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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘kollel’

Thanking Our ‘Squantos’

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

It’s the classic image – the pumpkins; the berries; the squash, the turkey. It’s the beginning of a season that brings with it a sudden, exciting feeling. It’s the crisp fall air turning to gray winter; the strings of perfect, colorful leaves decorating doors and houses, the bright hues of reds and oranges. It almost feels like the cinnamon in the pumpkin pie is somehow in the air.

It’s Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving. It’s a time of gratitude. Gratitude for the freedom we have in the United States. So many Jews celebrate this holiday, thankful that after so much oppression, Jews can live peacefully in this great country.

The theme of the season forces me to think back to the very first Thanksgiving. This was a celebration the pilgrims made when they first came to America. After so many hardships in the New World, they finally harvested food and had a chance of survival. They were thankful for Squanto, a Native American, who helped the early settlers through.

These thoughts overwhelmed me with a sense of gratitude I feel the need to express. Have you ever thought about who holds up our Jewish communities? Who keeps the world turning? Whose zechuyos keep us alive? Have you ever stopped to thank the people who keep our chinuch system going?

What about thanking our gedolim?

I once heard a teacher say, “At a certain point in my life I knew more names of actors and singers than I knew of Gedolei haTorah.” It struck me. We spend our lives chasing after a society and culture which have so little to do with us, and we never stop to notice what is right in front of us. Do we ever stop to contemplate and appreciate the people who devote their lives to disseminating Torah?

Your son’s Rebbe deserves respect; no matter what grade he gave your son on his Gemara test. The rav of your shul deserves a lot more respect than chatter during his short lecture. The Gedolei HaDor deserve much more than a careless shrug of the shoulder at the news of their illness or petirah.

Most of the time we do not focus our appreciation on the talmidei chachamim in our neighborhoods – that includes the young men sitting in kollel, the balabatim who run to shiur before or after work and the retired men who after years of working are now spending their time in a yeshiva setting. How much do we appreciate the rabbanim who lead our communities? Do we thank them for their time, for their hours of service?

What generation has had access to so much – shiurim on a variety of levels, website where one can download divrei Torah, at no charge? When in our history were there any so many schools to choose from? When did we ever have so many interesting speakers, teaching Torah on a daily basis?

There is so much knowledge available, and yet, many of us don’t even stretch out a hand to grab onto it. So many opportunities, yet we don’t care. So many lessons, yet we never take them in. We chase after a government. We chase after their way of life. How many names of gedolim do you know?

This lesson is clearly evident in the Purim story. The spiritual leader of the time, Mordechai, advised the Jews not to attend to royal party. The Jews scorned his opinion, claiming he was “an old Rabbi, stuck in ancient times and unaware of the political dues they had to pay.” Then tragedy struck, and all the Queens connections were worth nothing; what saved them was following the “old leader’s” suggestion to pray and fast.

We can chase after all the political leaders we want, but at the end of the day, what will save us is the Torah learning of our talmidei chachamim and of our young children.

It’s the season. It’s Thanksgiving – let us give thanks for what we have that actually matters: our Squanto, the people who throw away careers, throw away sleep and are there, twenty four hours a day, supporting our world with Torah.

Chazal teach, “Asay licha Rav”; I’ve heard it paraphrased numerous times to, “Asay licha Rebbetzin.” Each of us needs a guide or a mentor who can see clearly when we can’t.

The Legacy Of Rav Aharon Kotler

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

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.

This assessment of Rav Aharon isn’t hyperbole or the kind of excessive adulation that is often accorded to persons of significant achievement. How Rav Aharon was regarded by other great persons in his lifetime and what his legacy has been in Lakewood and elsewhere amply justify the view that he towered above everyone else in our community, including other Torah giants.

I knew him over the last eleven years of his life. Our first encounter was at the initial meeting he called to assist Chinuch Atzmai, the network of religious day schools he established in Israel. I had just become active in Zeirei Agudath Israel of Boro Park and attended the meeting that took place at the National Council of the Young Israel in Manhattan. As I lived a block away from his apartment in Boro Park, the driver who took him home allowed me to come as well.

Throughout the next decade, I raised money for Chinuch Atzmai on a voluntary basis. At times, I accompanied Rav Aharon when he raised funds for Chinuch Atzmai or for his yeshiva. At conventions of Agudath Israel and Zeirei he always ate privately and asked that I join with him.

* * * * *

He came here seventy-one years ago, a man in his early 50s who scarcely spoke any English and yet who somehow was able to communicate with American-born youngsters who were far more proficient in baseball statistics than in Yiddish and with laypeople who were distinctly modern in their orientation.

He came here with a mission, namely to build Torah in America, having turned back in Japan from the remnants of the great pre-Holocaust European yeshivas that were headed toward safe haven in Shanghai. When he arrived in the United States he spoke immediately of this urgent mission, though his first task was hatzalah, or rescue, activity.

In 1943, Beth Medrash Govoha was established and opened with a handful of students.

At a young age in Europe he had earned a reputation as one of the preeminent Torah scholars of recent generations. His yeshiva in Kletzk, a small town in Poland not far from Slutzk across the Russian border where his father-in-law, the great gaon Rav Iser Zalman Meltzer, had headed a major yeshiva, was recognized as one of the outstanding advanced institutions of Talmudic study in the yeshiva world. In the 1920s, when a new building for the yeshiva was dedicated in Kletzk, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzienski referred to Rav Aharon as the “Rav Akiva Eger of this generation.”

There was more to Rav Aharon’s story during this phase of his exalted life. For all of his intensive immersion in Torah study, including giving shiurim, and the burden of sustaining the yeshiva, especially after the Great Depression of 1929, Rav Aharon never lost sight of his obligation to serve the larger community. He was an activist and his activity included Agudath Israel and many other communal causes. At one of the Agudah conventions in the 1950s, as we ate privately, he remarked about his activities in 1917 during the period between the first and second Russian revolutions that occurred that year.

The lesson he taught was of communal responsibility, of caring and working for the attainment of goals that extend far beyond a person’s ordinary four cubits of responsibility. For each of us, of course, this obligation is defined by the positions we hold, as well as by our capabilities. I have known persons whose devotion to the klal has been extraordinary. None reached the super-human level attained by Rav Aharon.

There is a collateral obligation arising from Rav Aharon’s communal activities. His yeshivas, Kletzk and Lakewood, obviously were institutions of advanced Torah study. They operated at the post-high school level and without a scintilla of secular education, even for livelihood purposes. Students could not attend the yeshiva and be enrolled at the same time in an academic program. This was not by chance but rather because Rav Aharon insisted on complete immersion in Torah study. He believed that Torah greatness could not be attained in North America unless there were students who devoted themselves entirely to its study.

The Highchair

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Yael was tired of sticking the highchair together with glue or Sellotape. It had lasted through five children, a miracle in itself, but now it seemed to have given up all hope – and decided to self-destruct.

Every time she tried to clean it, more parts seemed to come loose. Yael was scared that it wasn’t safe enough to put her little Shloimy in it any longer.

But money was very tight and it was nearing Yom Tov. Shloimy only used the highchair on Shabbos; the rest of the time he sat in his stroller or on a booster chair at the family table.

But on Shabbos, especially if extra guests were present, it was best for him to be in a high chair in order for him to have the freedom to eat as he wished without Yael having to worry about him getting the food on everyone else. And of course it freed up more space at the table. But could she justify spending the money on a chair for one day a week?

Yael went to a store to see just how much a chair would cost. There were an amazing variety of high chairs from which to choose. Who’d have thought the manufacturers could think of so many different possibilities. It had been a long time since Yael had looked for a new one; thus the choice was baffling. Prices varied from the simplest to the 5-star models, with more bells and whistles than she’d have ever dreamt possible. But even the simplest one wasn’t very cheap.

She went home and decided that they’d have to manage a bit longer.

Another few weeks went by with Shloimy at the table during the week and in his highchair, under the watchful eye of his mother, on Shabbos. Yael tried to ensure that his excited movements didn’t unhinge any part of the chair. But eventually her managing the situation turned into surviving it – and the chair just became useless.

Yael went back to the store, hoping that there would be a special offer on highchairs. But the prices remained unchanged.

But then she remembered something she’d been taught in school. She had learned that Hashem returns to you the money you spend on purchases for Shabbos. We’re not always aware of when and how He does this, but if you designate (verbally, if possible) that what you are buying is l’kavod Shabbos kodesh, then what you buy for Shabbos is not an extra burden on the household finances. This is because, it was taught, that if it wouldn’t have been spent for Shabbos items, that money wouldn’t have been in your wallet.

With this in mind Yael chose an economical but sturdy highchair, and as she paid for it she said out loud, “This high chair is l’kavod Shabbos kodesh, because Shabbos was the only day when Shloimy used it. Buying in a Jerusalem store, her loud declaration barely raised an eyebrow, although she received a few smiles from those who heard her.

She went home satisfied that she had done the right thing, confident that her family’s already very tight budget wouldn’t suffer because of her purchase.

She arrived home, paid the babysitter, prepared supper, and bathed her six young children. After supper the older ones waited in their pajamas for their abba to come home from kollel so they could kiss him goodnight.

As he walked through the door, he had a big smile on his face. “Yael,” he said, “You can go and buy the highchair now.”

She turned around from washing the dishes. “Why?” she asked.

“You’ll never believe this but as I got off the bus I saw something on the sidewalk. I thought it must have been something that I had dropped, so I picked it up. It was a 200-shekel note. I was the only one who got off the bus and there was no one else around to ask if it was their money. So according to halacha, it’s ours. That should cover the cost of a highchair, no?”

Yael could barely see through the tears that blurred her eyes.

“Yes. Baruch Hashem, that exactly covers the cost of the highchair and the delivery cost. And it should be here in a few minutes.”

New Home For Kollel

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Rav Yochanon Henig, mara d’asra of the Los Angeles Chassidishe Kollel, speaking at the Chanukas Habayis. Photo Credit: Rabbi Arye D. Gordon

The Kollel Yechiel Yehuda Menlo Family Building recently celebrated its move to its new beis medrash at 444 N. La Brea with a Chanukas Habayis.

The kollel is known to attract chassidim, misnagdim, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, ba’alei teshuvah, charedim and the Modern Orthodox. The kollel offers davening, learning with a chavrusah, and hearing a shiur from a visiting rebbe or rosh yeshiva, among other things.

The Chanukas Habayis program began with Minchah, followed by the kevias mezuzah. Rav Yochanon Henig, mara d’asra of the Los Angeles Chassidishe Kollel, thanked the kollel’s supporters and all the participants for attending – and for making the kollel a makom Torah. Singing and dancing followed.

Southern Hospitality

Friday, August 17th, 2012

One of the most popular tourist destinations in the American South, Savannah, Georgia is a world of exciting history and activity. Rich with landmarks from over 275 years, the city boasts unique architecture, Civil War commemorative tours, and a long list of beautiful squares and parks. In addition, Savannah’s Tybee Island provides a beach atmosphere for those who want to relax on and off-shore. Interestingly, Savannah also hosts a small but thriving Jewish community. The Savannah Jewish Federation offers family services and community resources, and there are a number of places to find kosher food. The city has three shuls: one for Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform congregations, respectively. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Avigdor and Rebbetzin Rochel Slatus of the Bnai Brith Jacob Synagogue.

KG: How did you come to Savannah?

Rabbi Slatus: I was in the Mirrer Yeshiva, and I had a friend who was pursuing the rabbi position in Savannah at the time. He went down and recognized a great void in the community there. He wanted to introduce a kollel and asked me to submit a resume for the position of rosh kollel. I wasn’t really interested, but I sent in the resume anyway. In the end, my friend who originally looked into the position couldn’t fulfill the requirements needed, and because they had my resume, they ended up calling me. We weren’t looking to leave New York at the time. My wife had a job teaching in Prospect Park Yeshiva, but we thought we’d go down and see. We were very impressed with sincerity and genuine desire for spiritual growth in the community. Maybe it was bashert. There were other candidates, but we were eventually offered the position. We originally thought it’d be for a short time, maybe a couple of years, but we’ve been here for 31 years now.

How big was the community when you first arrived, and how has it changed since then?

The community started out with about 70 people in shul on Shabbos (men and women) and the day school had 29 children. There was not a lot of Torah education. They had had rabbis before, but it was at a point where nobody was there. We did our best, and started giving classes to try to give the people a flavor of the beauty and insights of Torah. We both give classes on many topics. Now the day school has somewhere between 120 and 140 children, and about 200 people in shul on Shabbos, with a minyan every day. We have our own camps and activities on Shabbos, including outreach and youth programs, covering all levels.

How does each of you see your role in the community?

Rabbi Slatus: Primarily as educators. We are trying to bridge the gap of lack of education and appreciation by tearing down the walls that divide people from their magnificent heritage. If we can reach them with warmth and friendship, we can penetrate the barriers that the human mind creates. We obviously must take care of our routine responsibilities, but try to break down the walls and present the beautiful way the Torah is supposed to be presented. Never underestimate the greatness of the Jewish soul. A person may not be able to read Hebrew, but can be touched just by hearing the words.

Rebbetzin Slatus: There are many aspects to the rebbetzin’s role. Making a Kiddush Hashem in how the rebbetzin conducts herself, speaks, how her family behaves and interacts; it’s all a reflection on yiddishkeit to the congregation, and it should be as positive as possible.

What have been your major accomplishments for the Savannah community?

Rabbi Slatus: We started a full time kollel 18 years ago. It was put together to satisfy the needs of the community. We have such wonderful people here, and the men learn every night. I enjoy the fact that people are learning on this level, and can also reach out and inspire others.

Rebbetzin Slatus: I helped build an assisted living facility for elderly people who still wanted to keep kosher and Shabbos. It was so convenient for people because it is glatt kosher and right next to shul. After the facility was built, a group of doctors happened to hear one of my classes on the topic of mipnei sayvah takum and they wanted me to help with a kosher retirement community. Nobody else really wanted to do it, so I took it on single-handedly. I also give my classes there and transliterate the prayers for the residents. There are people who knew nothing about Judaism their whole lives and are now keeping kosher for the first time.

Philanthropist Zev Wolfson, Supporter of Torah Institutions, Dies at 84

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Zev Wolfson, a philanthropist who supported Torah institutions worldwide, has died.

Wolfson, 84, died Monday in New York following a short illness, according to media reports.

A world renowned philanthropist, Wolfson helped spread Torah through kollel and outreach programs with many catering specifically to secular Jews in an effort to bring them closer to traditional Judaism.

Wolfson was born in Vilna, Poland in 1928 and immigrated to America at the age of 17 with his mother and his young brother. He immediately went to work, while sending his brother to yeshiva. In his twenties, he amassed a significant wealth through his investments in real estate.

For many decades, Wolfson focused on furthering Jewish education, helping to develop and maintain yeshivas, Bais Yaakov girls’ schools, day schools and other projects all over the world, including the United States, Israel, France, Morocco and Russia, reported Matzav.com.

Wolfson was known for his close relationship with many prominent rabbis, and his wife Nechama, who founded the Shalom Task Force twenty years ago, is well known for her efforts to combat domestic violence within the Jewish community.

He was buried Tuesday in Israel.

I Am Haredi

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

I am haredi. I was born in Brooklyn, went to mainstream haredi elementary and high schools, spent two years in Mir Yerushalayim and attended kollel at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey. I wear a black hat on Shabbos and dark pants and a white shirt much of the week. My yarmulke is large, black and velvet, and being a frum and inspired Jew is my most basic self-definition, on par with being human and male.

Am I haredi? I believe in the utter supremacy of Torah wisdom to secular knowledge. But I also believe one can see Hashem through analysis of the physical world and that many committed Jews who engage the sciences have a richer appreciation of Hashem because of it.

Am I haredi? I believe Torah study is a most worthy pursuit and the community should support and lionize scholars whose wisdom is clear and vision is pure. Writing sefarim, debating sevaros, and forging new paths in Torah is an effort worthy of a significant portion of our charitable dollars.

Am I haredi? I learned in kollel for four years and am now in the business world. Having observed and experienced the high cost of raising a large frum family and the gargantuan, often futile effort to attain those funds without a secular education, I am no longer sure that open-ended kollel-for-the-masses is a good idea. While kollel-for-all was critical in establishing a Torah society in the late 20th century, the second decade of the 21st century may be a time to reevaluate the socio-economic ramifications of thousands of men unable to support their families with dignity.

Am I haredi? I respond with disdain when some Orthodox leaders respond to theological challenges with nuance and apologetics rather than passion and conviction. We are blessed to live in a nation whose heartland craves traditional values. We are the Judeo rock of the Judeo-Christian bedrock of American civilization and should be proud to explain our beliefs and practices to those who question them. And I respond with disgust when some of my coreligionists defend observant Jews who knowingly bend the rules and break the law, bringing dishonor to our camp and disrepute to our mission.

Am I haredi? I like to read about current events and am fascinated by the interplay of religion and politics in America. I believe we should be involved in the political process as informed, concerned citizens with traditional values, not merely as a voting bloc looking for its share of the pie.

Am I haredi? I believe in the passionate worship of Hashem and that keeping of every nuance of halacha is our path to a relationship with the Creator. I believe intense Torah study can bring one to a closer relationship with God and we are most encouraged and inspired when we seek the advice and blessing of pious rabbis. I treasure my few conversations with HaRav Nosson Zvi Finkel, zt”l, the Mir rosh yeshiva, when I studied in his yeshiva. His was a purity you could see, a connection you could touch.

Am I haredi? I cut a deep line between Judaism and the culture that surrounds it, even if some of my brethren cannot. I regard most issues of dress, attitude and religious emphasis as the result of history and personality, not values and principles.

Am I haredi? I am embarrassed when some of my brethren don’t act appropriately in the larger society. I know they are merely extending the culture that works in their neighborhoods to the larger world as they pass through it. And I understand they are intelligent, kind people who are ignorant of the mores of American society. But I am embarrassed nonetheless.

Am I haredi? I believe many non-Jews have a relationship with God that is worthy of respect and encouragement.

Am I haredi? I believe that while the haredi world has become larger over the past few decades, much of that growth has been in nuance, not diversity. I wish there were less uniformity; it would keep our most creative youth more engaged.

Am I haredi? I believe the trend in our community toward sameness of dress and greater insularity was not a decision consciously made, but the result of the blending of the yeshiva and chassidic communities in the same neighborhoods. When you daven in the same shteibels and use the same mikvehs, you take on the tendencies of the other.

My Machberes

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Honoring New York’s Chief Rabbi

Rabbi Jacob Joseph, zt”l

The 24th of Tammuz (Shabbos Pinchas, July 15) will mark the 110th yahrzeit of Rabbi Jacob Joseph, zt”l, chief rabbi of New York in the latter years of the 19th century. Thousands will be praying and reciting Tehillim at the gravesite in Union Field Cemetery, Cypress Hills, Queens, on Sunday, July 16. The cemetery will keep its gates open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to accommodate the anticipated flow of visitors. Shuttle buses, organized by Rabbi Yonah Landau, will be leaving from Lee Avenue at the corner of Ross Street in Williamsburg throughout the day and ample parking space is available alongside the cemetery.

* * * * *

On June 13, 1852, Beis Hamedrash Hagadol was established at 60 Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Its first rav was Rabbi Avrohom Yosef Asch, zt”l, who had arrived in the United States earlier that year.

After the passing of Rabbi Asch, a new rav was sought for Beis Medrash Hagadol. At the same time, there was a growing consensus among New York’s many congregations that a chief rabbi was needed for the city. Requests for recommended candidates were sent to Europe, the seat of religious Jewry at the time, with letters hand delivered to Rabbi Chaim Berlin of Moscow, Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin of Brisk, Rabbi Ezriel Hildesheimer of Berlin, Rabbi Eliyahu Levinson of Krottingen, Rabbi Hillel Lifshitz of Suwalk, Rabbi Eliyohu Chaim Meisels of Lodz, Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor of Kovno, and Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Vilna.

A delegation of congregational leaders was dispatched to Europe to consult with leading rabbis. Rabbi Joseph’s name was repeatedly suggested.

After much deliberation, an offer was made to and accepted by Rabbi Joseph. The invitation was from fifteen leading New York City congregations to serve as the accredited chief rabbi of New York City. Rabbi Joseph was offered annual remuneration of $2,500, a princely sum in those days; a large apartment; and the allegiance of most of America’s observant congregations. In addition, Rabbi Joseph was presented with $5,000 as a signing bonus to settle debts he had personally incurred on behalf of indigent individuals he privately sustained.

* * * * *

Rabbi Jacob Joseph was born in Krozhe, a province of Kovno. He studied at the yeshiva in Volozhin under Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin and in Kovna under Rabbi Yisroel Salanter. After teaching in Slabodka, Rabbi Joseph, a brilliant Talmudist, was elected rav of Vilon (1868), Yurburg (1870), and Zhagovy before becoming maggid and acting rav of Vilna in 1883. He authored the sefer L’beis Yaakov, published in 1888 in Vilna.

On Shabbos Maatos-Maasei, July 7, 1888, the trans-Atlantic ship Allaire docked at Hoboken, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. After Havdalah, at approximately 10 p.m., the chief rabbi was taken to a nearby hotel. The leaders of the appointing congregations and more than 100,000 people crowded the streets for an opportunity to catch a glimpse of him. Hoboken had never before seen such a large crowd.

The chief rabbi delivered his first public speech in New York on Shabbos Nachamu, July 28. The beis medrash was filled to capacity and tens of thousands stood outside. Police were there for crowd control.

Rabbi Joseph, sadly, was accorded great honor only twice during his tenure as chief rabbi. When he first arrived in 1888 he was heralded as an ecclesiastical giant by The New York Times. New York City newspapers continued for months to report on the huge crowds he drew for his Shabbos sermons – often in the tens of thousands.

In his brave attempts to organize kashrus, Rabbi Joseph waged war with unlearned poultry business owners who were quite pleased with the low level of kosher supervision they were happily and very profitably providing. Rabbi Joseph was unable to persuade his congregations to pay the salaries of the kosher supervisors he appointed. So he imposed a one cent per-pound surcharge only on kosher poultry. This ignited the wrath of “kosher” butchers. The populace, as a consequence, was influenced to turn against Rabbi Joseph.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/my-machberes/my-machberes-25/2012/07/11/

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