web analytics
October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



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
Jan Morgan, owner of the Gun Cave Indoor Shooting Range.
Arkansas Shooting Range Declares Itself Muslim-Free Zone’
Latest Indepth Stories

There is not even a hint of recognition that Hamas deliberately fires rockets at civilian targets in Israel while storing arms and rocket launchers among its own civilians in Gaza.

No one with any sanity would dream of rationalizing or justifying the depredations perpetrated on the Arab world by ISIS.

With $2 billion on hand the Islamic State is an extremely well-funded terrorist group that may pose a major international crisis for the U.S. and the world. Learn about their rise to power and the toll they’ve taken thus far.

In the recent Gaza war and its aftermath, we saw a totally illogical reaction from the world.

A., a teacher: “I do not know a single Gazan who is pro-Hamas at the moment, except for those on its payroll.”

Is the global community clear in its response to these extremist groups?

Like our fabled character, Don Quixote, President Obama has constantly spawned his own reality.

Boroujerdi was informed that “the pressures and tortures will increase until he has been destroyed.”

Fatah: Hamas stole relief aid for Gaza and distributed it amongst its followers in mosques.

Can teenagers seriously be expected to behave properly when they are surrounded by so much suggestive material? Is it fair to expose them (and ourselves) to so much temptation and then tell them, “Just say no”?

Washington remains ignorant of the need to dismantle alliances with various Muslim countries.

Defeating IS requires bombing its strongholds and recognizing the violent nature of Islam.

Abbas again used the UN to attack Israel, distort history, and undermine prospects for peace.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot even agree to move their clocks back on the same day.

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: