At one point Rabbi Schiff suggested that Rav Aharon ask the Brisker Rav if it would be permissible to speak there. Rav Aharon did not take kindly to his student’s suggestion. In fact, he did not speak at Heichal Shlomo. He asked Rebbetzin Herzog, whose father he had known quite well, whether he could eulogize her husband at their home on Ibn Ezra Street, as the leading rabbis would be gathering there before the funeral. Rebbetzin Herzog agreed, but Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim, the Sephardic chief rabbi, objected because he was offended that someone might speak before he did. Rav Aharon ultimately spoke at the cemetery in Sanhadria where Rabbi Herzog was buried.
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After six weeks in Israel, I went to Switzerland for a week and then to Paris for two days and London for a week. In Zurich I took a bus ride around the city and encountered a sniff of anti-Semitism. When we passed the main synagogue, the guide, who spoke in English, announced snidely “that this building is a Jewish synagogue and we also have them.”
In London while having coffee in the lobby of my hotel, a well-dressed middle-aged Englishwoman passed by and remarked in a most elegant tone, “It is a shame that Hitler did not kill all of the dirty Jews.” I said nothing but followed her after she left the hotel and tripped her from behind. As she lay on the ground I spat on her and said, “This is from one dirty Jew.”
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A decade passed before my second trip to Israel. By then I was a husband and father. After teaching political science for about two years at Yeshiva University, I switched to Hunter College in the early 1960s. In 1969 I was eligible for a sabbatical and when the opportunity arose to teach at Bar-Ilan University, I eagerly grabbed it, planning to go for nearly a year with Malka and our two young children, Shani and Avi. Our plans changed because I had been involved in the 1969 New York City mayoral campaign and was offered a position at City Hall. We ended up being in Israel for three and a half months, about equal to one university semester.
As our funds were limited, we traveled somewhat circuitously to Israel, much the way many yeshiva students travel these days. We had to switch planes and airports. My recollection is that the trip took nearly twenty-four hours, during which Avi, who was then three, utilized nearly all the airsick bags on one of the planes.
Although Bar-Ilan is in Ramat Gan and the university wanted faculty to live nearby, I was a visiting professor so there was no strong objection to my living in Jerusalem. Twice a week I commuted to Bar-Ilan. The students were bright but they were not well-read and I sensed that many had difficulty keeping up with the required reading. This was not surprising because nearly all the male students had already served in the army and quite a few of the students were married and were working. One of my students was Elyakim Rubinstein, who is now a judge on Israel’s Supreme Court.
For whatever reasons, during this trip I received a fair amount of media attention, including a profile in one of the leading newspapers that included a photograph of me sitting on a table with my legs crossed as I lectured. The caption read, “Ha-professor ha-mifuzar yoshev al ha-shulchan.” It was easy to translate the caption with the exception of “ha-mifuzar,” which was for me an elusive word. I took it as a compliment, assuming I was being described as eclectic or a person of many interests. Malka, as always wiser, cautioned that I not be self-laudatory. She was right. I was being described as an absent-minded professor.