would not be surprised, after hearing about Mendy Klein, that he too experienced tense moments between his father and himself.

Yet, just as the $100 given by Mendy’s father over 50 years ago, represented his unconditional love for his son. So too, I felt that as I was giving my son my last $100, it also was a sign that whatever may come between us, I love him and all my children unconditionally.

I may not always say the right thing or make the right choices for them.
Yet, just as Mendy’s father knew he loved his son unconditionally, I know I love my children unconditionally as well.

The lesson of Mendy Klein’s father was not lost on me as I too hoped my children realize how my love for them is unconditional and everlasting.

I never met you Mendy Klein; yet, I thank you.

I have no specific reason to thank you for your Tzedakah as I don’t believe I was ever the beneficiary of your largesse.

I thank you for your lesson; for reminding me how important it is that no matter what differences may occur between child and father, the knowledge that there is unconditional and unbreakable love between them must always be conveyed and stressed.

May Mendy Klein’s Chessed and Tzedakah be his ultimate legacy.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Statement by Orthodox Organizations about Extremist Attacks

One of the many Orthodox organizations that have condemned extremist violence
American Orthodox Jewish organizations have stepped forward to condemn the recent attacks perpetrated by Israeli religious extremists towards the IDF and Israeli police. The leadership of the Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America and National Council of Young Israel have issued official statements at the behest of David Nyer, Orthodox activist. Over the last few months, there has been an increase in violent attacks against religious IDF soldiers and Israeli police.

Moishe Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, warns that “violence by one Jew against another, whether physical or otherwise, is an assault on the Torah values that have been passed down through our mesorah (tradition), from generation to generation. Any such attack by Jews against soldiers of the IDF, to whom every Jew owes immeasurable respect and gratitude, is an attack against each and every member of the Jewish community, and provokes shame and regret in us all.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the RCA, states further, “These attacks against both Israeli soldiers and police are violations of Jewish law and show a gross lack of appreciation and respect for those who defend all the citizens of the State of Israel. These attacks further divide and alienate segments of the Jewish community from each other and from Torah.”

Just this past week, a religious IDF soldier and his family were pelted with stones in the Mea She’arim neighborhood and had to be extricated by the police. Farley Weiss, President of the National Council of Young Israel, strongly believes this ought to be “the responsibility of the community itself to protect soldiers instead of needing the police to intervene.” Dozens of bystanders have been reportedly observing while these acts of violent extremism are committed. Jewish leaders in the United States urge witnesses to safely take an active role in protecting those who protect the country of Israel, stressing the Torah obligation and moral imperative.

There have been instances where both soldiers and police have been injured by extremists. In January, an IDF soldier was taken to the hospital as a result of being struck by stones when driving through Ramat Beit Shemesh. Haredi extremists have a history of attacking IDF soldiers who enter their neighborhoods, claiming that the soldiers’ presence is an affront to their belief that religious men should not serve in the army. Another such incident was reported in February when an Orthodox soldier was attacked when praying in a synagogue in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood of Jerusalem. Mr. Weiss asserts that, “those who commit acts of violence against the IDF or police must be prosecuted to the fullest extent afforded by the law.”  

The Orthodox Jewish leadership in Israel has been largely quiet on this issue. Mr. Weiss appeals, “to all Jewish Rabbinical and communal leaders in Israel to join us in condemning these reprehensible actions and we must do all in our power to prevent these attacks.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for the Agudath Israel of America, was approached by Nyer and asked for a response to the situation. AIA serves as an umbrella organization for Charedi Orthodox Jewry in America. Rabbi Shafran declared unequivocally that, “such unwarranted violence and abuse against any fellow Jew is beyond outrageous.  Assault of Jewish brethren, especially those who have dedicated themselves to the protection of Klal Yisrael in Eretz Yisroel such as IDF soldiers and Israeli police, is indefensible, ugly and wrong.”

Nyer asked for Shafran’s position on the role of eyewitnesses observing extremist violence. Rabbi Shafran stressed that he is not a posek but that it “would seem that, if it could be done safely, bystanders would have a chiyuv (obligation) to intervene and protect anyone placed in harm’s way.” When questioned what he believes the appropriate response to these perpetrators should be, Shafran concurred that, “these individuals who assault the IDF or police must be prosecuted to the fullest extent afforded by the law.”

This initiative was spearheaded by David Nyer, LCSW, an Orthodox activist. He can be reached via email at djn415@aol.com for any questions or comments.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Polish Antisemtism

1946 U.S. document reveals Poles treated Jews as badly as Germans did 

Polish President Andrzej Sebastian Duda 
The following Jerusalem Post article says it all. It needs no further comment from me.

A declassified US State Department report from 1946 documented the abhorrent treatment of Poland’s Jews before, during and after World War II. The report equated Polish and Nazi treatment of the Jewish population and said many Jews preferred to flee, even to Germany, after the war.

The document, titled “The Jews in Poland Since the Liberation,” was obtained by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and shown exclusively to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, the same day a Polish governmental delegation arrived in Israel to discuss Warsaw’s contentious “Holocaust law,” which has caused a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

“There is little doubt that the current anti-Jewish manifestations in Poland represent a continuation of activities by rightwing groups that were at work before 1939, when even major political parties had antisemitic programs,” the report said. “In other words, there is not much that is essentially new or different in the current antisemitic agitation.

However, the antisemitic overtones in prewar Polish politics predisposed many Poles to the acceptance of Nazi racial theories, and there is evidence that Poles persecuted the Jews as vigorously as did the Germans during the occupation. The retreating Nazis, moreover, left in their wake a heavy residue of their racial theories.

Even before the liberation of Poland, antisemitic propaganda emerged in Polish émigré circles.”

The Intelligence Research report, dated May 15, 1946, was distributed by the US Office of Intelligence Coordination and Liaison as a restricted document.

It was declassified in 1983.

It describes how antisemitism “reached such dimensions in the Polish Army under General Wladyslaw Anders that many Jewish soldiers felt compelled to desert those forces and seek enlistment with other Allied armies.”

By mid-1944, it said, widespread antisemitism was reported in Lublin and other parts of Poland. By April 1945, “more reports were current and a dozen Polish towns were named as places where Jews had been killed, allegedly by members of the Polish Home Guard (Armia Krajowa), the armed force formed by and loyal to the Government-in-Exile.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, said the documents directly contradict current arguments by Polish leaders that antisemitism was the result of communism.

He pointed to a part of the report that discussed rampant antisemitism and treatment of Jews as second-class citizens long before the communists took power in Poland and indeed, well before the war, with religious leaders, political parties and both high and low-level officials preaching and practicing antisemitism.

“In the jockeying for political preference in Poland after 1919, most of the major political parties – with the exception of leftist groups – followed an antisemitic line,” the report reads. “Catholic Church leaders, from Cardinal Hlond down, preached antisemitism and favored an economic boycott of the Jews.

Polish nationalists sought to win peasant and working-class support by attributing many of Poland’s internal difficulties to the Jews.” Lawless elements attacked Jews, adding physical peril to the already discouraging social and economic conditions.”

A widespread Polish argument in the current disagreement with Israel over Holocaust history acknowledges that some Poles may have acted badly during WWII, but denies that antisemitism was prevalent in Polish society. “This is absolutely not true,” Hier stressed. Some members of the Polish government have said only Israel holds this view of Poland’s history, he noted, but the impartial report written by the US government soon after WWII “absolutely tells a different story and one that would be very difficult for the president of Poland to deny.”

The report also referred to the post-war era, when some Jews opted to move to Germany rather than remain in Poland.

“So violent have been the antisemitic incidents reported – and so widespread is the fear for their lives among the handful of Jewish survivors – that some Polish Jews have been reported seeking to escape to the American Zone in Germany rather than remain in Poland,” the report said.

“Others, who have gone back to Poland, are reported to be returning to Western Germany after only a short stay.

Polish Jews in displaced persons centers in Germany have, moreover, almost unanimously declined to return to their former homeland,” the document said.

Hier said, “It’s very important that this report be made public so that people all over the world can read what a 1946 assessment of the issue of how Polish Jews were treated in Poland.”

Copies of the report are currently being held at the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London and in the US National Archives in Washington.

While the report is accessible, it has remained widely unknown until now.

The Wiesenthal Center obtained the document in the course of research while publishing books about the Holocaust.

Hier said he believes widespread knowledge of the report can provide insight into why Jews are upset by the new law. He emphasized that his organization is not an enemy of Poland, but a group that brings hundreds of visitors to the country. “They have to acknowledge that antisemitism in Poland was a problem of longevity. You just have to read this report, which was not written by Jews, to see how real antisemitism was in Poland,” he said.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Evils of Expulsion

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
I have had differences of opinion with Rabbi Steven Pruzansky on various issues. Some of them very strong. But I consider him an honorable man whose views are Torah based, sincere, and well intended. As a man of honor and integrity he will admit to being wrong when evidence points him in that direction. This was the case with a recent article published at The Jewish Link and republished at UOJ where I first encountered it. I completely agree with his reconsidered view. But rather than paraphrasing it. I have republished here as well. It follows:

For some time now, we have heard that many of our youth are in a bad way—drinking, drugs, scandalous behavior—all of which have given rise to problems in schools. There have been conferences and seminars, calls for better education and improved communication. And the schools have generally responded to credible accusations of misconduct with a quick but somewhat selective trigger finger—especially in their use of expulsions. 

A number of people have reported to me about a party that took place recently in the metropolitan area that attracted a lot of teens and involved mass drinking and revelry, with the parents of the host conveniently out-of-town. (There were probably many other and similar parties of which I am unaware.) And the schools have dutifully responded with the range of disciplines at their disposal, and applied to the great variety of offenders under their dominion in inconsistent ways.

I have always been a law-and-order man; schools should have rules just like life has rules because otherwise there is chaos and anarchy. But I think we have gone too far in these situations to the extent that I have changed my mind. I used to think that it was appropriate for schools to monitor their students’ behavior even off campus and react when there is degenerate behavior, and in an ideal world that would still hold true. But I no longer believe that. Schools should monitor what students do on their premises, and that’s it. And off premises? That is the responsibility of the parents. Remember them?

Parents used to have primary responsibility for parenting, discipline, and instilling values in their children. Sometime in the recent past, parents abdicated that responsibility to the schools, and the results have not been pretty. For example: What parent lets a teenager go to a party of teenagers that has no responsible adult in charge? (I say “responsible” because not all adults are responsible.) You would have to be insane to allow such a thing. My children were trustworthy, but I would never let them as teens go to an unsupervised party. My wife and I would monitor, as best as possible, with whom our children would socialize. That is elementary parenting.

Forget the schools. As far as I am concerned, it’s none of the school’s business what happens off campus. It’s the parents’ business—and parents have to reclaim their role. Indeed, parents have many more disciplinary tools in their arsenal than schools do. They should use them, without fear of losing their children as “buddies.”

That being said, I have reconsidered something else. Schools have to stop these willy-nilly expulsions of students, which have become (1) a marketing tool (“Look at us! We expelled two students for unacceptable behavior. Problem solved. Send your children to us!”), (2) a deterrent that has clearly failed given the widespread misconduct that apparently exists and (3) a tacit admission that schools don’t have the time, interest or energy to deal with every child with a problem. I was slow to come around to this but I have realized that was once unthinkable has become normative, and again, quite selectively applied. A few months ago, I was sent a video a few months ago of Rav Moshe Weinberger (the Rav of Aish Kodesh) pleading with principals to remember their own youth. “What were you like when you were 17?” Why are they pretending that all was so perfect that now we can just dispatch Jewish children into the spiritual wilderness?

My initial reaction was that it is easy for someone not in chinuch to make such a broad statement and encourage such a policy change—banning expulsions—but as I pondered his comments over the course of a few weeks, I realized that he was correct. Teens are teens, and even if the parameters of “acting out” have widened over the decades since I was a teenager, and mostly in very unsalutary ways, I do not doubt that there are today principals and Roshei Yeshiva, teachers and rabbis, who acted as teens in ways that they chalk up to adolescent hijinks. Yet, they—or their boards—do not want to give today’s children the same break or a compassionate hand. I certainly do not lay all the blame at the feet of the principals or administrators who are often confronted with conflicting pressures that cannot all be resolved to the satisfaction of all.

And then I started my research on my “Great Rabbis of the 20th Century” series and to my astonishment, I determined that these giants dealt with the same issues in a much more tolerant, loving and probably effective way. The Alter of Slabodka, for example, never agreed to expel a student. (Keep in mind that Slabodka had its share of students who desecrated Shabbat, who were Socialists trying to overthrow the Czar, who were students in the yeshiva who even rebelled against the Alter and tried to have him dismissed!) 

Yet, he would tell the Roshei Yeshiva, that we must look and find some good in them. He kept one student around, he told his colleagues, even though he wasn’t much of a student, because he liked to do favors for people. The Jewish people need that also. And when challenged about particular miscreants, he would cite the verse in Kohelet and the Midrash (Vayikra Raba 27:5) thereon: “‘G-d seeks out the pursued;’ even when the righteous pursue the wicked” G-d takes up the cause of the underdog. So find his good quality and help him. Don’t throw him away.

Similarly, Rav Ovadia Yosef said in an interview a year before he died that it is forbidden to expel a child from yeshiva. I quote: “Even if there is a student who behaves inappropriately, it is still forbidden to throw him out of school and instead we must exercise extreme patience… If we are patient with this student, one day he can grow up to be a talmid chochom. And if we send him away from the yeshiva where will he go? To a secular school and then what will become of him?”

And then he added: “What, are you throwing away a rock? These are precious souls! If you throw a child away, do you know what will be? Are you ready to take responsibility for what might happen?”

And in Rav Yissachar Frand’s Dvar Torah last week (the second essay) he made the same point. If all these great rabbis are addressing this issue, it tells me that there is a problem in Baltimore, Israel, the Five Towns, New Jersey – and everywhere else.

And who are we throwing away? The children of the Avot and Imahot of our people. Like Rambam says (Hilchot Sanhedrin 25:2), even the lowliest among us are “the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the armies of G-d who took us out of Egypt with a great might and a powerful arm.”

I’m not an extremist. If a child is endangering another child, that is different. But short of that, there are other measures. Educate. Discipline. Suspend. Make a child repeat a class or a grade. (The thought alone of paying an extra year’s tuition will get the parents’ attention.) But don’t throw them away. G-d also took these children out of Egypt.

I would rather send my children to a school that deals with its children with problems than to a school that pretends it doesn’t have any children with problems.

And what should parents, now once again responsible for their children’s behavior, impress upon them? During the years of bondage in Egypt, we never lost our identity, our dignity, our sense of self-respect. We always knew, in the statement of the Mishna (Masechet Shabbat 111a), that “all Israel are the children of kings.” We are all princes and princesses. We never let the Egyptians, those debauched pagans, define us. We endured them, survived them and triumphed over them, and then the sense of inner freedom naturally emerged from us. It cannot be suppressed forever – in any of us.

That is the message for us and for our children. They should realize that all the attractions and allures of the world mean nothing compared to the great privilege of being part of a royal people. They need to be taught that when they act like reprobates, they have first and foremost let themselves down.

There is no greater deterrent to mischief than the realization that some conduct is beneath them and unworthy of them, of who they are supposed to be. When that realization sinks in, we will merit only blessings from all of our children.