web analytics
November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Memories Of A Beautiful Jew


He was a beautiful Jew.

Anyone – Jew or non-Jew, religious or secular, chassidic or yeshivish, man or woman – who encountered or exchanged words with Rabbi Chaskel Besser came away with a smile, feeling a little more pleasantly disposed about the topic at hand or the world at large.

Rabbi Besser had a way with words and a way with people that made you feel you were the only person in the world he wanted to talk with at that moment. I was privileged to know him for almost 20 years, from the time I began my association with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in 1992.

Rabbi Besser had joined forces with Ambassador Lauder in the mid-1980s and in the first few years of their association had already launched schools in Hungary, Poland and Vienna, as well as youth centers, summer camps, community education programs, and a host of other ventures aimed at building Jewish life in Central Europe.

Rabbi Besser knew this territory well, as it had been his home. His family, the Koschitzkys, had already become successful businesspeople in Poland and Germany by the time Rabbi Besser was born in Katowice, Poland in 1923. Much of the world he knew as a child had vanished. But there were still a few Jews scattered throughout this part of the world, and Rabbi Besser and Mr. Lauder laboured to give them a chance at Jewish life and Jewish hope after the catastrophes of the Holocaust and Communism.

Rabbi Besser had numerous callings or careers before this one, as a businessman and investor in his own right, rabbi of a modest synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (he is the subject of a delightful biography, The Rabbi of 84th Street), Presidium member of Agudath Israel, and international chairman of Daf Yomi. He was a confidant and friend of chassidic rebbes, roshei yeshiva, and Jewish community leaders.

As the Lauder Foundation’s director for Poland (though his influence extended far beyond projects in that country alone), Rabbi Besser seemed to be in his element, juggling phone calls, correspondence, and meetings with community officials and staff in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, German, and English – his desk teemed with newspapers and faxes in all those languages.

Rabbi Besser’s concern and care for each child in the Lauder Foundation’s numerous Jewish day schools, for the anxieties of their parents, for the programs of the summer camps, and for the hiring and retention of qualified staff were as broad as they were deep.

In the hours I was privileged to sit in his office high above central Manhattan or at his Shabbat table on Riverside Drive, or the times I was privileged to carry his suitcase as he checked in to the Bristol Hotel in Warsaw as he arrived to help facilitate another multilateral conference on restitution of Jewish property seized during the war, I never saw him waver from his standard operating procedure: thoughtful, engaged, a crinkle of a smile playing around his mouth, ready with a wry witticism, a sparkle of kindness and delight in his eyes – and throughout, a true European gentleman.

Most significantly for me, I never saw him show fear of what others might say or think or write about him. He felt no need to defend his traditional Jewish beliefs or practices. He never evinced hesitation about joining forces with Jews and non-Jews-some who shared his way of life and others who did not – to build a better future for others.

There will always be those who divide up the Jewish world into “us” and “them,” and write, speak, or think of “them” as wholly other. One of the most valuable gifts I received from Rabbi Besser was the living example of how truly to look at every Jew as one of the family.

Rabbi Besser impressed me as a complete Jew, fully engaged in the world. To those who say one must either give up much of one’s particularistic Jewish lifestyle to have an influence in the world as well as those who question whether a deeply pious and strictly Orthodox person can connect meaningfully with the larger world without losing his bearings, I can only offer the following story (he related it to others as well, but when he told it to me he made me feel as if I were the first one to hear it):

About the Author: Rabbi Yossel Kanofsky is the spiritual leader of Kehillat Shaarei Torah in Toronto.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Memories Of A Beautiful Jew”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Colleagues of the hanged Arab bus driver whose death continues to be referred to as murder despite autopsy finding of suicide. These are Arab drivers of Egged buses, claiming they suffer discrimination by Israelis.
Arab Pathologist Singing New Tune: Murder (By Jews) Not Suicide
Latest Indepth Stories
Dalia Lemkos, HY"D Is this the image you think of when you hear the word "settler?"

The “Media” didn’t want us to know what a kind, giving, loving young woman Dalia was.

A “Palestine” could become another Lebanon, with many different factions battling for control.

Temple_Mount_aerial_from_south_tb_q010703bsr-300x225

Maimonides himself walked and prayed in the permissible areas when he visited Eretz Yisrael in 1165

voting

Having a strong community presence at the polls shows our elected officials we care about the issues

Israel’s Temple Mount policy prefers to blames the Jews-not the attackers-for the crisis.

When Islam conquered the Holy Land, it made its capital in Ramle of all places, not in Jerusalem.

I joined the large crowd but this time it was more personal; my cousin Aryeh was one of the victims.

Terrorists aren’t driven by social, economic, or other grievances, rather by a fanatical worldview.

The phrase that the “Arabs are resorting to violence” is disgraceful and blames the victim.

Tuesday, Yom Shlishi, a doubly good day in the Torah, Esav’s hands tried to silence Yaakov’s voice.

Because of the disparate nature of the perpetrators, who are also relatively young, and given the lack of more traditional targets and the reverence Palestinians have for their homes, one now hears talk of Israel returning to a policy of destroying the houses of terrorists’ families.

In any event, the Constitution gives Congress what is popularly described as the “power of the purse” – that is, the power to raise revenues through taxation and to decide how the money should be sent.

It is difficult to write about such a holy person, for I fear I will not accurately portray his greatness…

There was much to learn from Judge Kramer and the examples he set remains a source of inspiration and a resource from which to learn. He was and remains a great role model.

More Articles from Rabbi Yossel Kanofsky

He was a beautiful Jew.

Anyone – Jew or non-Jew, religious or secular, chassidic or yeshivish, man or woman – who encountered or exchanged words with Rabbi Chaskel Besser came away with a smile, feeling a little more pleasantly disposed about the topic at hand or the world at large.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/memories-of-a-beautiful-jew/2010/03/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: