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January 21, 2017 / 23 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘LIFE’

Life Chronicles

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

Where to begin?  I am sitting here in a state of disbelief at what the yeshiva system has inflicted on my family, most of all, the damage and irreparable branding they have inflicted on my son.  I am and have always been deeply involved with my children’s upbringing, education and middos development.  I am in touch with teachers and rabbeim on a regular basis, asking them to call me at the first sign of trouble, so that I can get the child in question the help and support he or she needs to stay on track.  So, you can imagine my deep disappointment and pain at what we endured when we took our son for a farher at the high school which his two older brothers attended.

Our older two boys are bright, outgoing kids, maintain good grades, are respectful and get their work done.  So, when they went for their high school entrance exams, they were readily accepted and I was proud that they were attending my alma mater.  When our son “Simcha” entered eighth grade, I arranged for his farher after being told by his rabbeim that he was ready.  To be frank, truthful and brutally objective, Simcha is a wonderful young man, a baal derech eretz and the first one to give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, but scholastically he is a bit low in the attention/comprehension department.  However, with the support of tutors and teachers, it appeared to us that he was going to follow his brothers into the high school.

We arrived for the interview, thanked my old rabbeim and we began. And ended. Every question asked of Simcha was met with a blank look and silence.  When asked what he had prepared, Simcha took out a sefer and began to read. I asked Simcha what he had been learning with his rebbe in preparation for this meeting and seeing the fear and dread of failure overtake the boy, I knew all was lost. Simcha said that he and his rebbe had worked on kriya and nothing more.

I realized in that moment, that my son had been set up for failure from his early grades, because it was more convenient for mechanchim to concentrate on the learners than waste effort on the weaker ones.  That it was easier for them to feed us lies than to tell us the truth we demanded, so that we could pick up the task they obviously were not willing to attend to.  In essence, they sacrificed my child for almost eight years so that the yeshivah could pay for the new building construction, the dinners and the recognition they received.  In that moment of embarrassment in front of my old mechanchim and the fierce hurt for my son, the reality was unbearable.  How could they do this to a child, to parents who were always asking for the truth in order to help? We left dejected, defeated and devoid of hope.

The letter of rejection came five days later with the explanation that “…the Yeshiva, in it’s search for only those who wish to excel, regretfully informs you that your son does not meet those standards.”

It is too late to apply to other yeshivos without exposing his rejection and having them realize that they are not our first choice. The bitter truth is that the destruction of this child is ongoing with each interview, even though I make clear that every child matures differently and comes into his own at a different time.

Genius is a gift given to a small number of human beings, is that a reason to cast out those who are otherwise good, beautiful, decent, respectful and willing to learn if they are given the right tools and teachers.  Would Rabi Akiva stand any chance of being accepted in any of today’s prestigious Torah institutions because he couldn’t even read?

I am sorry for sounding so bitter and acerbic but I know what Simcha is capable of, he has shown himself a determined tenacious young man who preservers. All he needs is the right encouragement, the support of people who believe in the human spirit and the exceptional drive of his character to succeed – he already has the will of Rabi Akiva.



Dear Friend,

Your letter is timely and carries much truth.  I know that there are many readers who will see themselves and their children in the words of your letter, which I hope will open up the eyes of our rabbeim and mechanchim. I hope that there are at least a handful of them reading this column who will agree that we can’t neglect students simply because they are not scholastic geniuses.

It warms my heart to hear how great your love is for your children, and for Simcha in particular. I have known many Simchas during my years as a teacher, children that have been earmarked as floaters, dreamers, sleepers and, worst of all, as potential failures.  These notations were either added on information supplied by the prior teacher or based on other evaluation.  In speaking with the parents of these children, many of whom were completely in the dark about how there children had been labeled, I came to understand that many underachievers respond to different stimuli, and once the proper impetus is supplied they bloom. All it takes a devoted teacher, a supportive school and a cumulative effort.  Long story short, many of those failures are now doctors, lawyers and two are well known judges.

Yes, it takes a lot of work, devotion to duty and trust. No one is born a failure, as the Vilna Gaon said, “Vil nor, kenst du zine a Gaon,” all it takes is a lot of effort and sometimes different teaching methods.

A doctor must take a oath to do no harm, a lawyer takes an oath to uphold law and justice, should not a teacher/rebbe be required to do the same when he or she undertakes to teach and shape the minds of our precious children? Sadly, there is no insurance policy parents can take out that will protect their children from neglect, indifference or outright destruction, however, with strong family support, unconditional love and a steady diet of “you can do it,” will give them a fighting chance.

I wish Simcha well and was glad to hear from you just as we went to press that he was accepted in a wonderful yeshiva whose administration really cares about the mind, body and spirit of every Jewish child. I know too that Rabi Akivah, along with the Vilna Gaon are smiling down on him.

Rachel Bluth

Discharged Lone Soldiers: You Chose the Thug Life

Monday, January 9th, 2017

When people hear that you’re a lone soldier, the shocked O’s on their lips are almost always accompanied with the classic string of praises. You know what I’m talking about. The “You’re so brave!” “I could never just leave my family like that!” or “It must be soooo hard!” But what they don’t know, and you probably won’t tell them (because they don’t really want to hear it), is how good the lone soldier life really is. Lone soldier life= Thug Life. Allow me to explain.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to belittle the whole you left your family, friends and everything you once knew to join a foreign army for idealistic reasons – but I would like to point out that we don’t have it so bad. From the day you arrive at the recruitment office and put on those army greens, you are IDF property. This means that it’s in the army’s best interest to put a roof over your head, feed you, clothe you and meet all of your basic needs. The IDF is kind of like a womb. You have everything you need in a safe little place, until you’re pushed out of your comfort zone and the world gives you a nice slap on the… Say bye-bye to free living accommodations, money for groceries, gift cards on holidays, a steady salary straight to your bank account every month, financial help and the many other millions of benefits you get for just being a little chayal/et alone in this country.

But don’t worry, the thug life doesn’t end when you peace out of the army. Israel knows how hard it is for a lone soldier to go from the comforting arms of the IDF into hardcore Israeli civilian life. The Holy Land has got your back. Along with the basic benefits that every discharged soldier in Israel gets ($$$$$$), there are many added benefits for lone soldiers.

First of all, before you even cut your choger (army ID), as a lone soldier it is your right to attend a one-week course that coaches you through the transition to civilian life This course is extremely educational because it explains things you never had to worry about, as the army was taking care of them for you. Health care, property taxes, education, welfare – these are all basic things that every citizen should have some knowledge about in his or her prospective country. Especially if he or she are immigrants who moved to said country alone (cough, cough).

During this course you also learn about all of your rights as a discharged lone soldier – some of which include: a scholarship of 1,000-1,500 shekel to complete your high school degree (GED); a one-time loan for living, studies, getting married, medical care, opening up a business or special circumstances; scholarships to help pay for a psychometry course; psychometry and application fees to universities waved and many different scholarship options to help pay for your BA or MA.

There are also many nonprofit organizations that were created specifically to help discharged lone soldiers. The “Wings Program,” for example, is committed to helping discharged lone soldiers find careers that are fitting for them. It offers professional guidance with a personal advisor who you can meet with you for up to two years following your release. If a lone soldier is looking into what academic studies or career to pursue, it offers free diagnostic testing that usually could cost hundreds of shekels. It offers help with resume building and financial coaching and has a Big Brother/Big Sister organization for mentoring. There is also the option for lone soldiers to be in contact with volunteers from the Israel Rotary club for anything from discounts on furniture to internships. Another foundation, the HESEG Foundation, provides the opportunity to apply for a full academic scholarship as well as paid living expenses.

Basically, Israel is doing everything in its power to help you fulfill your dreams and succeed in everything and anything you pursue after the army. So don’t fear this new weird phase of being a citizen and actually making adult decisions for yourself. Embrace this new stage, because when you chose to volunteer for the IDF, you chose the thug life for life.



Helpful Links:






Deena Felsenthal

Life Chronicles

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I am absolutely horrified at what has become the norm for Chanukah.  I don’t know when or how this terrible phenomenon took hold but it certainly has become the way of the world.  I am a grandmother to fifteen grandchildren, blee eyin horah, and I could not buy even one of the gifts the children put on their wish lists, let alone fifteen – Ipads, tablets, computers. video game consoles, who can afford these things?

My grown children say I’m old fashioned, not with the times and that I’ve lost touch with what is important today.  Can they be right?  Can values and traditions change so radically with the passing of time?

Up until five or six years ago, when my older grandchildren started a new school, I would look forward to spending time with them on Chanukah.  Two of my adult children had moved away for parnassah reason, so it would be Chanukah and Pesach when our family would get together to celebrate and catch up.

My late husband would sit in his big chair and all the grandchildren would gather at his feet for the telling of the miracle of Chanukah.  My husband was a mesmerizing storyteller, his deep, resonant voice and animated hand gestures mentally painting a moving, animated historical event that captivated even the adults in the room. I could see the children’s lips moving as they silently mouthed his words, knowing them by heart but still enchanted by the story and its teller. After the story, my husband would call each child to him, from the youngest to the oldest and, placing his hands on their heads, he would bless them to be strong in their faith, loving in their hearts and grateful for the gifts Hashem has given us.  Each child received a special silver dollar and a gift he had made specifically for him or her. For the oldest boy, who loved trains, he crafted a beautiful and functioning locomotive from wood and pieces of metal; for one of the girls, we crafted a stunning jewelry cabinet and so on. He began working on these gifts the moment Chanukah ended to be ready for the next one.  And then he passed away and two of our kids moved away, and everything changed.

I tried my best to keep up his wonderful traditions by preparing the gifts for the first Chanukah he would be absent, telling the story and doing all he did, but I failed miserably. Each subsequent year, a bit more of the old magic fell by the wayside, until all that was left of Chanukah was request for electronic gifts, some token latkes, a peck on the cheek and goodbye. This year was the worst of all, not only did they not come for the four days that they customarily did, the older grandchildren barely acknowledged me at all and when they departed they left the gifts I had bought for them behind because they were not what they wanted.

I am not a youngster anymore.  I still work part-time to subsidize my social security checks so I can pay my monthly bills and help out one son who is incapacitated.  My heart breaks for the yesterday that seems to have vanished along with my beloved husband.  Is there any chance that there is something I can still do to salvage the unity and togetherness that is quickly disappearing from my family?



Dear Friend,

Your sadness is palpable and I can feel your anguish coming through with each word. Many of us have reached an age where it seems as if the grandchildren have outgrown their need for us and replaced us with advertised needs, momentary pleasures and immature values.

What can I say, but that the fault lies with their parents who encourage and/or excuse this type of behavior. Distance is no excuse for severing a way of life and connections with beloved family members.  These should be kept alive and cultivated. Allowed to perish through neglect, branches of a family tree wither and fall away.

I must ask you: How often do you call your grandchildren, just to talk and show interest in what they are up to?  Show them that you are thinking of the, that you miss them and want to share in their growing-up adventures outside of the few moments you spend together over Chanukah and Pesach.

Instill in them the understanding that Grandma is not just a dollar sign, an old lady to hit on for gifts or a fossil who doesn’t understand the world they live in.  If you make the effort and are consistent and regular in your desire to be close to them, the feeling will take and a new and different relationship will evolve. Anything worth having is worth working for.

Sometimes a lot of effort is required to fix what is cracked before it is totally broken.

Don’t lament what was, work toward what can be.  Your husband created a legacy that your grandchildren still remember, but sadly, he is not here to carry it on. You have great treasures to offer them, though, you are a link between their past and their future.  And, that, dear friend, is priceless.

Rachel Bluth

Life Chronicles

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I am newly married (almost five months) and just learned I am pregnant.  This might be great news for other young couples, but for me, it is a jail sentence.

Not so long ago, I was a carefree, eighteen-year-old Bais Yaakov graduate, fresh out of school and just beginning the shidduch parsha.  I was the oldest of eight and lived a very sheltered and comfortable life.  I had many friends from school, shul and the surrounding neighborhood and was considered one of the popular girls, scoring high marks in school, always in the center of things and seen as a person with middos and talent.  It didn’t hurt that my parents were big baalei tzeddaka and my father a pillar of our community. My mother shopped for us at all the best stores and we lacked for nothing, so it was no surprise that as soon as I graduated, all the roshei yeshiva approached my father with shidduchim for me. Only the best bochrim would be good enough for me and it seems, that every yeshiva had only the best bochrim.  So, I began seeing suitors, but was not really into it.  After each meeting, I told my parents that I wasn’t ready to get married – I had only just graduated.  I wasn’t expected to go to work, as money was no object and, in truth, I wanted someone who would support me, not the other way around.  My father decided to take matters into his own hands, saying if I waited too long I would miss out on the “best boys.”  He also said that he wanted his future son-in-law to learn for a few years and would be willing to support us for that time. Always being an obedient and loving daughter, I gave in.

It was not before I was introduced to Zalmen.  I really didn’t have any feelings for him the first time we met, the conversation was anything but easy and I couldn’t wait for it to end – I just wanted to go back to being me.  But my father said to give him one more chance; he was the “cream de la cream.”  Little did I know that date number two would the lead to a l’chaim.  His parents came and my parents agreed to the shidduch. Bewildered, I realized I was now engaged to a total stranger and there was nothing I could do about it.  The very next day, preparations for the wedding began in earnest and I was caught up in the whirlwind of activity. Zalmen, to his credit, called every week before Shabbos from Eretz Yisroel, where we would live for two years so he could learn in a kollel in Yerushalayim, but the calls were strange and stilted.

The wedding was set to take place regardless of the tears I shed trying to tell my mother that I didn’t want to get married.  My mother tried to calm me down, saying she felt the same way when her parents arraigned her marriage to my father, and look how good that turned out.  Small solace for me, as I wasn’t quite sure I would be so lucky. Finally, I gave up, wiped away the tears and decided to do what was expected of me.

I don’t remember too much of the wedding, except being dragged down to the chuppah. In the Yichud Room, Zalmen made some small talk about how in ten days time, we would be on our way to our new life in Eretz Yisroel.  We spent our first night in a rented basement apartment and I can’t even express the shock and horror I felt at what I had to endure; I didn’t know that I would never be the same again.

Those ten days flew by in a matter of minutes and the next thing I knew, I was kissing my mother and siblings good-bye at the airport, just before boarding the plane that would take me away from everything I knew. When we arrived in Israel, there was an apartment waiting for us in Geula, close to my husband’s kollel, and a job waiting for me in a girl’s school.  I hated everything: my life, my parents for sending me away, and work.  When I called home in tears asking why they made me go so far away from home and why I had to work when my father said he would support us, the answer I got was that that this was what was expected of me and that I should change my thinking and everything would be better for me.

But it never got better.  I feel nothing for my husband and am happier when he is away from me. Now I find out I am expecting, shutting the door on my chances of ever going home again.  Here I am, stuck in a strange place where I know no one, married to a man I am beginning to realize I detest and will shortly have a child for whom to care while working to pay the bills.  My days are dark and filled with sadness – even davening to Hashem has taken on an empty, hollow meaning.

Then, I walked into the supermarket and met you; for this I am grateful. Your words helped to peeled away the heavy black cloud that encircles me and offered me hope that there is a chance I may yet find happiness.



Dear Friend,

I am grateful to be the vehicle by which you will find joy and peace of mind in your young life. Your story is one I have heard countless times, with variances in the details, but from both young men and women. They are either not ready to commit to marriage or have been brainwashed into believing that they must start off their married life in kollel.

I firmly believe that not every bocher is cut out to learn. I can’t tell you how many times I pass a yeshiva and see a group of young men smoking and shmoozing on the street curbs. Wouldn’t it be wiser and more of a chesed for roshei yeshiva to pick out the best boys who are really serious in their learning endeavors and let them sit and learn, increasing their stipend by the surplus that would be gained by weeding out those who are just wasting time?

In addition, not every girl is cut out for the struggle and sacrifice involved in kollel life. I can’t tell you how many sad and broken women started out with this misconceived vision only to find themselves locked into a life of sadness and regret.

My biggest bone of contention is with parents who cannot or will not recognize, for whatever reasons, their child’s angst about marriage at so young an age. For the most part, today’s eighteen year olds are soft and tender, much like fragile saplings that need more time to mature and bloom.  But we tend to repeat what we know and, as your mother pointed out, she too was subject to the same circumstances she placed you in, so she can’t see why you are so unhappy.

Young men are a different species, not as evolved as girls their own age, even by today’s standards. Not everyone is capable of doing what is expected of them and, throwing them into a union for which they are not ready, will cause great despair and sadness to one or both of the spouses. I’ve stopped counting the number of young daughters returning home to their parents with one or more children in tow because the marriage failed. It is time for our rabbinic leaders to do some heavy soul searching and find solutions to stem the tide of this paralyzing epidemic. Perhaps it is time to set differences aside and find some ways to keep families together. This is long overdue.

Rachel Bluth

Life Chronicles

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I am still in a state of shock and unable to think clearly.  For many months now, I suspected that my husband might be having an affair, but kept it to myself, not even mentioning it to my best friend as I was concerned she might accidentally tell someone.  Today, I am almost certain my suspicions are true. I saw his car parked outside the home of the woman with whom he is involved – and she may not be the only woman he has had an illicit relationship with.

Things have deteriorated between us over the last five or six years; we have not been intimate in two years.  We have been married for almost eighteen years and have four children. When we married, my husband was just entering medical school and I worked full time to support our family.  We were happy and hopeful that once he got into a medical practice, life would become easier and I could stop working and tend to the children and the home. That never happened because of his student loans and the malpractice insurance he needed once he went into practice for himself.  As it turned out the debts kept mounting, so he decided it was better for him to work in a medical group.

He began putting in long hours, left early in the morning to get ready for surgical procedures and often came home late at night.  The only time the kids and I got to see him for any length of time was on Shabbos and most of that was spent sleeping.  So, slowly but surely, the well of words dried up, and any conversation we did have had to do with decisions about the kids, finances, etc. I continued working and filling my days with the needs of our children, attending their graduations and plays, school presentations and PTA meetings as if I was a single parent, which in essence I was.

We became estranged from each other without a single fight, and what is not used or becomes neglected, simply dies. He stopped looking for me and I stopped needing him in that way.  In fact, my life was so full and busy I didn’t miss him at all.

Then, one day I bumped into a friend who davens in our shul. It seemed to me that she had something on her mind. After a moment, she took a deep breath and told me that she had spotted my husband having dinner at another restaurant across town with a woman and that it seemed far from a business meeting.  It looked extremely intimate.  She was sorry to be the one to tell me but felt that I should know. I was dumb struck, not knowing what to say, but nodded my head in thanks as she departed.

Maybe it was an innocent thing, maybe this friend was reading more into it than was there. I tried to excuse it away, but had to find out for sure. That night, after my husband was asleep, I went into his office and checked his phone and calendar.  And there it was, countless phone calls to and from the same number, documented meeting places and one constant address. However, I still wasn’t sure.

So, last night, when he said he had a business meeting till late, I parked my car a few doors down from the address and waited. Two hours later, he emerged and turned to embrace the woman in the doorway and then got in his car to drive home.

Here I sit, now, proof in hand.  What do I do?  How can I ever trust him or even be with him in the same room?  In all the years that we were not intimate with each other, never once did I even look at another man.  I never thought of being with anyone else.  Now this.  All I can think of right now is divorce.


 Dear Friend,

At face value, divorce sounds about right, and in your state of mind, it is a perfectly logical solution.  But the law of the land states that every man is innocent until proven guilty, even though he sure seems to be. There is also the issue of how you play into this situation.  Why did you stop needing him and who pushed whom away and out of the picture making room for another? I don’t mean to come off sounding cruel or insensitive; I can only imagine the shock and the hurt you felt discovering you had been displaced and replaced, but after all those years of sterile conversation at best and no communication at all, things like this will happen.

Don’t get me wrong and I am in no way defending, excusing or condoning his actions, he is 100% wrong! What I do want to point out is that you realized somewhere along the way that your husband was “missing in action.” You had to be cognizant of the fact that you two had stopped being together, so why didn’t you question him back then?  When you are a couple, one or the other has to find the wherewithal to open the channel of dialog so that the marriage doesn’t fall off track.

They don’t hand out any awards for one spouse remaining celibate while the other philanders.  There is little salvation in sneaking after your husband to catch him in the act.  You say you can never trust him again or be with him in the same room, so that answers your question – unless you still love him just enough to try and see if there’s anything to salvage in your marriage.

Do you still feel anything for this man?  If the answer is yes, then try to see if the two of you can find a way to work things out.  It’s worth a try.  But first you have to confront him and give him a chance to say his piece.  Don’t be hasty and decide while you are still new to the throes of shock and pain. Divorce will always be an option, but should only come after some soul searching and the ability to make the choice based on solid common sense and introspection.

Should your husband agree to couples counseling in his desire to save the marriage, it would be wise to try it and see if there is anything to be saved.  Whatever you do, don’t ever have to look back with regret that you did something in haste and without enough time and thought.  Please contact me should you want to talk further.

Rachel Bluth

Run For Your Life

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

On a sunny, mild weather break following days of torrential rainfall, sneakered, 28 year-old Tomer Ditor set out from his home in Rosh Tzurim, Gush Etzion for a run. His route took him from the gate of Rosh Tzurim down the newly and partially constructed pedestrian path built in memory of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad, the three boys who were murdered in the summer of 2014.

Where the path ends, Tomer began running on the side of the road which leads to the nearby community of Alon Shevut, but his destination was not Alon Shevut. He made a left onto a dirt road known as Derech Avot, “The Path of the Patriarchs,” which leads to the community of Neve Daniel. Tomer ran on the road, past ancient Roman road markers and past the two ancient mikvaot – one for men and one for women – which were used by Jews going on aliyat haregel to the Beit Hamikdash.

Not wanting to be encumbered by extra weight, Tomer carried no water, no cell phone and no pistol. Tomer ran to the end of Derech Avot. As Tomer turned around for the continuation of his run, he noticed an Arab loitering. Tomer told himself that he has to keep an eye on the Arab. A short while later the Arab ran up to Tomer, brandishing a knife. Tomer struggled with the Arab with all of his might. The attacker managed to stab Tomer on the right side of his head, on his neck and on his left hand, whereupon the assailant fled back to the nearby Arab village of Nachlin.

A jogger came by and saw bleeding Tomer. The runner called for an ambulance. Tomer was conscious the entire time. The ambulance arrived, and the volunteer paramedic was none other than Dror Shusheim, a neighbor of Tomer’s family.

When Tomer’s mother Margolit was called, one can imagine the surge of adrenalin that raced within her and the trembling that she felt. She related to me, “Tomer spoke to me and said that he is O.K. But I was still very worried. When Dror Shusheim described Tomer’s medical status, it somewhat lessened my deep concern.”

Margolit is so thankful to Hashem that the wounds were of a light nature. She shudders to think what could have been. Perhaps zechut avot on Derech Avot is what saved Tomer’s life.

Tomer’s sister Orit found out about the terrorist attack when she called home to ask if her parents would be going to Sharei Tzedek Hospital. Orit’s intention was to see if she could come with her parents to see the baby boy who had been born early that morning to her brother Elad and his wife Bat El. Upon receiving the call from Orit, Margolit thought that her daughter had already been informed about the attack and was calling about visiting Tomer. Life certainly has its twists and turns!

The first time I spoke to Margolit after the terrorist attack, I asked her if a social worker had approached Tomer to help him deal with all of the emotional issues surrounding the attack. Margolit explained, “Three social workers spoke to Tomer – one from the hospital, one from National Insurance and one from Ariel University where Tomer is studying urban engineering.” Tomer seems to be dealing well with the murder attempt. (Symptoms of Post Trauma Stress Disorder usually begin within three months of a traumatic incident, but sometimes they start years later. His family and friends need to be aware of this possibility and keep their eyes open for symptoms.)

Tomer was hospitalized for one day and then discharged with instructions to rest at home. I visited Tomer that erev Shabbot, three days after the attempt on his life. His bandaged hand was apparent and I asked him where his other wounds are. He showed me the bandage on his neck and the wound to the side of his head.

That same erev Shabbot there was a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) morning run on Derech Avot with scores of runners participating. The event was called “We will not stop running on Derech Avos.” People were urged to come with a smile. Tomer ran holding an Israeli flag. His family was present as observers. He and the other runners ran past the place where he had struggled for his life.

Several days later I attended the brit milah of Tomer’s nephew. I was thrilled to see Tomer taking an active role as photographer. baruch Hashem, his left hand no longer sported a white bandage, the side of his face looked a lot better and if he could be wearing a camera strap around his neck than I surmised that his neck wound must have healed. After the brit I approached Tomer to wish him a mazel tov. I asked him, ”How are you feeling?” He answered, “I am feeling well.”

The infant was given the name Eitan Yisrael. Eitan means “strong,” “steadfast,” “permanent.” For me, the name encapsulates the idea that we must daven that Am Yisrael have emuna and be strong and unyielding in her present fight for survival against enemies who wish that we cease to exist. May Hashem bring us to victory over evil. May we walk, run and travel safely in our land.

P.S. Soon afterwards Tomer became engaged. The chuppah was a very emotional one for those who knew about the attempt to murder him because he is a Jew. And a proud one at that!

Adina Hershberg

Harold Jacobs: A Life Of Service – An Interview with Paul Jacobs, Son of a Legendary Community Leader

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

When Orthodox Jews think of leaders, they generally call to mind various rabbinic figures. Without devoted laymen, though, these rabbis could arguably accomplish little. One of the leading laymen of the previous generation, Harold Jacobs (1912-1995), is the subject of a recently published biography, “Building Orthodox Judaism in America: The Life and Legacy of Harold M. Jacobs” by Dr. Rafael Medoff.

Jacobs, at various points in his life, served as president of the Orthodox Union, president of the National Council of Young Israel, president of the Crown Heights Yeshiva, president of the Young Israel of Eastern Parkway, and chairman of New York City’s Board of Higher Education.

The Jewish Press spoke with Paul Jacobs, one of Harold Jacobs’s sons, to learn more about this active personality and the times in which he lived. Jacobs is president of Jacobs Capital Limited and Precision Equities, Inc.


The Jewish Press: Your father grew up in Williamsburg and was among the first students of Torah Vodaath. Why did his parents send him to yeshiva at a time when 99 percent of Orthodox Jews were sending their children to public school?  

Jacobs: My grandmother, a”h, had the good fortune to be the daughter and granddaughter of shochtim who had butcher shops on the Lower East Side that catered to those who wanted to be absolutely sure their butcher was reliable. My grandmother’s grandfather, Pinchus Aharon Bruder, was the only shochet from whom Rabbi Jacob Joseph – New York short-lived “chief rabbi” – bought his meat.

Throughout her life, my grandmother was totally unyielding when it came to halacha – so much so that she cut off almost all communication with family members who were no longer frum so that her children wouldn’t be influenced. Today, of course, when we baruch Hashem have yeshivas, mikvehs, shuls, etc., we are much more understanding and comfortable with our non-frum relatives.

Your father also attended Camps Argyle and Delawaxen, America’s first kosher overnight camps. Many readers may be surprised to learn that Orthodox overnight camps existed so long ago. What were they like?

I have limited information about them other than some pictures taken in the late 1920s. My father mentioned, though, that the camps were very primitive by today’s standards. For example, they didn’t have bunks; they slept in tents.

In Building Orthodox Judaism in America, Dr. Medoff mentions an interesting berachah your great-great-grandfather received from the Sanzer Rebbe, the Divrei Chayim. What was this berachah and what were the circumstances under which it was given?

The berachah was that his children would remain frum in America.

My great-great-grandparents were very upset that the Rebbe told them to go to “treifa” America. My great-great-grandmother, Brucha Bruder, cried profusely and was even ashamed to show her face in town. It was a big busha.

Needless to say, over the seven American generations in the 140 years since my great-great-grandparents landed in New York, there have, no doubt, been many dropouts, but baruch Hashem there are thousands of cousins who have remained frum.

Today, Crown Heights is known as a Lubavitch stronghold. But the Crown Heights in which your father lived and raised you was quite different. What was this now bygone Crown Heights like?

First of all, it was still somewhat undeveloped. My father told me he remembered farms on Empire Boulevard. Also, it was considered somewhat “out” from the main Jewish communities in Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, Harlem, etc. As difficult as it is to believe, my grandparents moved to Crown Heights to get away from anti-Semitism in Williamsburg. In any event, the community was solidly what today would be called Modern Orthodox. So were Boro Park and Flatbush.

As a child you attended the Crown Heights Yeshiva, where your father was president from 1953-1968. What was this yeshiva like?

It was one of the first day schools in America. It was co-ed, and had a truly exceptional curriculum and faculty in both kodesh and chol. It produced hundreds of balanced young people who have thrived in all walks of life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but many of my classmates did not come from shomer Shabbos homes and became frum because of the Crown Heights Yeshiva.

The school was very strict, and we feared both Rabbi Baumol, z”l, the principal, and Mrs. Singer, a”h, the English principal. But this permitted us to learn and grow up in a disciplined way.

Your father was also president of the Young Israel of Eastern Parkway, where you often davened on Shabbos. What was this shul like?

It was exceptional and, as per the aim of the Young Israel movement, it managed to blend our Americanism with our Yiddishkeit. I should mention that, in those days, the lines between Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews were not as drawn as they are today. The Conservative movement was not a reaction to Orthodoxy; it was meant as a foil to counteract Reform and was much more halachic than it is today. Socially, therefore, many of the congregants of Conservative synagogues, such as the Brooklyn Jewish Center, which was also on Eastern Parkway, and Orthodox shuls, such as the Young Israel of Eastern Parkway, were almost indistinguishable. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for a Young Israel member to go to work after shul in the 1930s and 1940s.

You lived on President Street, two doors down from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Did your father, or you, have any interactions with him?

Like so many others, my father felt the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, was an extraordinary person and one of the preeminent leaders of our time. He and the Lubavitcher Rebbe were well acquainted. First of all, my father chaired at least two of the annual Lubavitch dinners. They would also occasionally correspond on community matters. For example, my father explored the possibility of merging the OU and NCYI and, in one letter, the Rebbe argued against it for several reasons, among them that “kinas sofrim marbeh chochma” – competition breeds excellence.

During elections, my father would bring various candidates to meet the Rebbe, particularly to farbrengens. For example, when his good friend Abe Beame ran for mayor and my father was his campaign finance chair, they were taken to meet the Rebbe in the middle of a farbrengen. This, of course, was great politicking for Abe Beame.

Finally, every year thousands of Lubavitcher chassidim would escort the Rebbe from his house on President Street to Prospect Park for tashlich. I remember one occasion when my father and I were standing on the sidewalk watching the Rebbe walking in the middle of President Street with thousands of chassidim singing behind him. At one point, the Rebbe noticed us standing on the sidewalk and, to the amazement of the chassidim, walked over to wish a Good Yom Tov to my father. It was a bit surrealistic, to say the least.

When did the Jewish character of Crown Heights change?

The first change occurred in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when Crown Heights was predominately Reform and Conservative, and Modern Orthodox Jews started to relocate there and founded Orthodox shuls and schools. The second change occurred during the war years and after when escapees from the fires of Europe arrived and introduced what we call today haredi influences and institutions.

Elliot Resnick

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/harold-jacobs-a-life-of-service-an-interview-with-paul-jacobs-son-of-a-legendary-community-leader/2016/12/14/

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