Close your eyes, breathe in deeply, now exhale slowly… That was easy, wasn’t it? Not for everyone…
Although he was gravely ill for years and could no longer fulfill his leadership responsibilities, Rabbi Elya Svei, zt”l, continued to influence many of us who are involved in Torah education, whether as principals or teachers or lay leaders.
For nearly a generation, he was without question the key figure in the spread of Torah chinuch in the United States, giving without personal regard of his endless commitment and remarkable insight into religious education at all levels. His passing last week leaves us with the feeling of loss and leaderlessness — of a void that makes the task of building and sustaining Torah even more difficult.
For all of his understanding of day-school education in an environment that was far removed from the pre-Holocaust yeshiva world of Eastern Europe, in a curious way it was as if Rav Elya were of the generation of the transcendent roshei yeshiva who were educated in Slabodka, Mir and other outstanding Torah institutions. In this respect, he provided a contrast with his peers in the United States, the yeshiva deans who emerged as Torah leaders about a generation ago.
He came here with his parents and brothers as a young boy, studying briefly in elementary school at the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School and then, for high school, at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. His advanced yeshiva education was both in Israel and at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood where he emerged as an outstanding student of the great rosh yeshiva Rabbi Aharon Kotler.
In these years, he followed the extraordinary path of his beloved teacher, combining intensive Torah study with activism on behalf of the religious Jewish community, here and in Israel. I remember his vital role in the 1950s in the American Peylim, the effective advocacy group that did much to promote and protect religious life in Israel in the years following the establishment of the state.
This developmental period served as an apprenticeship as he worked under the tutelage of Torah leaders, earning their confidence and respect as they entrusted him with expanding responsibilities. It is a major deficit of the yeshiva world of today that the crucial process of shimush or apprenticeship has been neglected, a deficit I fear will escalate in its untoward consequences in the coming years.
For all of his obedience to Torah leaders, Rav Elya had a strong independent streak, a quality that was evident in his establishment nearly fifty years ago of the major advanced yeshiva in Philadelphia where he was soon joined by Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky. He eschewed the perhaps easier path of serving as a rosh yeshiva at the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, then headed by Rabbi Avrohom Kalmanowitz, his father-in-law. In Philadelphia, Rav Elya educated and influenced thousands of students, a great number of whom have had fruitful roles in our religious life.
With the passing of the Torah giants of the previous generation, Rav Elya was thrust into leadership, not as a result of any election or selection but simply through the recognition that he was, in effect, designated by his predecessors. This role was especially acknowledged by Israeli Torah leaders. In one of my few involvements with Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv regarding an American religious issue, I was told that this preeminent Torah leader was interested in hearing the views of Rabbi Svei and no one else.
Although his influence extended across our religious life, Rav Elya’s impact was most strongly felt in the educational sphere, where he worked without personal regard and often in a state of exhaustion, assisting yeshivas and day schools throughout North America. He had remarkable awareness and insight into the dynamics of day school education. For all of his Herculean and singular efforts, he was intensely modest, not once speaking of his own role.
Over the years, the circle that relied on his guidance grew, as was often apparent at weddings and dinners where there was constantly a line of educators and lay leaders seeking his counsel. For all of the public persona that emerged, he was a quiet and thoughtful man and I confess that, at times, I hoped he would abjure public speaking altogether. He was a terrific listener, drawing out the salient points from those who sought his advice. He treated those who came to him with respect and he regarded each situation and institution as unique.
About the Author: Dr. Marvin Schick has been actively engaged in Jewish communal life for more than sixty years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Unlike Judaism & Christianity which honors “truth,” Islam pursues “Taqiyya,” strategic lying
Yashar Lachayal’s mission is to learn what IDF soldiers’ need and get it to them when they need it.
Corbyn leading the Britain’s Labour Party polls, describes Hamas & Hizbullah as England’s “friends.”
JCF is a donor/supporter of The New Israel Fund which supports BDS & wants IDF soldiers prosecuted
The ‘Peace Industry’ promotes its adherents; weak leaders, both military & political, is the result
The conundrum for US Labor Zionists: Lobbying for Iran deal while Israel’s Left lobby’s against it.
What does the Torah want from our small nation described as “they who struggle with God & with men”?
Mr. Nadler’s support for the deal is a naked political gift to a president who has defied logic in his quest to reinvent international affairs according to his ideological inclinations.
In practical terms, the proclamation surely makes a compelling argument:
BDS activists are not shy about discriminating against Israelis simply because they are Israelis –
A Federal Ct Judge ordered the PA to post JUST $10 million due to interfering letter from State Dept
Osakwe, like many other students at the CAMERA conference, described an extremely hostile campus environment when it comes to the issue of Israel.
Although graduate school culture may have changed, in the 1950s and for many years after, grades were regarded as a cinch.
To say he was beloved because of the way he loved his students does not sufficiently capture the reality.
Although I was not a Zionist, like most others I knew in Agudath Israel in which I was active, I was zionistic.
We now are in the season of advocacy of preschool, referring specifically to the education of children who are four years old.
Two months ago, the Pew Research Center issued a comprehensive study of American Jews and ever since the American Jewish community has been debating the findings. I have contributed my share to this debate, which concerns matters of critical importance.
As the Torah teaches, poverty will never be eradicated, nor will our obligation to assist those in need.
As we commemorate the fiftieth yahrzeit this Friday, the second day of Kislev, of Rav Aaron Kotler – the greatest Jew, in the opinion of even many of his fellow Torah luminaries, ever to set foot on North American soil – we are obligated to reflect on his achievements and the lessons he taught.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/reflections-on-rav-svei/2009/04/01/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: