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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
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My Machberes

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Chief Rabbi Of Israel At
14th Igud Siyum HaShas

Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger

On Wednesday, September 5, more than 150 congregational rabbis, roshei yeshiva, chassidishe rebbes and leaders of Jewish religious and social organizations gathered to celebrate and glorify the study of Torah at the 5772 Siyum HaShas Convocation of the Rabbinical Alliance of America-Igud Horabbonim. The event was graced with the presence of Israeli Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger, who was the keynote speaker.

Rabbi Avraham Amar

The Siyum HaShas took place at the Sephardic Home on Cropsey Avenue in Brooklyn, the unique glatt kosher facility that serves the Jewish community in superlative fashion with Rabbi Avraham Amar as mara d’asra and Michael New as executive director.

Rabbi Saul Eisner, zt”l

The first session of the convocation opened in the synagogue sanctuary with Chomer L’Drush Homiletics – homiletics for the Yamim Noraim, dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Saul Eisner, zt”l(1932-2011), Igud executive vice president. The dedication was made possible by the generous contribution of Motty and Shoshy Vegh of Staten Island. Motty is chairman of Yeshiva Reishit Yerushalayim, where Rabbi Jay Marcus is chancellor. The dedication was shared by Rabbi Yaakov Lehrfield, rav of the Young Israel of Staten Island.

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

Rabbi Yaakov Lehrfield

Rabbi Yaakov Klass, Torah editor of The Jewish Press and rav of Khal Bnei Matisyahu, served as chairman. Speakers included Rabbi Yaakov Lehrfield; Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, rav of Congregation B’nai Abraham of Brooklyn Heights; Rabbi Eli Greenwald, rav of the Ohel David and Shlomo Congregation Torat Israel; and Rabbi Michoel Chazan, rav of the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, each of whom delivered an emotional address in preparation for the Yamim Noraim.

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Rabbi Yonason Y. Lustig

As Rabbi Abraham B. Hecht, Igud president, was escorted into the shul to hear the speakers. Rabbi Hecht was flanked by his son Rabbi Eli Hecht, rav of the South Bay Congregation in Lomita, California. Moments later, Rabbi Shaul Kassin, chief rabbi of the Syrian community, entered, accompanied by his son Jack Kassin and greatly respected community activist Jack Avital.

Rabbi Abraham B. Hecht

As the first session came to a close, Minchah was announced and led by Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel. Meir Levy, beloved longtime chazzan of the Syrian community, added his melodious voice to chazaras hashatz.

Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht

After Minchah, the Siyum HaShas and dinner banquet began in the large social hall, catered by Grunwald Caterers of Pavilion 39. The Siyum HaShas and dinner were dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, zt”l (1920-1998), chief rabbi of Buenos Aries and chairman of the Igud Horabbonim, who launched the yearly Siyum HaShas by members of a national rabbinic organization. Regrettably, Rabbi Shapiro did not live to share in the joy of the Igud’s first Siyum HaShas. Rabbi Shapiro passed away on Shiva Assar B’Tammuz, 1998, the very year of the siyum’sestablishment.

Rabbi Eli Greenwald

Rabbi Herschel Kurzrock

The Siyum HaShas and dinner was made possible by the generous donation of the Shapiro family, led by Rebbetzin Pearl Shapiro and her son, R’ Pinchas Shapiro.

As the assembled washed for bread and sat in their seats, joyous song erupted as Chief Rabbi Metzger entered. The singing continued until the chief rabbi was seated on the dais.

Rabbi Yehoshua Hecht, rav of Beth Israel Synagogue, Norwalk-Westport, Connecticut, and son of the Igud president, served as dinner chairman. He called on Rabbi Yaakov Spivak to make a special presentation. Rabbi Spivak is rav and rosh kollel of Ashyel Avraham in Monsey, New York. On June 24, Kollel Ashyel Avraham held its sixth ordination celebration. Chief Rabbi Metzger was scheduled to participate but was called abroad for emergency rabbinic intervention. At the Siyum HaShas Rabbi Spivak presented the chief rabbi with a plaque in recognition of his blessings conveyed to the kollel’s new musmachim. In addition, Rabbi Avraham Hecht was given a presentation in honor of his decades of rabbinic dedication and heroic leadership. Chief Rabbi Kassin then gave his blessings to all who participated in the Siyum HaShas.

Rabbi Michoel Chazan

Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro

Rabbi Herschel Kurzrock, Igud rosh beis din, was called to be mesayem haShas, formally closing the study cycle. Rabbi Kurzrock made some introductory remarks, saying that he wished to defer the honor to the chief rabbi. In turn, the chief rabbi warmly thanked Rabbi Kurzrock and praised Rabbi Kurzrock’s leadership of the Igud’s universally respected beis din.

Fighting In The South Pacific

Friday, September 14th, 2012

My name is Eli Freundlich. I was 18 and had just graduated Torah Voddath in Williamsburg. America had entered the war a few years before. I wanted to be drafted so was happy when I received my notice. It was July 1943 – July 27, 1943 to be exact – when I was sworn into the American Army.

My parents were not happy. They would have rather me stayed in yeshiva than be in the trenches. In my day you either went to college or went to work after high school. The yeshivas, though, set up a system where you could register as a divinity student and that way get out of being drafted.

In front of a downed Japanese plane

On August 18, I reported to Camp Upton in Long Island. We received our inoculations and uniforms and then we were sent to Camp Croft boot camp in South Carolina. This is where I received my basic training. I learned things like how to fire a gun, get around at night, dig foxholes and how to march.

Our day started with reveille at 6:00 a.m. – roll call, exercises and clean up. But I would always manage somehow to hole myself up in a corner to daven before breakfast. After breakfast, we “fell out” in formation.

There was another religious soldier in my barrack. He was a German refugee named Yitzchak Goldschmidt. He didn’t carry his weapons or any muktza item on Shabbos and did his training over on Sunday, which was our day off. He also made an arrangement with the guys in the barrack. Every Friday night we had to spotlessly clean the barracks, with a toothbrush, we would joke. We called it the “floor show.” Yitzchak agreed to clean all the windows by himself throughout the week so that Friday night he could go to chapel.

At the end of the training period, he came over to me and said, “They offered me an honorable discharge because my religious practices are incompatible with the army. I don’t want to take it because it might cause a chillul Hashem. The goyim will think I used this shtick to get out of the army.”

Firefight in the night sky over the Philippines

Later he was sent overseas to Europe. The last letter I sent to him was returned – killed in action. He stepped on a booby trap set by the Germans. I believe he was an only child. Yehi zichro baruch.

The army didn’t supply kosher meals in those days so I did not eat any meat and tried to stay away from anything mixed with meat. This was difficult as everything was fried in lard. I also made it my business to daven every day and put on my tefillin. As a matter of fact, once overseas, I spent a lot of time in the jungles of the Philippines looking for a quiet, private place to daven. I finally found it at the end of the war, in Japan. I asked the Catholic chaplain there if I could use his office to pray.

“By all means.” He said.

So I covered the crosses and finally got my privacy!

After 4 months of basic training, we were sent overseas. I hoped to be assigned to Europe but was sent to Asia instead and so I resigned myself to thinking that wherever Hashem would send me, that’s where I would fight.

Why was I so bent on being in the army in the first place? It’s true that I and most Americans had no idea at that time the extent to which the Jews in Europe were being exterminated. We just knew there was a lot of anti-semitism and sporadic Jew killings. Nevertheless it was enough for me; I wanted my chance for nekama– revenge.

In the Pacific Theater

Up until then I had been regularly sending letters home. I knew as long as my mother thought I was safe in South Carolina, she wouldn’t worry about me. So I prepared a batch of letters to be sent out weekly by a fellow soldier who was staying behind so she would continue to think I was in the States. I’m not sure how long she was fooled but I know it did work for a while.

Opening Hearts And Winning Over A New Generation: A Profile Of Chazzan Netanel Hershtik

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Netanel Hershtik wears many hats but perhaps the one he is best known for is a soft, puffy headpiece known as a mitre, traditionally worn by chazzanim.

While the Teaneck resident is a former combat paramedic in the Israeli army and a graduate of both Israel’s Shaarei Mishpat College of Law and the University of Miami School of Law, it is his prodigious musical abilities that have made him a household name. Hershtik, the official chazzan at The Hampton Synagogue, has performed at numerous venues worldwide, delighting and inspiring countless people in both concert halls and synagogues around the globe.

Hershtik at the UN Holocaust remembrance ceremony.

Descending from a long line of cantors, Hershtik is a fourteenth generation chazzan, who began singing with his father, the legendary Cantor Naftali Hershtik, at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue when he was just five and toured with his father through Australia, Europe and the United States at age seven. A graduate of the prestigious Tel Aviv Cantorial Institute, Hershtik has performed in prominent concert halls including Lincoln Center, the Sydney Opera House and Casino de Paris and was the first chazzan invited to perform at a United Nations Holocaust remembrance ceremony.

But for Hershtik, a regular participant in Kosherica’s popular cantorial cruises who has recorded two albums in addition to his many appearances, chazzanut is first and foremost about inspiring people in their prayers, not about performing.

“As much as these cruises and cantorial concerts are celebrated and successful, I still believe that in order to understand chazzanut and to appreciate it, one needs to listen to a real chazzan on a proper amud, accompanied by a good choir, where the chazzan is afforded the opportunity to open his heart and to daven properly,” said Hershtik. “To me, there is no way to truly be inspired as a congregation in prayer other than the use of music under the musical leadership of the chazzan. The strongest argument I can offer is the constant use of music in the Beit Hamikdashas a tool to elevate and focus people to their Father in heaven.”

Hershtik at a Holocaust memorial event at Avery Fisher Hall earlier this year.

Hershtik acknowledges that cantorial music is an acquired taste, but one that is well worth developing.

Chazzanut is not easy listening,” explained Hershtik. “One should give it time and patience in order to love it, but the reward is far greater than any easy listening pop music. Let’s face it, classical music, jazz and opera are also in the same category and require some listening effort and openness to be truly appreciated.”

The 34-year-old Hershtik, who tries to incorporate contemporary musical styles including pop, jazz, Broadway and gospel into his traditional services, suggests that many of the negative associations people have with chazzanut are the product of poor choices by today’s chazzanim.

“I blame many cantors for not accommodating ‘younger ears’ with a shorter, less heavy davening and for not updating their melodies and style of davening to today’s world,” said Hershtik. “It is a pity they try to prove what great cantors they are to empty shuls. A great chazzan must feel his congregation at any given time of the service. It is the cantor’s greatest challenge to feel when people are with him and when they are lost or not paying attention. The cantor must immediately determine the right balance for that specific day in this specific congregation.”

Hershtik at the Tel Aviv Opera House in 2011.

A self-taught musician who plays several instruments, Hershtik loves to experiment musically as well as record in his studio. While he says his children are “extremely musical” he isn’t making plans for them to become the fifteenth generation of Hershtiks to daven for the amud.

“It makes me happy to see that they understand and enjoy all kinds of music. But it doesn’t mean they will become chazzanim. I do not push them to sing in shul just as my parents didn’t push me. It would be lovely if they chose to continue the family legacy of chazzanut, but I will be happiest if they feel fulfilled and accomplished in whatever profession they chose.”

Chabad of Manhattan Beach – Hachnasas Sefer Torah

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Hundreds attend the Hachnasas Sefer Torah for the Chabad of Manhattan Beach. West End Avenue was closed off for the entire event.

Photos Credit: Joey Aron

Portraits Of Remembrance: Paintings By Diana Kurz

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Reaching back in time to reclaim a family for herself and, in a yahrzeit moment, to rekindle lives snuffed out, Diana Kurz’s paintings stand as testaments to victims of the Holocaust. After a successful 20 year career as an artist and teacher, (with a strong feminist bent), in 1989 Kurz happened upon a few surviving photos of her own relatives “who disappeared during the war.” Suddenly her past opened up and possessed her. This spring (April 4 – May 2, 2012) a series of these paintings was shown at the Art Gallery at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.

Brothers (1999) seems to depict a world of normalcy itself. The two men, one with a cane and bearded, possibly older, and the other clean-shaven with a lighter colored hat, stare out at us innocently. Simply a snapshot from two lives. The work is notable for its simple composition; each figure echoing the other while the subtle differences reveal the kinds of simultaneous contrasts and similarities that dominate familial relations. Then we read the caption at the top: “The brothers Pietnicer left Krishenka, Poland trying to escape the Nazis. They were last heard from in 1939 when the older brother, Zelig, sent a postcard to the US from an unknown location with the words: “Gott wird uns helfen! God will help us.” Along the bottom of the image is what appears to be a filmstrip depicting barbed wire double enclosures characteristic of work and death camps. Kurz summons two lives back from the grave to memorialize them and remind us of the simple details of tragedy. She commands us to just remember, and now, after her painting, we cannot forget them.

Diana Kurz’s history curiously buried her relationship of the Shoah until a chance encounter uncovered an entire life she never knew. She was born in Vienna and escaped as a young child with her family in 1938, finally arriving in New York in 1940. As was fairly typical for many refugees, the past was kept silent and every effort was made to acculturate as “normal” Americans. When she was ten, two cousins who had survived the concentration camps arrived and lived with her family, sharing Diana’s bedroom. Naturally teenage stories were exchanged that would lurk in her memory forever. And yet she grew up, when to Brandeis for a BA and an MFA from Columbia, and began a successful career as a figurative artist and teacher. Only decades later, in 1989 when she was visiting an aging aunt, did she happen to see old photos of her family in pre-war Vienna. Suddenly she had to confront the suffering and loss of family members who did not survive. As a mature artist she was able to summon the aesthetic tools to approach a history that was both deeply personal and yet relevant to the Jewish people and all humanity.

Zora and Michael Kurz (1990) 75 x 60 x 7, oil on paper on linen by Diana Kurz
Courtesy the artist

Kurz brings something unique to her Holocaust paintings. All of the paintings have a personal edge since the impetus for these works stems from photographic portraits of her family members, i.e. the emotions are rooted in her own past, regardless of whether she remembers the individuals or not. In each image at least one subject is looking directly into the eyes of the viewer, confronting us as virtual family members and imploring us to remember them as individuals we deeply care about. It is as if in the act of visually engaging these paintings we are saying kaddish for each person depicted.

Drawing upon the European medieval tradition of depicting important religious subjects with altarpieces that had multiple side panels and predellas (small independent images along the bottom of the main image), Kurz utilized this form in the early testament to her uncle Michael and cousin Zora. He is shown holding his infant daughter in what were clearly happier days. The image is sun-filled; ominously contrasting with the fiery turmoil that surrounds them in the side panels. The predella presents a seemingly normative past; an army portrait, a wedding picture, a postcard, a studio portrait and an innocent childhood drawing (actually by children in Theresienstadt) while the enormous artwork (75” X 60”) is capped with two memorial candles and the harrowing dedication against a bright blue sky; “Zora and Michael Kunz disappeared –vanished – from Belgrade in the 1940’s and were never heard from again – also Klarcha Kurz & Dorrit Kurz – all without a trace.” It is a painting of stark contrasts, evoking memories of lives erased and now brought back for us to mourn.

Is Barack Giving the Priestly Blessing?

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

OK, you be the judge: this is an official White House image of President Barack Obama talking with patrons during a stop at Lechonera El Barrio restaurant in Orlando, Fla., Aug. 2, 2012. To the untrained eye it’s just another press-the-flesh kind of thing, nothing special.

Except, what’s the president doing with his right hand? He definitely places it, full, open palm, over the young woman’s head, much the way many of us, frum fathers, have done to our children on Friday nights for time immemorial.

You think it’s a Kenyan minhag?

Close-up

Close-up

Jacques Rogge: Impartial to a Fault

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

This picture of IOC president Jacques Rogge—who refused to permit the minute of silence in commemoration of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian thugs in Munich—was published by Forbes in November of 2011. The caption below reads:

President of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge pauses during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010. Rogge on Tuesday expressed concern over “obstacles” facing Palestinian athletes, and in veiled criticism of Israel said athletes should be granted free movement regardless of politics.

They also shouldn’t be murdered in their dorms at the Olympic village, if at all possible.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/photos/jacques-rogge-impartial-to-a-fault/2012/08/08/

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