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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Yeshiva College’

Proud To Be An American

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

When I was young, my father, like many of his generation, frequently remarked that America was the greatest country in the world. He was an immigrant who lost almost his entire family in the Holocaust. He came here with nothing and earned everything. He treasured his American citizenship, guarding his citizenship papers like others would guard heirloom silver.

Dad often told the story that when he was being interviewed for citizenship and was asked who the first president was, he answered “Harry Truman.” Because that’s who was in the White House when my father came to this country – when his life began anew. No one appreciated America more than my father. Whenever he heard the Star Spangled Banner, Dad put his hand over his heart and sang. He celebrated the Fourth of July and Memorial Day with pride.

All that pride and appreciation has made its way down to me. I love this country. I love the opportunities it has provided to me and to so many others, whether first-generation Americans or Mayflower descendants. And I am so proud of our troops who provide aid and assistance all over the world. My children have adopted my custom of going over to men and women in uniform whenever I see them (whether in airports or train stations or even at a ball game) to shake their hands and say thanks.

That’s why when the president of the United States goes around the world apologizing for America, I am deeply distressed. When he is shown fawning over and kowtowing to dictators who stomp on the human rights of their own citizens, I’m disgusted. When he begs the enemies of the United States to meet with him (and they say no), I’m embarrassed.

And that’s why I was offended when our current first lady announced in 2008, after her husband had won several Democratic primaries, that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country,”. If my father were alive today, he certainly would be, too.

I recently witnessed the exact opposite of this self-deprecating brand of Americanism: a cavalcade of pride in our country. I was honored to attend the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum. And the message I heard all across the podium was pride in America, pride in our troops, and pride in our capitalist system.

Mitt Romney lambasted President Obama for attempting to turn our society from an “opportunity” society into an “entitlement” society. He spoke about America still being “that shining city on the hill” (borrowing Ronald Reagan’s favorite phrase). Not one candidate apologized for America.

I offer this contrast not as a political statement. In the last few weeks I’ve heard Democrat Robert Menendez and Independent Joe Lieberman gush with pride about our great country.

We have so much to be proud of. We are the land of opportunity and creativity. More inventions and innovations have come out of this country than the rest of the world combined. I want to see a future that builds upon – even surpasses – our past achievements. That’s why this administration’s path of removing tax breaks and imposing astronomical costs on American businesses is so misguided.

Obama wants to create a culture of dependence on government and handouts. To reward an attitude that says, “I don’t have to do anything and I’ll be just fine.” That’s not the American way as I know it. And it’s not a message that I want my children – or any of America’s children – to live by.

J. Philip Rosen is a partner in the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, who is highly sought after for his extensive experience in real estate, infrastructure, private equity and many other practice areas. He is also vice-chairman of the board of directors of Yeshiva College of Yeshiva University and a Wexner Heritage Foundation scholar.

Reflections On Savta’s Murder

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

A little more than seven years ago, on June 11, 2003, an 18-year-old Palestinian, Abdel Mahdi Shabneh, cradled a Kalashnikov and proclaimed violence to be the only means by which his people could combat Israeli occupation. Shabneh’s target would be Jerusalem’s busiest street, at the busiest time – Jaffa Road at 5 p.m.

Shabneh boarded bus 14A disguised as an Orthodox Jew. He detonated a massive explosive belt concealed under his prayer shawl, killing 17 people. His victims ranged in age from 20 to 75.

A few minutes before midnight I received a call from my father. “Damon” he said, his voice cracking, “Savta [grandmother] was murdered on a bus today.”

The utter devastation and shock in my father’s voice is something that will be with me for the rest of my life. My father happened to be in Israel when the tragedy occurred, his first visit in almost a decade. My aunt and father had the daunting task of making the trip to Abu Kabir to identify the mortal remains of their beloved mother and burying her the next morning.

Seven thousand miles away terror was no longer a distant concept; it had been violently imposed on my consciousness. Losing a grandmother is always a sorrowful occurrence, but when an 18 year old has his grandmother brutally murdered by another 18 year old, the experience is a vastly different one.

A month before she was murdered, I was fortunate enough to see my grandmother one last time in Jerusalem. I was in Israel on the second leg of the March of the Living trip, and in our last conversation we spoke of my experience visiting remnants of a half-century old atrocity, a testament to the barbaric tendencies of man.

It was upon seeing the ovens of Auschwitz and Majdanek that I realized the uselessness in questioning the ways of God and the need to instead focus our energy on questioning and seeking to correct the actions of man.

I spent the day after her murder in a trance, repeatedly drawn to the image of Abdel Madi Shabneh, the person who had inflicted such pain on those I love. The newspaper showed him to be a scrawny boy with sheepish features. It was hard to picture him as the cold-blooded killer of my grandmother.

I took the loss quite differently from the rest of my family. If I were to now mention the name Abdel Mahdi Shabneh to any family member, I doubt he or she would have any recognition of whom I was talking about. In their minds the enemy is faceless: a Palestinian killed Savta; Hamas killed Savta; a Muslim killed Savta.

While all these labels are true, I chose to focus on the incident this way: Abdel Mahdi Shabneh killed my Savta. I wanted to understand what demon it was that drove a young man to such barbarity.

This murderer was not a scary Hollywood-style sensationalized villain. He was a young kid who could barely manage a respectable mustache. Shabneh was the epitome of the banality of evil, the term used by Hannah Arendt to describe Adolf Eichmann.

The evil perpetrated by such characters is arrived at through a failure or absence of the faculties of sound thinking and judgment. These individuals lack the imaginative capacities that would have made the human and moral dimensions of their activities tangible for them.

It’s this vacuum that leads to politically and morally irresponsible choices. The violence perpetrated from such evil is truly a mindless menace.

When a Jew dies of ordinary causes the acronym z”l (zichrona l’vracha – may her memory be blessed) is added to the name. Savta’s name, however, received the acronym H”yd (Hashem yikom damah – may God exact revenge for her blood), which is reserved for those killed sanctifying God’s name.

But revenge is something that comes under God’s jurisdiction while tikkun olam, or “fixing of the world,” is the sole responsibility of man. We are here on this earth to transform the darkness and create light. Whatever his motivation, Shabneh’s actions ultimately were the result of a defective mindset. There is no violent solution by which we can conquer such an enemy. If this war is to be won, it will only be through the dismantling of the regressive state of mind that is present in those who resort to violence.

Exercise, Eat Your Spinach, and Go To Shul

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Now your rabbi has proof that coming to shul is good for you.

According to a new study, attending religious services at least once a week reduces one’s risk of dying by 20 percent.

The study, published in Psychology and Health, followed 92,395 post-menopausal women for on average, about eight years. The study’s lead author, Dr. Eliezer Schnall, clinical assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva College recently spoke with The Jewish Press.

 

Where did the data come from?

The Women’s Health Initiative, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health. This was a long-term study, with participants from all across America.  It is well known that The WHI wanted to assess whether it’s beneficial for post-menopausal women to receive hormone replacement therapy.

Once these women were coming in, they had them fill out a variety of questionnaires. This gave us a phenomenal amount of information about these women.

Ours was an ancillary study of the WHI.

 

There have been similar studies in the past, many of which came to similar conclusions. Why is yours so newsworthy?

First of all, our study draws from an enormous sample of women – 92,000 plus participants. Also it was a study of women spanning many religious denominations, not just one specific group. The women were geographically and ethnically diverse. There were people of different economic groups and educational levels. It was large and encompassing.

Also, because we had all of that information from the questionnaires, we were able to control for so many possible confounding factors.

Other studies have found similar things before, which supports our large and diverse study.

 

Even after adjusting for other factors, like psychosocial or health behavior or both, the religious service attendance affect still remained statistically significant.

I deduce from this that while, yes, maybe some of the benefit to longevity of attending religious services may accrue because of psychosocial variables-meaning that when you attend a religious house of worship you build social support networks, you get support from people around you, you have less depression and more life satisfaction. You may also have better health behaviors; maybe your preacher or cleric rails against the evils of drinking alcohol in excess, or maybe he says smoking is bad, it will kill you. So those things could be part of the story. But they don’t seem to explain the entire benefit.

 

So what’s doing it? Why are these people living longer?

There can always be some other confounding factors that we didn’t know of, or that we weren’t able to control for. Anecdotally there are those who say that when they attend religious services the stress from the week melts away. It’s very possible stress reduction can play a role here.

 

Why is this important to the average person?

Whatever side of the religion debate you find yourself on, or even if you’re merely an intrigued observer, a study like this really strikes a chord. We live today in uncertain times-whether it’s the fear of terrorism, or the economic meltdown. People may turn to religion-something they find provides them with something stable. Maybe one of the take-home lessons here is that there are likely psychosocial benefits from religious attendance.

 

The study doesn’t get into the spiritual question?

A lot of times I’m asked, so is it spiritual? In our study we don’t attempt to answer that question. Indeed, maybe that’s a question that can’t be answered. We don’t argue against it, and we don’t speculate in that direction, but of course our study doesn’t disprove such speculation. It’s simply going beyond anything we’ve said. As a practicing Jew, do you find it difficult to avoid addressing the spiritual side?

That’s actually something that I’ve declined to answer when it’s come up in other interviews-whether I am practicing Jew. Of course, as scientists, we too are human. But we try to focus on studies as objectively as we can. 

Harry Fischel: Orthodox Jewish Philanthropist Par Excellence (Part II)

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Note: Most of the information in this article is based upon Forty Years of Struggle for a Principle, the Biography of Harry Fischel (referred to as B) and Continuation of Biography of Harry Fischel, 1928 – 1941 (referred to as UB).
 

Mr. Fischel had a longstanding relationship with the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), which was destined to have its name transferred to the rabbinical school affiliated with Yeshiva University. When RIETS merged in 1915 with Yeshiva Etz Chaim to form the short-lived Rabbinical College of America, Mr. Fischel became chairman of the Building Committee of the newly formed institution. He then located a property on the Lower East Side and converted it into a facility that was suitable for the rabbinical school.

It was therefore only natural that in 1923, when plans were made to open Yeshiva College, he played a key role in the establishment of the new institution. Without Mr. Fischel’s leadership, there is a good chance these plans might never have come to fruition.

Those involved differed on how much money would be required to build the infrastructure needed to establish an institution that would combine a Talmudic and secular education in a single homogeneous environment. Some said $1,000,000 would be sufficient; others $2,000,000. When Harry Fischel suggested $5,000,000 would be needed, “some of the directors took the view that he had gone out of his mind. Mr. Fischel, however, insisted that five million dollars was none too large an amount to accomplish the purpose in view, and, in order to start the ball rolling, he subscribed at once $10,000 with the pledge of an additional subscription of $5,000 for each million dollars collected, making his total pledge $30,000, if the full amount was secured.” (B page 343.)

This substantial contribution (the reader should keep in mind that we are talking about 1924 dollars) was just the beginning of Harry Fischel’s support of the campaign to establish Yeshiva College. At a fundraising dinner held on December 18, 1924, he proposed to Nathan Lamport, president of Yeshiva, that he would match any amount the well-to-do Lamport family pledged. After some deliberation, the Lamport family decided to give $100,000. Without hesitation, Mr. Fischel committed to matching the amount. (To understand the magnitude of that contribution, consider that $100,000 in 1924 was equivalent in value to $1,107,470.89 in 2004 dollars.)

The announcement of these two large pledges electrified those present at the dinner with the result that almost $800,000 in pledges were made that day. The new campus that would house RIETS and Yeshiva College was on its way to becoming a reality.

Mr. Fischel did more than just give his financial support. “From this moment on Mr. Fischel determined to dedicate his effort, his time and energy, also a large portion of his wealth, to carrying out this vast undertaking. From that day, December 18, 1924, to the present day [1928], Mr. Fischel practically divorced himself from every other activity, both his business and communal interests, to the end, except of course, that he continued to attend the meetings of other institutions with which he was affiliated.” (B page 356.)

When he returned from a visit to Eretz Yisrael in September 1927, he “found that the construction of the Yeshiva building was progressing slowly. As Chairman of the Building Committee, he took charge of the work of the building.” When Nathan Lamport passed away, Mr. Fischel assumed this leadership position also. “Having the additional responsibility, my time was occupied day and night, until the building was finished,” he wrote. (UB page 57.)

Mr. Fischel’s involvement did not cease once construction of the new campus was completed and the institution opened. Yeshiva experienced severe financial problems in the next few years. It was burdened by hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction debts. In July 1932 it closed, with no prospects of reopening in September. With great effort Mr. Fischel settled these debts and the school was able to reopen. In 1939 he headed a reorganization of the RIETS and Yeshiva College and wrote, “The existence of the Yeshiva is now assured.” (UB page 75.)

Mr. Fischel was a bold thinker, years ahead of his time. He wrote that upon realizing that a number of students were not suited to becoming rabbis or teachers, “an idea came to me to establish a trade school in connection with the Yeshiva, so that those students desiring to learn a trade in connection with Talmudical instruction could do so.” (UB page 4.)

Not long after the new Yeshiva buildings were completed, he purchased a nearby site and set aside funds to erect a structure to house the trade school as well as to provide housing for Yeshiva faculty at a low rental. However, “the Board of Directors of the Yeshiva felt that such a school would cheapen the Yeshiva, and refused my offer.” (UB page 4.)

By 1941 Harry Fischel had contributed a total of $160,000 to RIETS and Yeshiva College.

The Harry Fischel Institute for Research in Talmud

Long before it became fashionable, Harry Fischel became interested in the settlement of Jews from Russia and other European countries in Eretz Yisrael. This led to his first there in 1910. Over the years he visited the Holy Land at least seven more times. This was before the advent of air travel, so he had no choice but to travel by boat, an arduous journey that took weeks.

Mr. Fischel became involved in a wide range of projects designed to foster Jewish immigration to Eretz Yisrael and to assist those who settled there. During his second visit, in 1921, he learned that, while the chief representatives of other religions occupied residences befitting their position, the chief rabbi, Avraham Yitzchok Hakohen Kook, lived on the second floor of an old and dilapidated building, where proper reception of visitors was impossible.

Mr. Fischel decided to build a proper home for Rav Kook entirely at his own expense. The dedication of the Home of the Chief Rabbi of Palestine took place on May 27, 1923.

Mr. Fischel founded the Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research (Machon Harry Fischel) in Jerusalem in 1931. “For decades, half of all the religious court judges in the entire country [of Israel] were graduates of this elite institution.” (Maverick Rabbi, page 334.)
 
The Measure of the Man
 
Harry Fischel was adversely affected by the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. Nonetheless, in 1941 he wrote, “The ten years just past from 1930 to 1940 were the best in my life; while not financially, but spiritually.” (UB page 55.)

At the age of 69 he began the study of Gemara. (His early religious education did not encompass the Oral Law). He studied three times a week with a friend; after six years they completed five mesechtas. At the age of 75 he wrote, “I am now in a position to state that the Talmud became a part of my life, and is the best relaxation for the mind in times like these. I can safely state that it is the studying of the Talmud that has broadened my mind, and given me a clear vision and understanding of how to solve difficult problems.” (UB page 85.)

Yisroel Aaron (Harry) Fischel, a”h, passed away on January 1, 1948 in Eretz Yisrael. His steadfast commitment to Torah and mitzvos, andhis unprecedented devotion to a wide range of philanthropic endeavors, provide us a challenging role model of what it means to live successfully as a Jew.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/harry-fischel-orthodox-jewish-philanthropist-par-excellence-part-ii/2006/06/01/

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