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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Weiss’

Golden Hues

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Gazing wistfully through my window at the remaining leaves still clinging to the young maple tree on our lawn, I am reminded of the golden hues that come to warm the stark cold nights in the dead of winter – those of the Chanukah flames. Just when we desperately yearn for an infusion of warmth, Chanukah comes around to reassure us that our light is never extinguished, that the flame in our soul is eternal, and that from darkness comes light.

* * * * *

Life was once simple yet sweet. In the short days of winter, the boys hardly got to see daylight. In the cheder of their rebbe’s basement, the only source of light was a candle lantern, its flame casting a constantly moving shadow along the walls.

The young minds vacillated between that shadow and their aging rebbe’s gravelly voice. They eyed his wrinkled face with childish curiosity but were at the same time enthralled by his melodic tales of the Chumash. Old time stories came to life as each biblical segment, from the beginning of time, unfolded.

And then it was Chanukah. The boys could hardly wait to get home to bask in the warmth and light of the holiday, feast on scrumptious potato latkes, and, best of all, receive their Chanukah gelt.

It didn’t take little Yaakov long to figure out how he would spend his money. While his siblings spoke of tangible items, Yaakov had grander plans. He kept envisioning his rebbe’s gaunt and yellow face and long, bony fingers grasping the warm glass of golden-colored tea he would sip throughout the day, taking tiny bites out of one sugar cube on the side.

Yaakov imagined his rebbe tossing two cubes of sugar into his tea and the enjoyment he would derive from its sweetness. His Chanukah gelt stretched far enough to buy the rebbe a bag of sugar as a Chanukah gift.

“Rebbe!” cried Yaakov excitedly. “Here’s my Chanukah present for you!”

Each morning he happily observed the rebbe sweeten his tea with two sugar cubes. The clang of the mixing spoon hitting the sugar against the glass was music to little Yaakov’s ears.

But his euphoria was short lived; the rebbe soon reverted to his old habit of sipping unsweetened tea and taking miniscule bites of one sugar cube on the side. Yaakov was crestfallen and convinced himself that someone had stolen the bag of sugar cubes.

But the rebbe soon set his mind at ease; he had given the sugar to his impoverished neighbor whose wife had just had a baby and was in greater need of a sweet glass of tea. The rebbe, moreover, emphasized that the sugar and the mitzvah belonged to Yaakov.

Such was the purity of the “simple” Jews (the poshuter Yidden) of days past.

R. Yaakov Tovia, z”l, must have taken a cue from the rebbe, for whenever he was seen enjoying his glass of tea (always a glass, never a cup), he would be nibbling from a single sugar cube on the side.

* * * * *

 

The tzaddik Reb Moshe Leib Sassover, widely known as an ohev Yisrael, constantly sought to help a fellow Jew in distress.

To the disillusionment of his chassidim in Sassov, Reb Moshe Leib once traveled with his gabbai to the city of Brody where he planned to spend the festival of Chanukah. Prominent among the inhabitants of Brody who came to beseech the tzaddik for a blessing was the city’s affluent noblewoman, Riva’le Parness, who enjoined the tzaddik to intervene on her sick daughter’s behalf for a speedy recovery.

Responded the rebbe, “While it is within my power to pray for one’s physical state of health, the healing of the soul is far more complex the neshamah that self-inflicts the damage must also do the repair.”

The tzaddik’s words were lost on the woman; she cried bitterly, “I am ready to pay you anything – my entire fortune is yours if only you will see to my daughter’s healing!”

While Reb Moshe Leib was not in the habit of soliciting funds for his kindness, he made a startling request of the woman standing before him. “You have a menorah in your home that you inherited from your father. Bring it to me so that I may use it.”

Riva’le Parness rushed to fulfill the rebbe’s request and even insisted that the menorah was his to keep in exchange for his blessing.

Why the tzaddik would opt to light a candelabrum that belonged to Riva’le Parness when he had his own – a cherished gift from his rebbe, Reb Shmelke of Nikolsberg – stumped his chassidim.

At the lighting of the first Chanukah candle, the Sassover Rebbe was deeply engrossed in the holinessof the moment. After an emotional rendition of yoshev bassesser elyon, the tzaddik launched into a discourse of the “sacredness of the lights that we are not permitted to make ordinary use of…”

“The flames are neshamos,” he expounded, “as the verse in Mishlei says, ‘the soul of man is the candle of God’ – yet occasionally a soul remains culpable for his lapse in making use of the Chanukah lights. In such circumstance he attains his tikkun (rectification) by replacing that which he made use of.”

The Sassover Rebbe’s d’var Torah mystified his chassidim who were furthermore baffled when during the singing of Maoz Tzur the rebbe called on the indigent Yechiel Goldschmidt to approach him.

“What do you think of this Chanukah candelabrum?” asked the rebbe of the hapless Yechiel. “Take it, it’s yours. Riva’le Parness gave it to me as a gift, and I gift it to you.”

The tzaddik faced his questioning chassidim and regaled them with the following narrative:

R. Yechiel Tzoref, a goldsmith by trade, had been an ardent follower of the chassidic master Reb Zushe of Anipoli. Reb Zushe had a longstanding tradition of distributing blessed silver coins to his devotees, who would in turn sell them at profit. R. Yechiel was, however, an exception; he refused to part with nary a one of his silver coins, which he hid for safekeeping.

Having amassed a sizeable collection, R. Yechiel had them melted down and, as a skilled craftsman in his own right, molded a magnificent Chanukah candelabrum out of the pure liquefied silver.

His wondrous artifact left everyone in awe. One admirer, the prosperous R. Nachum Parness, was so taken by the masterwork that he proposed a lucrative offer for its ownership.

R. Yechiel, though, was unyielding; he would never consider selling the precious candelabrum made of the blessed coins he had accumulated over the years.

In time, R. Yechiel made a shidduch for his daughter and pledged a tidy sum as dowry for the privilege of acquiring an outstanding young man as a son-in-law. When he eventually found himself unable to make good on his commitment, he turned to the wealthy R. Nachum for an interim loan.

“Instead of borrowing an amount that you will be unable to repay, I’ll make you a deal,” submitted R. Nachum. “I will grant you the entire sum gratis – for the Chanukah candelabrum you fashioned of R. Zushe’s blessed coins.”

With a broken heart, R. Yechiel opted for a virtuous son-in-law – reasoning that a talmid chacham was worth his weight in gold (or silver, in this instance) – and the deal was done.

When R. Nachum Parness left for the Olam Ha’Emes (the World of Truth) and his earthly deeds were taken into account, his great mitzvah of hachnassas kallah was about to be celebrated as his life’s crowning achievement – but the deed was judged to be tarnished, for in the process of carrying it out, R. Nachum, blinded by his craving, had stripped R. Yechiel of his most prized possession.

At this point in his narrative, the Sassover Tzaddik interjected somberly, “Every mitzvah generates a malach [angel], but a mitzvah with a flaw creates an angel with a flaw. And this particular mitzvah produced a malach who was blind.

“This malach who was to usher R. Nachum to Gan Eden couldn’t see his way clear to the gates and wandered about in search of them.”

Reb Moshe Leib Sassover elucidated to his chassidim that his act of bentching Chanukah licht on this specific candelabrum had freed the soul of R. Nachum from its aimless roving. But the tikkun was incomplete until the tzaddik took the Chanukah candelabrum from Riva’le Parness (who had inherited it from her father, R. Nachum Parness) and returned it to its rightful heir, R. Yechiel Goldschmidt, the grandson of R. Yechiel Tzoref.

The sightless angel was suddenly able to see, and the neshamah in his charge was promptly escorted to its eternal rest in Gan Eden.

R. Yaakov Tovia, z”l, never related to the “R. Nachums” around him; his earthly indulgences were modest ones, until the very end: Savoring a soothing glass of tea, toiling contentedly in his self-cultivated garden, getting his newest great-grandson to smile. He was utterly oblivious to the hubbub of the human race perpetually chasing grandiose dreams of acquiring more, bigger, and better.

The only time R. Yaakov Tovia rushed was to make minyan or to make certain the Bais Medrash was orderly, as befits a House of God.

He lent chunks of his retirement savings to others down on their luck, declining to take action when the loans were defaulted on: “Why should I make them feel worse than they already do?”

* * * * *

 

A young chassid had chronicled his unique expedition with some elderly chassidim to the aged Rizhiner Rebbe for Chanukah. One of the group had stood out among the rest; it was said that the rebbe himself referred to R. Nachman’tche as a “Cossack for whom the yetzer hara trembles like a fish!”

They all were thrilled at the prospect of spending Chanukah with their revered rebbe, but the meld of joyfulness and spirituality that radiated from R. Nachman’tche affected everyone around him – that was, until they were but a mile short of Sadigura and R. Nachman’tche was gripped by a sudden fever and massive headache that left him reeling. The distraught chassidim urged their wagon driver to hurry.

The young chassid chosen to notify the Holy Rizhiner of the perilous state of the beloved elder chassid was awestruck at the rebbe’s reaction. “Nachman in a perilous state? Never! He is full of mitzvos, ma’asim tovim and emunas tzaddikim. He need not fear.”

The Rizhiner Tzaddik then added that the Benevolent One “can provide the remedy.” Can provide? This was a rebbe who wasted no words. “God will take pity” meant that the sick one would be healed; “God should help” implied no hope. But at the rebbe’s “Hashem can help,” the chassidim felt faint.

The remark about R. Nachman’tche not being in a perilous state was easy enough to interpret: The elder chassid had ample provisions for his journey to the hereafter and did not need to fear the Yom HaDin (his day of reckoning on the other side).

Upon the young chassid’s return from the Holy Rizhiner, R. Nachman’tche was eager to know what his rebbe had said. But even before he could be given a report, the bedridden chassid appealed to them to remember him to the tzaddik and to drink a lechayim to his soul before his interment.

When R. Nachman’tche was finally told that the rebbe had said that he had nothing to fear, a smile spread across his pallid face and he breathed his last on erev Chanukah.

As the tzaddik stood unmoving in front of his large, magnificent menorah, lit shamesh candle in hand, it was apparent to his chassidim that their rebbe’s heart was on fire. With a sigh emerging from the depth of his being, he began the blessing.

All eyes were closed, all ears poised to catch every syllable enunciated by the holy Rizhiner. “Lehadlik ner shel ” A hushed moment of silence reigned before the rebbe concluded the blessing with “Chanukah.”

The chassidim later learned that this first Chanukah flame had also served as a ner neshamah, a light for the departed soul of their beloved R. Nachman’tche, and that the rebbe had paused before pronouncing “Chanukah” in order to meditate on the blessing of “Lehadlik ner shel neshamah.”

When the Rizhiner Rebbe was updated on R. Nachman’s final moments, he declared repeatedly, “An elevated soul, an exalted soul!” and then, “He will find more peace than he had here ”

As per the rebbe’s stipulation, only the chassidim who had accompanied R. Nachman on their journey to Sadigura were to involve themselves with the preparations for his burial.

Having completed the appropriate purification and outfitting procedure, they drank a lechayim – but not before uncovering the deceased one’s face so that he could ascertain his last desire being carried out. Each of his travel mates wished him eternal tranquility alongside the old chassidim and tzaddikim he would find himself with in the next world.

The youngest chassid, fortified by the aura of emunah and the schnapps he had just swallowed, took the niftar’s hand and said, “Lechayim, Nachman Ben Reizel; don’t worry, brother, you are fortunate to be where you are; as the rebbe said, you will find true peace, and, by the way, he did you a good turn last night when he lit the first Chanukah light. Lechayim and don’t forget about us there.”

The young chassid would later insist the niftar’s face had lit up with a smile.

It was the morning of erev Chanukah one year ago that found R. Yaakov Tovia, z”l, sitting in his favorite living room chair, helped there by his only son. As the light of day was beginning to dawn, father and son recited the Shema prayer together, the elder in barely a whisper. Suddenly he reached for his son’s hand and gripped it in his own, breathed deeply – and relaxed his hold as he relinquished his pure neshamah to his Maker.

Remarkably, my father, R. Yaakov Tovia ben Boruch, z”l, departed this world the same way he’d lived his life: calmly, quietly, without fuss or commotion; simply with a purity of heart and a steadfast emunah in Hashem.

Tati, we know you won’t forget about us there…

May his memory be a blessing in the World to Come.

 

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press. She can be contacted at rachelw32@verizon.net.

The Hidden and The Unseen

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

It was no ordinary walk home on Yom Kippur night a year ago. The clear air was the kind lungs get high on. The moon’s bright essence in a star-studded sky lit my path along the familiar yet now deserted winding country road. Even the crickets’ rhythmic chirping seemed muted in the surrounding stillness.

Not a soul could be seen and no human sound heard – this was too sacred a time for people to be lingering about in animated conversation. Following the somber Kol Nidrei and Maariv prayers, families had gone home to their respective abodes and called it an early night. The day ahead, to be spent in fasting and prayer, would prove fatiguing enough.

The neighborhood shuls had concluded their services a while ago; ours was usually the last to empty out. In fact, I had left my husband behind with the small group of men who stayed on to recite Tehillim with their rebbe.

As I made my leisurely way, I communicated with my Maker. I thanked Him for having brought me thus far and beseeched Him to stay with us for the rest of our journey through life.

About halfway home and in deep introspection, I suddenly felt I had company. Instinctively I glanced to my right and came face to face with a deer that stood transfixed less than two feet away. Startled, to put it mildly, I managed an even-toned “Oh! Good Yom Tov!” and resumed my relaxed pace, leaving the animal looking more bewildered than I did.

In the past, those deer I had occasion to glimpse were the kind that gracefully sprinted away just as soon as they caught on that they were being watched. I also knew of the animal’s tendency to freeze when caught in a car’s headlights, but other than my white jacket and headdress, there were no bright lights on my person to mesmerize it – and yet it stood unmoving, eyeing me as I sauntered by.

Apart from my split-second twitch of panic, I was unruffled. After having put some safe distance between us, I glanced back and was quite surprised to find the deer had moved to the center of the road to get a better view of my receding form; you’d have thought that it had never before encountered a human being.

It dawned on me how often we believe we are alone and nobody is watching – and how we would feel and behave if we could discern eyes focused on our every move. The thought made me shudder, as though a cool wind had rippled through me.

* * * * *

 

What is there to say before You Who dwells in the heavens, and all that is hidden and unseen are to You known .”

The impact of these words (that precede the Al Cheit prayer in the Machzor) came to bear heavily upon a community in old Europe some 100 years ago

It was a rainy Erev Yom Kippur when the servant of the affluent and well-connected merchandiser Reb Mordechai came to the synagogue to drop off a massive white yahrzeit candle to burn for the duration of the somber day.

Without hesitation, Isaac the sexton gave it prominent placement in one of the copper candelabras that embellished the cantor’s lectern.

Soon an emissary of R. Sender, a well-to-do industrialist, arrived with a delivery of a smaller but still impressive yahrzeit candle, which the sexton placed on the other side of the cantor’s pulpit.

Before long, the door of the shul opened to reveal Zelda the almanah. The poor woman who was raising five young children alone also bore a yahrzeit candle, albeit one that was miniscule next to the two that had been brought earlier.

The weary-looking widow excused her lateness, explaining she had waited to sell her wares (a few shriveled onions) at the marketplace in order to afford the purchase of her own candle.

After briefly scanning the shul’s premises, Reb Isaac finally settled on a small, sand-filled wooden container in an unobtrusive corner, in which he inserted the small candle.

The Kol Nidrei service was conducted without incident, the town’s two illustrious residents flanking the Aron Kodesh as the sea of white clad figures swayed back and forth to the melodic chant of Reb Moshe the chazzan.

The following day brought a relentless driving rainfall, with intermittent bursts of thunder discernible through the walls of the old shul.

The sweet voice of Reb Moshe intoned the Unesaneh Tokef prayer (the soul-stirring supplication intrinsic to the High Holy Days). As he sang the words “It is true that You alone are the One who judges and remembers,” R. Mordechai’s yahrzeit candle inexplicably slid from the massive candelabra and hurtled wick first into the spit-kettle below.

A discomforting quietness overtook the bais medrash. When Reb Moshe resumed the haunting liturgy, his voice quivered with emotion. At the precise moment he concluded the words, “You inscribe their verdict,” a boom of thunder shook the rafters and an accompanying gust of wind wrenched loose the base of a window frame; the glass pane shattered and the wind whizzing through the interior of the bais medrash extinguished the flame of R. Sender’s yahrzeit candle.

Terror struck at the hearts of every congregant. By the end of the Mincha service, the darkness prevailing in the synagogue fostered even deeper feelings of remorse for past transgressions. The rav permitted a young child to carry the small unassuming wooden box that held the widow’s candle and to position it on the pulpit.

As per the congregation’s longstanding tradition, R. Mordechai was proffered the honor of leading the Neilah (closing) prayer. His hands shook as he wrapped himself in his tallis. The words emanating from his chalky lips were barely audible, his inexplicable demeanor plunging the congregants even further into the harrowing depths of despair and mystery.

The bone-chilling moment was still to come.

“Ashamnu” (we have been guilty), murmured R. Mordechai; “Bagadnu” (we have betrayed), he uttered; and hardly did he muster “Gazalnu” (we have stolen) when he raised glazed eyes to focus on the candle of Zelda the almanah and promptly collapsed, with the words “zei mir mochel ” (forgive me) on his lips – the last thought he would verbalize in this world.

Later that same night, motzei Yom Kippur, the sound of wailing sirens interrupted the sleep of the town’s citizens who ran into the streets in their nightclothes. The shocking news spread quickly: R. Sender’s house was burning and all of his property, comprising three lavish dwellings, was in danger of being consumed in the inferno. Thick black pillars of smoke covered the horizon as onlookers gasped and spoke in hushed whispers about the occurrences of that terrible night.

In the morning, the rav had a visitor. A barely coherent, disheveled figure asked that Zelda the almanah be sent for; he wished to ask her for mechila – forgiveness.

Mystified, the rav slowly extracted the details of what had precipitated the previous night’s baffling – and frightening – events.

R. Mendel, Zelda’s late husband, had been overseeing the welfare of his brother’s daughter, an orphan. The 300 rubles in his personal effects were earmarked for the purpose of marrying off his niece. When R. Mendel, a plasterer and painter by trade, had received an offer from the ministry to repair and paint the military barracks, he had turned to R. Sender for a loan of 500 rubles in order to secure the required labor and materials. R. Sender agreed to advance him this sum.

R. Mendel – taking R. Sender at his word – handed over the 300 rubles (belonging to his niece) to the general in charge of the job as a goodwill deposit. When R. Mordechai got wind of the profit-making deal, he convinced R. Sender to renege on his offer to R. Mendel, whereupon the two – R. Mordechai and R. Sender – would move to take over the lucrative transaction in a partnership that would net them substantial gain.

A dumbfounded and desperate R. Mendel spent three frenzied days in a futile attempt to find someone else to lend him the amount he had counted on. He subsequently lost the job (the general rescinded the offer when R. Mendel had no funds to properly carry out the assignment), as well as the 300 rubles. Devastated, R. Mendel had succumbed to a heart attack on Yom Kippur eve the previous year.

* * * * *

 

A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream” (Unesaneh Tokef prayer).

Reb Mordchele Nadvorner was a saintly man, one known to effectuate miracles. His many followers flocked to him in Nadvorna from all over Hungary and Romania for guidance and blessings. The tzaddik often traveled to distant places where he would meet with people he may have otherwise been unlikely to encounter.

On one such excursion, he found himself spending Yom Kippur in the city of Skole in Galicia. The enthralled chassidim held out hope that their honored personage would grace them with his presence for Sukkos.

To their dismay, Reb Mordchele hardly had a bite to eat after the fast before asking that his horses be readied for his departure. Despite their disappointment, the chassidim escorted the esteemed rebbe to the outskirts of town with exuberant song and dance.

The horses galloped along their way, the driver oblivious as to where they were headed. In fact, their destination would elude him all the way; whenever they reached some form of settlement, Reb Mordchele would stop to greet his welcoming admirers, surveying each of them intently.

Thus they journeyed from town to town, until the morning of Erev Sukkos when they arrived at yet another development. A sizable crowd of people surrounded their wagon and again Reb Mordchele scrutinized each individual who approached him – until A.Z., a smartly attired fellow, caught his fancy.

“Reb Yid,” inquired Reb Mordchele, “would it be possible for you to host us for Sukkos?”

A.Z. was taken by surprise but answered in the affirmative. As Reb Mordchele and his entourage followed their host, the young man wondered how the rebbe could have known about his large, newly erected home.

While happy to indulge Reb Mordchele’s request for a sukkah, the homeowner was bewildered at the rebbe’s choice of a particular room.

How would that work, A.Z. wondered. Reb Mordchele’s solution entailed “mere removal” of the ceiling and roof overhead, to be replaced with the appropriate schach (covering). When A.Z. suggested that a conventional sukkah be built outdoors in the yard, the revered guest simply reiterated his yen for a nice sukkah.

A flummoxed A.Z. reasoned to himself that this was no ordinary visitor and that in all probability there was good reason for all of this.

The messy and laborious task of dismantling the newly constructed quarters began forthwith.

Once the sukkah was erected, the rebbe expressed his desire to decorate it – at a cost of 100 reinish. To A.Z., known to be frugal in nature, this was quite a hefty sum. He almost regretted accepting the offer to host the rabbi. With some reluctance, A.Z. handed Reb Mordchele the amount he had asked for.

To A.Z.’s surprise, the rebbe asked his gabbai to round up some of the town’s needy inhabitants, among whom he then dispensed the entire sum.

Before long, Reb Mordchele asked to borrow yet another 100 reinish. The penny-pinching chassid vacillated until the rebbe assured him he would be repaid in full. Difficult as it was for him to reach into his pocket, A.Z. withdrew his second 100 reinish.

Accepting the handout with great flourish, Reb Mordchele blessed his benefactor profusely. Shortly thereafter, the gabbai approached A.Z. with the message that the rebbe was requesting his presence on an urgent matter. The frustrated homeowner obliged, only to have Reb Mordchele plead his case once more.

“Would you be so kind as to lend me another 100 reinish for decorating the sukkah?”

A.Z. lost his cool.

“The rebbe should forgive me but I am unaccustomed to such impositions. My roof has already been wrecked and I am already out 200 reinish. Regretfully, I am no longer able to accommodate the rebbe’s requests ”

After an uneasy moment of silence, Reb Mordchele spoke.

“You’ve been open with me, so I’ll be perfectly candid with you. I spent this past Yom Kippur in a faraway place in Galicia. Right before the Neilah prayer, I had a vision of one who had just recently finished construction of a new dwelling and upon whom there hovered a kitrug [an evil or satanic claim].

“Your house was to be destroyed by a devastating fire which would leave you and your family to wander from place to place in search for your daily sustenance. I was so overcome with pity that I made up my mind to locate you and help you avert this terrible decree. But I was given no indication of your whereabouts; all that was revealed to me was your physical appearance.

“Nonetheless I would not be deterred. As soon as the holy day ended I initiated my search for you and journeyed from town to town. I recognized you instantly.”

A.Z. was visibly mortified. Reb Morchele continued, “I asked you to break the roof over your head in hopes of removing the kitrug. When that didn’t work, I requested 100 reinish to allocate for tzedakah. When that didn’t do it, I figured that another hundred for charity would surely accomplish my goal but I soon realized that yet another hundred was necessary in order for you to accumulate sufficient merit to cancel the edict against you.

“I have been straightforward with you; now it is entirely up to you.”

A.Z. trembled as he handed Reb Mordchele his third donation of 100 reinish and wept with remorse at having been obstinate in his refusal to give in to the well-meaning tzaddik who reassured the chassid that he held no grievance against him.

The money was doled out to the poor and a relieved Reb Mordchele declared the decree against A.Z. finally expunged.

The town had a joyful Yom Tov with its esteemed guest, and A.Z. could not adequately express his gratitude to God for sending him the tzaddik to save him from catastrophe.

“Your Name signifies Your praise . You are hard to anger and easy to appease, for You do not wish the death of one deserving death, but that he repent from his way and live” (Unesaneh Tokef prayer).

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.

The Secrets In The Flames

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

On Rosh Hashanah it is a mitzvah to assume a bowed posture as we offer tearful prayer to God and beg for His mercy and forgiveness. We are hopeful that our humility and remorsefulness will earn us a favorable verdict, but should we, Heaven forbid, fall short, Hashem in His infinite kindness extends our time of teshuvah through the duration of Chanukah, when it is a mitzvah to light the Chanukah candles that give rise (literally) to the flames that shoot straight upward, in affirmation of our spiritual ascent.

*  *  *

The atmosphere in the Tzaddik’s quarters was highly charged. The Apter Rav, R. Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, was deeply absorbed in the mystical contemplation of the Chanukah lights and did not anticipate the sudden intrusion that scuttled his concentration on this erev Chanukah.

Nachman the gabbai let him know that Soreh’le the agunah – stubborn in her refusal to accept Nachman’s admonition that “now is not a good time” – was waiting to see him.

“Moshe Chaim’s agunah?” The Rav visibly shuddered. “Now, as we prepare for the first light of Chanukah ?”

Profusely apologetic, Nachman assured the Rebbe that he had tried to dissuade the woman but that she was unrelenting in her insistence to be allowed inside. “So unlike her ” muttered the gabbai, “always keeps to herself, the embodiment of modesty.”

His words were still trailing when the door was thrust open and Soreh’le the agunah stood there pleading in a tear-chocked voice: “Rebbe, heiliger [holy] Rebbe!” As the Rav lifted his eyes from his sefer, teardrops fell to the surface of the table, just clearing the holy book’s open pages. Numerous broken souls had flocked to the Tzaddik to bare their pain and sorrow, and yet he now felt himself moved to the core of his being as never before.

Nachman’s quiet exit opened the floodgates.

“Ten years! It’s been ten long years since my tragedy unfolded, and God, Who sees and knows everything, has seen fit to keep my secret from the world – surely in merit of my innocent children! But for how much longer?”

Moshe Chaim had been one of the Rav’s most beloved chassidim, their camaraderie evidenced by his unsupervised visits to the Rebbe’s private chamber at all hours. His wife, a true aishes chayil, had managed the home front to ensure her husband’s uninterrupted flow of Torah study and close association with his Rebbe.

On one Motzei Shabbos, a time that would normally find Moshe Chaim in the beis medrash preparing for the Rebbe’s impending melaveh malka, he unexpectedly arrived home, purportedly on an errand for the Tzaddik – at the precise moment his wife was about to drop an unkashered piece of poultry into a cooking pot. (Women in those days routinely did their own kashering. Soreh’le had forgotten to do so earlier and succumbed to fear of being caught embarrassingly unprepared.)

R. Moshe Chaim would never in his wildest dreams have fathomed stumbling on such a scene – in his own home yet – and the blow rendered him momentarily numb. The chassid collected himself and faced his trembling, dumbstruck wife.

“From now on, Soreh’le, you are no longer my wife and I am no longer your husband. We can no longer live together under one roof. But out of compassion for our two young children, and in reverence of our Tzaddik whose honor would be besmirched should word of this travesty be circulated, I wish for this matter to remain forever hidden – and for you, Soreh’le, to retain your good name and your title of Soreh’le the tzidkanis.

My Dearest Yiddishe Mamme

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

In loving memory of  Sara Altman bas Reb Bentzion Harnik zt”l, great-great-granddaughter of hatzaddik hagaon Chaim Yosef Gottlieb, zt”l, Stropkover Rav – on the occasion of her Shloshim, 29 Shevat.

The 30-day period of aveilus corresponds to the “z’man hischadshus hayaraiach,” the time for the renewal of the moon. The moon initially appears small, achieves its peak in middle of the month, and then diminishes. Such is the pattern of man’s life cycle: we start out as an infant, grow and develop to reach our zenith in mid-life, and then begin our descent that ends in death.

Just as the moon begins renewal following its 30-day cycle, the soul of the deceased experiences rebirth through her new existence in Olam Haba. (Mekor Chayim)

Kol sheruach habryios noichoh heimenu, ruach hamakom noichoh heimenu. (Pirkei Avos 3:10) – “The one who is pleasing to man, is pleasing also to God.”

My Yiddishe Mamme – few ever had the pleasure or privilege of hearing you sing this and other stirring tunes, in your hauntingly beautiful voice that would send shivers down the spine of the listener…

Which brings to mind, dear Mom, your many virtues:

Modesty: As you emerged from the ashes of devastation, your talent (inherited from your much-revered father, a beloved baal tefilah and teacher of chazzanus, R. Bentzion Harnik, zt”l) gave you an outlet for emotional release. Buoyed by the enthusiasm of a post-war protective circle of friends, you attended a conservatory to study music, yet turned down a subsequent offer that would have doubtlessly catapulted you to fame and fortune. Instead, you delighted small women-only audiences at tzedakah parties with your special gift. Before long, even that occasional exposure was too much – you always shunned the limelight – and so it was only your lucky little ones who would intermittently, privately, be treated.

Dedication: Your loyalty and selflessness were unsurpassed – your husband and your children were your life’s breath. Never, ever, did you default on kitchen duty – a “Meal-Mart break” was unheard of. You could have been dropping from fatigue but would pay no heed to your tiredness. You lived for us, for our father – your partner in life for over sixty years, may he live to be 120 in a healthy state of mind and body.

Spirituality: Who of us could have missed your intense bakoshos – entreaties – whenever you bentched lecht forShabbos or Yom Tov? Morning, night and in between, you had us all in mind and on your lips, beseeching God over and over to help every one of us, from children down to great-grandchildren. “Ich halt in ein baten dem Eibershten,” you frequently told me. “I keep pleading with Hashem…”

Fortitude: Without parents to show you, to give you, to guide you, you started out as a new bride in Hungary. A daring escape on foot in the darkness of night from an increasingly anti-Semitic regime, with the bare clothes and a newborn on your backs, led to a fresh start in the Holy Land. But life was still a struggle, so four years later, with two babies in tow, you set sail on a harrowing boat ride that ended at the ports of Montreal, to yet another beginning. Many were the times you’d wonder if your latest sojourn was a worthwhile one. But you persevered with your trademark tenacity and were more than content with your humble lot. Laziness was never part of your repertoire and so you always made more than the best of what was yours.

Confidante par Excellence: You never let us down and always had pearls of wisdom to impart. Each one of us can testify, child and grandchild alike, that you were the best secret-keeper this side of the planet. If any of us had a need to unburden or share but did not wish to publicize, you were the one to be trusted, without hesitation.

A Class Act: You were the epitome of eloquence and refined elegance, whether doing your thing behind the stove or in your cherished garden; whether at a family simcha or just out shopping. You were bright, intelligent, down-to-earth, friendly, gracious, giving, understanding, and humble in all your ways. I am reminded of the time we spent Shabbos at the LIJH intensive care unit following your heart surgery. After much back and forth quibbling, you finally humored me – you agreed to have just a slice of gefilte fish and a piece of challah. I was all excited and prepared it carefully – only to have you offer it, in your most hospitable manner, to the delighted nurse on duty for the night. (I should have known better.)

Congeniality: Speaking of hospitality, well, we can just ask “the boys” who came around forever every Friday for your mouthwatering chulent, keeping the tradition going even after your children had flown the coop. (The married “boys” hoped their wives wouldn’t be the wiser.) You were Mrs. Personality to all our friends and then some, as we were growing up and beyond. Never at a loss for words, you were yet ever-conscientious not to say something that would, God forbid, be offensive to anyone. The slightest indication that you may have been would make you sick at heart for days.

Meticulousness: You were impeccably inclined, both physically and figuratively. A most telling description was made just recently by the neurosurgeon whom we had need to befriend at Joint Disease Hospital after you sustained a neck fracture. When apprised (by e-mail) by one of your grandchildren that we wouldn’t be keeping our next appointment, he replied: “Your grandmother was a very fine lady. respected by everyone she came in contact with. I saw in the hospital how beautifully she conducted herself and interacted with others. Every action was a true kiddush Hashem.”

Lover of Peace: You abhorred strife and would steer clear of any machlokes. In your book, there was no compromising when it came to achdus, especially amongst family members. Your love for your children superseded any desire to castigate (once we were on our own), and you were equally on guard not to chas v’shalom be instrumental in instigating any shalom bayis problems in the lives of those you cared so deeply for.

Valiant: As the indomitable spirit in our midst, you were much admired and adored by everyone who came to know you. You told it like it was – but perhaps never more prophetically as on the Shabbos that marked nine consecutive weeks we’d spent in each other’s company (regretfully, they’d come to a close at twelve). Out of the blue, exactly three weeks before you would leave this world for a better one, you disclosed that you felt your end was near. My attempt at encouraging you to focus on the positive, and to point out your steady progress to date, did nothing to sway you. “I can’t help the feeling,” you explained calmly. “But I’m fine with it. I’ve lived my life”

Unique: You were a special soul. Lest I, as your daughter, be accused of being a prejudiced party, allow me to cite the good doctor again. At our first meeting, following a harrowing pain-filled and exhausting odyssey, he offered his medical opinion – that your only viable option was to be fitted with a “halo.” You managed a smile and quipped, “Sounds like I’ll be holy…” Grinning, the insightful surgeon gently intoned, “We don’t believe in that. You are a heilige neshama.”

It is written, “Praiseworthy is the one who passes away during the time of Shabbos (or on erev Shabbos).” For on Shabbos, the malachim created for the purpose of meting out judgment and suffering to a departing soul immediately upon death are at rest.

Only Gan Eden is open, so that a heilige neshama has unfettered entry into the most coveted abode in the heavenly spheres.

As the song says, “My Yiddishe Mamme, I need you more than ever now, I’d love to kiss your wrinkled brow, How I long to hold your hand once more”

The Nazis made you sing for their entertainment. So you sang the beautiful Yiddish melody with its heartrending lyrics – which spoke touchingly and longingly of your own Yiddishe Mamme so barbarically taken from you. And for your performance you were rewarded two extra rations of dried out bits of old bread – which you broke into tiny pieces to share with your starving bunkmates.

For that was who you always were, my dearest Yiddishe Mamme

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Inspired By Rabbi Waldman

I was touched beyond words by the self-sacrifice and idealism exhibited by Rabbi Eliezer Waldman in moving his family and his yeshiva to SaNur (Jewish Press, April 22). Many of us talk the talk when it comes to defending the integrity of Eretz Yisrael, but Rabbi Waldman walks the walk. Thanks to Naomi Klass Mauer for an inspiring interview.

Harold Grossman
(Via E-Mail)



Ultimate Chutzpah

I am an Orthodox Jew who has been a faithful subscriber to The Jewish Press for many years. I read most of your columns with an uncritical mind, since I believe that everyone has the right to express his or her opinion. Rabbi Menachem Porush’s April 1 column, however, blew my mind and I have no alternative but to respond.

Rabbi Porush laments the Israeli government’s decision to relinquish Jewish land. Yet it was Rabbi Porush’s Agudath Israel party that saved the Sharon government from collapse. It was Rabbi Porush’s party that permitted the government to proceed with its Gaza disengagement policy. And Rabbi Porush has the temerity to berate the government for this action? He complains against the government? Why, his party is a key part of the very government that decreed the Gaza withdrawal! Is it any wonder that chutzpah is a Jewish word?

I hope you have the courage to publish this letter, since I am brave enough to sign it.

Joseph Weidenfeld
Silver Spring, MD



Novak The Meshumad

Kudos to the Media Monitor for exposing the source of Robert Novak’s latest calumny against Israel (“Novak’s Nun,” April 22). I remember the uproar over Mother Agapia in 2002, and how her anti-Israel e-mail accounts were revealed to be second- and third-hand reports of distorted tales and lies. It figures a meshumad like Novak (he became a Roman Catholic several years ago) would lap up whatever this sister dispenses.

David Schwem
New York, NY



Principled Nun

Mr. Maoz’s Media Monitor column essentially smeared Mother Agapia Stephanopolous.

I suggest he visit her and witness first-hand the situation on the ground for Christian institutions and clergy. I think he would have a different view. I have worked with Mother Agapia over the last two years. She is a principled, committed nun who lives her faith by giving her life to God and running an all-girls school in the Holy Land.

Margaret Cone
Washington, DC



Yom Tov Writing

Looks like Rachel Weiss’s front-page holiday essays are coming full circle. Mrs. Weiss wrote last year’s front cover on Shavuot, which was a success, as are all her inspiring holiday articles. I want to thank her and make sure she knows how much the readership of The Jewish Press looks forward to her cover essays. I hope Mrs. Weiss will continue to enlighten us with her eloquent and vivid yom tov writing. Looking forward to Shavuot cover #2!

Brooke Rose
(Via E-Mail)



Great Essays

Your front-page essays have become real reader favorites, if my family and friends are an accurate indicator. The last three – Jason Maoz’s piece on Jewish baseball players, Chananya Weissman’s article on baalei teshuva, and Rachel Weiss’s meditation on Pesach were all first rate. I love the wide range of these essays – every week there’s a different subject, but always so well-written and insightful.

Melanie Feldstein
New York, NY



Echoes Of McCarthy

The RCA’s actions in the Rabbi Mordecai Tendler case remind me of the tactics employed by Senator Joseph McCarthy in his anti-Communist crusade of the 1950′s. The question of whether or not there were subversives operating in key positions in the U.S. government was overshadowed by McCarthy’s practice of making public accusations against certain individuals, claiming to have evidence against them – evidence that somehow was never forthcoming.

In the course of the Army/McCarthy hearings of 1954, the Army’s chief counsel, Joseph Welch, made a statement that has become part of American folklore. Unfortunately, it now seems relevant to the RCA/Tendler matter. McCarthy had launched an irrelevant attack on a young lawyer who worked in Welch’s law firm, and Welch responded with: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?” McCarthy’s reputation never recovered.

I just do not understand why the RCA refuses to convene a bet din and present its charges in the time-honored and halachic way.

Michoel Glassberg
New York, NY



Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

I followed up reader David Pollack’s letter to the editor last week and visited the Awareness Center’s website. I was astounded by what I found. In a section called “Cases of Clergy Abuse and Other Trusted Officials,” there are more than two hundred individuals listed – but relatively few of them, by the Awareness Center’s own record-keeping, have been convicted of any crime! Most of the people on that list are the subjects of unproven allegations and charges.

Not only should the RCA have nothing to do with the Awareness Center, it should be in the forefront of efforts to discredit this font of lashon hora and motzi shem rah. And I’m terribly disappointed to learn of Rabbi Yosef Blau’s involvement with such an outfit. What are we coming to in the frum community when even our enlightened Orthodox leaders get caught up in such hysteria?

Suri Levitt
(Via E-Mail)

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, February 4th, 2004
Immediate Response

Last week you published my letter about a firefighter at Ground Zero finding a sefer Tehillim that belonged to someone named Avraham Binyomin Shapiro or Spira. I asked anyone with information about that person’s whereabouts to contact me.

Wednesday evening - just hours after The Jewish Press hit the newsstands - I received an e-mail from Rabbi Avraham Binyomin Spira’s father, who had an office in the World Trade Center complex. Thursday I spoke with Rabbi Avraham Binyomin Spira himself and confirmed that he is the owner of the sefer Tehillim. We are arranging a time convenient to both Rabbi Spira and the firefighter for the return of the sefer.

Thank you for publishing my letter and helping to perform the mitzvah of hashavat aveidah.

Mordechai Dovid Levine
Spring Valley, New York

Sounds Of Silence

Your riposte to the Forward was right on the mark. Would that the Agudah be heard on this as well. Frankly, I am amazed that with all of the letters and articles the Agudah has placed in the Forward and the Jewish Week over the years, there has been complete silence from
that organization in response to those publications’ shameful distortions of the essence and significance of Chanukah. If the Agudah sent in letters or articles taking issue with those distortions, shame on those papers for not publishing them. But if the Agudah did nothing, all the greater is the shame on a once proud organization.

I strongly believe that this episode raises serious questions regarding the Agudah’s capacity to confront the attempts to eliminate religious imperatives from Judaism or achieve equivalence between Orthodox and non-Orthodox movements.

Elliott Rosen
(Via E-Mail)

Heartless Scam

It was with great interest that I read the articles by Rachel Weiss (no relation) titled “To believe or Not to Believe” (Jewish Press, Dec. 12) and the follow-up “Believe It or Not” (Jan.2).

A few months ago on a late summer Friday afternoon, my husband and children waited for me in our car while I ran up to visit a cousin at NYU Medical Center. A man came up to my husband and said he needed to get to New Jersey for Shabbos and that a cab had just left
with all his possessions. Feeling the urgency of this man’s predicament, my husband helped him flag down a taxi. The man inquired about the fare to his destination and told my husband that it would cost $90. My husband had $70, and my daughter chipped in the other $20. This man took our phone number and promised to repay. Of-course we never heard from him. Our stories are too similar. This sounds like one man using his trick over and over again.

What a zechus it would be for Rachel Weiss and The Jewish Press if some good will come out of these articles. Readers ought to be made aware of this story-teller who roams the city streets and peddles his bogus pleas. He should be stopped in his tracks.

Chany Weiss
Brooklyn, NY

Exercise In Futility?

By what right do the editors of The Jewish Press arrogate to themselves the role of Defenders of the Faith? It may be useful to confront challenges to the primacy of mitzvot in Judaism, but it seems entirely misplaced when you confront a respected rabbi like Shlomo Riskin over an interpretation he developed from the text of the Bible.

Furthermore, your criticism of Rabbi Riskin over such a minor matter was an exercise in futility. Those who are followers of his surely were not swayed by your arguments, while the rest of us were either amused or could not have cared less.

Sheldon Blaustein
(Via E-Mail)

Wish We’d Said It

Although I generally agree with your criticism of Rabbi Riskin, I would point out two things you missed.

In challenging Rabbi Riskin’s assertion that Yitzchak Avinu was reacting out of a sense of weakness when he decided to choose Esav over Yaakov, you correctly point to Avimelech’s prostrating himself before Yitzchak. You should also have noted that just prior to that, G-d spoke to Yitzchak and told him that He would be with him in all things.

In addition, you let pass Rabbi Riskin’s comment that if he were (as you said he was) “presumptuous” in his analysis, then “so were all of the commentators of the past.” I would have thought this astonishing display of hubris on his part deserved some comment from you.

Michael Lazar
Cincinnati, OH

Hey, We Were Merely Speculating

Whoever writes your editorials better get a grip. You really can’t believe that Libya threw in the nuclear towel as part of an Arab conspiracy to pressure Israel on the nuclear weapons issue. Or do you? It’s time you abandoned the self-centeredness that, as another reader recently pointed out in a different context, leads many Jews to believe that the world revolves around them.

Doug Fischler
New York, NY

No Alternative To Day Schools

We subscribe to U.S. News and World Report, which is about the only weekly news magazine with a favorable viewpoint toward Israel. But I was angered by John Leo’s column in the January 4 issue.

He asserts that it is not harmful to a Jewish child’s sense of well-being to be forced to sing Christmas carols in school, as long as there are a couple of Chanukah songs to go with them.

When I was a child in the 1950′s, we were forced to sing those songs in public school. I knew there was something wrong with that, and when I told my mother, she said I should just move my lips and pretend I was singing along. That was the only “solution” back then.

But 28 years ago, when my daughter was in public-school kindergarten, she started bringing home Christmas artwork from school. I protested to her teacher, and she then started bringing home artwork with Jewish themes. But when I went to the kindergarten concert, I was shocked and appalled to hear my daughter singing about Jesus and the “virgin mother and child.” And it didn’t help that the concert included two requisite Chanukah songs.

Thereupon I made my choice. I pulled her out of that school and placed her in a Jewish day school. Today she is a rabbi’s wife. Needless to say, her children are all receiving an authentic Torah education.

Thank G-d that now, unlike when I was growing up, we have so many Jewish day schools available. Parents, if you care anything about your children’s Judaism, enroll them in a Jewish day school. Furthermore, all Jews should be sure that a good portion of their tzedakah goes to these schools.

Phyllis M. LaVietes
DeSoto, Texas

More On Howard Adelson

Beth Gilinsky Spiro’s Dec. 12 obituary tribute to Professor Howard Adelson was simply peerless. Her evaluation of this good man’s life and work is right on the mark. His love of learning, his activism and his ability to defend the interests of the Jewish people was beyond
belief.

I met Professor Adelson in Eilat in 1970 while on a small tour of the Sinai area south of Taba. I was able to speak with him at some length in a local cafe. I was a liberal back then, but this did not stop either of us from conversing. I did not believe that a conservative could have been a professor at CCNY (today I would be right to think so, but for different reasons).

A few months later I saw him on television speaking against “open enrollment” at CCNY and the other CUNY colleges. I rememeber well his saying, “There hasn’t been a brilliant class at the city colleges since the 1940′s, and now there won’t be a very smart one,” or words to that effect. What arrogance, I thought back then; what a brilliant analysis, I think today!

During the years that followed I saw his name on many a petition to the powers that be defending the Jewish people and Israel against our enemies. Your tribute covered the ground very well.

I am fortunate to have met him; you, Ms. Gilinsky Spiro, are more fortunate to have known him.

David S. Levine
Hobe Sound, FL

Chanukah In Kuwait

Last month I celebrated my third Chanukah away from my family with the U.S. Army. I was deployed in 1994 for Operation Vigilant Warrior. I was deployed in 2002 for Operation Enduring Freedom. And I was deployed in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

We had a wonderful Chanukah party in the chapel at Camp Doha, Kuwait. We celebrated the eighth night of Chanukah and the Sabbath in a very moving service. It was truly remarkable that so many Jewish soldiers and civilians came from military camps in the area to attend our simple service. Ours was a mixed bunch; from California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, and other locales, representing the Army, Air Force, and even the American Embassy. As for supplies, we were blessed with many Chanukah cards, dreidels, and chocolate gelt. Before our service ended, we made certain to add many prayers for our fallen comrades, and for those on patrol this evening keeping our compound safe.

Our meal was meager but appreciated by all. The latkes did not arrive in time, so we ate semi-stale donuts left over from earlier in the day. My Aunt Esther, Uncle Seymour and Cousin Farrell had sent a variety of nuts, fruits and nosh, so we had some kosher products for our table.

In the end, each individual left with a smile. We came together in the desert to remember a military victory for religious freedom more than 2,500 years ago. And we remembered that the same battle rages on all around us. So the work continues.

Major Jonas Vogelhut
Camp Doha, Kuwait



Who Is A True Zionist?

Wrong To Downplay Impact Of Secular Zionists

Bezalel Fixler’s “Who Is A True Zionist?” (Jewish Press, Jan. 2) was inspiring to read. The
ancient yearning of the Jew for Eretz Yisrael is, these days, all too often taken for granted.
However, while those who yearned for a return to Zion are unquestionably “Zionists,” the return to Zion in the last century and a half was the result of all those whom Mr. Fixler discounts: Herzl, Achad Ha’Am, Pinsker, Lilienblum, Nordau, Jabotinsky, et al.

The fact is, the frum establishment rebuffed or ignored, for one reason or another, all of those
Torah giants who before Herzl and company advocated a return to Zion en masse.

Take the case of Rav Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, who when he visited the then Szigeter Rebbe on his way to Israel was told not to go. The Szigeter assured him that there were positions in Hungary for such a young and vibrant talmid chacham. The Szigeter begged him to abandon his plans for making aliyah. When Schlesinger refused his offer, saying that he was in love with the land, the Szigeter circulated a directive to all who would listen that any aid given to Schlesinger in his pursuit of aliyah would be tantamount to support of idolatry.

Rav Kook left Israel in 1914 to attend a Kenessiah Gedolah of Agudat Yisrael. When he
pleaded with Agudah to reverse its hostile stance on Zionism, he was rebuffed and reviled. The records indicate that the Chofetz Chaim was shaken to the core over the attacks on a person such as Rav Kook.

In fact, the 1947 records of the United Nations Special Committee On Palestine (UNSCOP) indicate that Agudah testified against the idea of an independent Jewish state in Israel.

Now, there is no doubt in my mind that these Torah giants who opposed secular Zionism were, in Mr. Fixler’s words, true Zionists. The only problem is that were it not for all those secular Zionists whom Fixler cites, thousands of marginal Jews would never have been inspired to make aliyah to pre-state Israel.

All that he says about Herzl is accurate save for one detail: The Uganda issue for Herzl, in
Herzl’s own words, was a temporary solution, an overnight stay for streams of Russian displaced persons as a result of the ongoing waves of pogroms. Uganda - and nothing else – was offered to Herzl by the British. And so he jumped at it for a practical reason; namely, that the refugees needed a quiet place to run to. In fact, the British soon rescinded their offer.

The examples offered by Mr. Fixler of, in his words, true Zionism, are all correct and admirable. They do not, however, change the indisputable fact that the overwhelming number of frum Jews and their leadership were hostile to the secular Zionists and turned their backs on this movement. With the vacuum having been created, what is the point of trying to determine who was the first or the true Zionist?

Rabbi Chaim Wasserman
Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton
Passaic, NJ

Who Lived And Who Died

Herzl, Jabotinsky, and Nordau were the greatest Jewish leaders in our generation. Were it
not for Herzl, the existence of a Jewish state after two thousand years of exile would not have come about. It was the youth that followed Herzl and went to Eretz Yisrael to establish settlements, to cultivate the land and make it inhabitable for the thousands of Jews who came after them.

My late father was a chassid of the Rebbe of Czortkow. My father also was one of the organizers of the first Zionist congress in Basel in 1897. He knew Dr. Theodor Herzl and adored him. When Herzl’s body was brought from my home town in Vienna for reburial in Jerusalem, my father, a Cohen, changed our name to Hacohen; the ‘H’ in Hebrew stands for Herzl - Herzl Cohen, Hacohen.

Jabotinsky, whom I had the privilege to know personally, was another of the great Zionist leaders in my generation. I was present in Vienna in 1935 at the first congress of the new Zionist organization Jabotinsky founded. He warned the Jews of Europe to leave for Eretz Yisrael immediately. He said the hour was five minutes to midnight and that if you don’t liquidate the Diaspora, the Diaspora will liquidate you. He foresaw the Holocaust.

By contrast, many chassidic rebbes told their chassidim not to go to Eretz Yisrael because the
Zionist country was ‘treif.’ I mourn the loss of so many chassidim, so many friends of mine, so many venerable rabbis, who were misled by their rebbes and by the anti-Zionist Agudat Yisrael and perished with their families in the Holocaust.

Most of my friends who followed Herzl and Jabotinsky landed in Eretz Yisrael, some legally
and some not. They were the true Zionists.

Dr. Mordecai Hacohen
New York, NY

A Matter Of Terminology

Although I agree with Mr. Fixler’s basic thesis that “Zionism without a religious component is not real Zionism,” I have reservations about the use of the term “Zionist” to refer to the rabbanim, chachamim, and other individuals and groups who made aliyah prior to the nineteenth century.

It is my conviction that historically referenced terms such as “Zionist” and “Zionism” have a
reality and validity all their own. As such, it should not be applied to acts of aliyah to Eretz Yisrael which were an expression of love of Zion or the fulfillment of the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael before the advent of the Jewish nationalist movement called “Zionism.”

One should not reference a historical phenomenon back to previous generations who had
no concept that their acts of aliyah would produce the mass migration of Jews to Eretz Yisrael. Even those that hoped for it did not plan for it in the manner that the Zionist movement would later undertake.

We have Medinat Yisrael today because Hashem blessed the Zionist movement. It is likewise true that our inalienable relationship to Eretz Yisrael is based on kedushat haaretz from the
Torah, as we learn from the very first Rashi, cited by Mr. Fixler in his comprehensive article.

Toby Solomon
Kew Gardens, NY

Materialistic Malaise

In his op-ed article in the Dec. 26 issue of The Jewish Press, Rabbi Yehuda Levin did a masterful job of demonstrating that contemporary Hellenization, generally considered the province of halachically-challenged Judaism, has infiltrated the ranks of Orthodoxy (“Orthodox Hellenists, 5764″).

Rabbi Levin cites as evidence the disinclination of ostensibly Orthodox politicians both here and in Israel to stand up to the pro-gay lobby as well as the royal treatment lavished by
certain Orthodox groups on politicians whose stated positions are antithetical to the Torah.
Rabbi Levin views these acts, along with the general apathy regarding them, as proof that
Orthodoxy has lost its moral compass. He is right, but it behooves us to understand how this has occurred.

The answer actually is rather simple. Modern-day Orthodoxy has not rejected the Torah, it has embraced materialism. In parshas Mikeitz, Yaakov Avinu sends his sons to Mitzrayim to purchase grain before their supplies would be depleted. Rashi explains that he wanted to avoid instilling enmity in his non-Jewish neighbors who had been profligate with their produce. In charging his sons, our Patriarch employed the expression “Lomo tisroe” – why do you make yourselves conspicuous” – and here he was speaking to all of his children throughout the millennia.

But this message is lost today in our society. We need look no further than the “edifice complex” that has gripped so many Orthodox communities, as the well off capriciously dismantle perfectly livable abodes to erect visual testimonies to their surfeit. Duly impressed, the neighbors follow suit, finances be damned; must keep up with the Schwartzes, you know.

But then comes the next big decision: Where to go for Pesach? The Catskills? Surely you jest.
Miami? Been there, done that. So it’s Mexico or Europe or whatever exotic port of call is ‘in’ that year. Have no fear, chassidishe shechita and non-Gebrokts are here.

But it doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot. No, we have midwinter cruises, summer vacations, weekend ski trips – all under the protective umbrella of kashrut but all at loggerheads with at least the spirit of Judaism.

So Rabbi Levin is correct. We have become Hellenists and we don’t even know it. Certainly we pledge allegiance to the Torah – but it’s mere lip service. Does the person who imports Italian marble for his kitchen anxiously await the coming of Moshiach? How many families stiff the yeshivas when it’s time to pay tuition, yet drive their kids to school in late model autos yapping away on their high-tech cell phones? Given this atmosphere we can readily understand the lack of outrage when the Torah is slighted or defamed.

Is there an answer? I believe it’s time we speak about olam haba (the world to come) and
return it to its once-prominent place in the spiritual lives of Torah Jews. Throughout the
centuries there was no need to impress upon Jewry its importance. As people lived in poverty, in fear of the next pogrom, it was the belief in a better world  than this one that sustained them. It may be the only antidote available to the materialism that is steadily eating away at our spirituality.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-47/2004/02/04/

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